Kneejerk Reactions to Comics

February 22, 2010 at 7:12 am (Uncategorized)

For most of February I’ve been working on a totally new project, something I’ve never done at all before: a comic book. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been almost three years since This City is Alive came out, but after a long time (in which both of us released our first solo books on Crossing Chaos) I’m finally putting my head together with Jase Daniels‘ again. And it’s probably gonna be 50x as nuts as This City.

The comic form allows for that. I wanted to take a moment to jot my initial reactions to the form, my “kneejerk” reactions to it, because it really is so different. Like I said above, the comic form allows for the book we’re doing now to go so much further than we ever could have with This City is Alive, because of how highly integrated words and images are… to the point where some of my work is to dream the images Jase is going to draw, and some of Jase’s work is to tell me the story I’m going to write. This City is Alive was basically a novella smashed together with a smalll gallery of Jase’s paintings – nothing made them mix but the fact that they were on the same subject and bound by the same spine. But with the comic – it wouldn’t even be right to say it’s written by Forrest and illustrated by Jase. I really like it like that.

I’ve been making art for years, but never has the product of work felt so much like something directly dreamt. Music sometimes can but then there is the technology of it, which is at certain points in its creation very much a part of the process, and hard to ignore. With writing, it’s totally about dreaming, but then there’s the language. I love language, making fresh sentences, but there’s no question that it slows things down… that when the fundamental building block of creating a dreamscape is the paragraph, it will take a lot longer to translate the scenery in your head to the head of someone else. (I should add that in no way am I trying to say I prefer the form of comic to novel, and definitely won’t stop writing novels – in fact, very excited for the one I’m gonna be attacking after this Jase comic – but there is a lot of cumbersome work involved in a novel that I find, at the very least, less cumbersome in writing comic books. There’s less there to get in the way of the direct translation of image-ideas.)

With comics, the only person who will read my language is Jase. It doesn’t matter if I describe the setting as “a really shitty city block, bird shit all over the place and graffiti on dumpsters and shit.” So, except for the dialogue-heavy parts or the sections where writing is on top of the frame’s action (which, considering the fact that I’m a novelist, there are relatively few examples of), my only  job is to dream, and observe closely what I’m dreaming, and record it. I love that! I’ve been a surrealism-junky my whole life, capturing mindwaves has always been what it’s about for me. So you can imagine how this work fits like a glove.

The other thing I’ve immediately noticed about comics is the amount of time-bending they enable you to do. I’ve always loved the emulation of cinema in text, when the perspective of a work has the freedom of quick cuts and slow-downs and speed-ups – comics gives you all of that and more. Not only does it give you the opportunity to bring the story somewhere totally new with each panel, be it one second or fifteen years after its preceeding one, but there’s so much that goes on in the interplay between panels, it’s crazy. I’ve been having so much fun with that. It feels like making a mixtape – which is funny because I’m in the finishing stages of the next Gasoline Monk mix – with how you dip into a new scene, soak for a little, and then blend your way into another scene to soak and blend out again.

It really does feel a lot like a mixtape. Novels are just different – novels are inherently slower. In fact it’s almost because novels are slower that I say, out of all the art I do – hip hop, texts, whatever – novels are the most important. You give so much of your time to them – as a writer, but even as a reader, you give a comparatively long amount of time to reading a novel, next to reading a comic or watching a film. They’re sustained meditation made beautiful in the symbols without reasonable meaning we call “text.”

Anybody who wants to learn more about comics, read Understanding Comics and Making Comics by Scott McCloud. I read these to prepare myself, and they were invaluable to me.

1 Comment

  1. Blank « Forrest Armstrong aka Gasoline Monk said,

    […] that book. Lately it’s all about comics with my longtime friend Jase Daniels. I already did one post about my initial reactions to writing comics and won’t write much more about it now but I […]

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