Contextual images, part 2

6) Rodolphe Töpffer, from The Story of Albert. Cartoonists turn to Töpffer, a Swiss teacher, to bypass the superhero’s monopoly on fatherhood. In Print magazine, 1988, Spiegelman writes, “Töpffer observed that, when you repeated a cluster of signs, it became possible to further simplify those signs, counting on the reader to recognize the image from its context . . . In The Story of Albert, 1845, Albert drinks a toast to Health, then to Liberty, then to Equality, Fraternity, the Death of Tyranny, and so on, until the images and text all dissolve into drunken squiggles” (62). Image source.

7) Cubistic portrait on Luba on the back of Blood of Palomar (1989), the Fantagraphics volume which contained Human Diastrophism. My scan.

8) Walter Gropius, Bauhaus Manifesto (1919), with a woodcut by Kin-Der-Kids creator Lyonel Feininger. Translation of the manifesto’s opening salvo: “The ultimate aim of all creative activity is a building!” Image source.

9) Thomas Rowlandson, Six Stages of Mending a Face (1792). Image source.

Contextual images, part 1

I showed these images in class to establish precedence, context, and family resemblance. They might help jog your memory about some of the fundamental tensions we’ve investigated this term between 1) form & content, 2) the impersonal & the authoritative, 3) word & image, 4) representation & metaphor, and 5) art & commerce.

1) Benjamin Franklin, Join, or Die political cartoon (1754). Image source.

2) The Bill-Poster’s Dream (1862). Image source.

3) R. F. Outcault, The Great Bull Fight in Hogan’s Alley (1896). Image source.

4) The Bird’s Head Haggadah (c. 1300). Image source.

5) Art Spiegelman, from Lead Pipe Sunday (1989). “The Bastard Offspring of Art and Commerce murder their parents and go off on a Sunday Outing,” says the caption. Image source.


This Groensteen paragraph is perfect for Finder: Voice. You can find it in the coursepack on page 77 (essay page 127). Groensteen’s ruling out a definition of comics that depends on “the presence of a recurrent character,” and this is his fifth counter-example:

The character as a recognizable individual dissolves when all the characters resemble each other, ruining the very idea of identity. Within a population such as that of the Smurfs, the physical marks of individuation are extremely rare (initially reserved for Papa Smurf, Brainy Smurf, and, of course, Smurfette). Here, the process of naming (under a form of qualified epithet: Grouchy Smurf, Poet Smurf, Jokey Smurf, etc.) allows the story to adapt to the state that Bruno Lecigne has precisely baptized hyper-twinhood (hypergemellite). Certain stories by Francis Masse or by Florence Cestac have also come close to the total indifferentiation of the body.

(Above: image source. Below: my scan.)

Our last texts

Some resources for our final two comics, Asterios Polyp and Finder: Voice.

Derik Badman, “Rampant Formalism”: I repeated a few of these smart points in class. Badman hones in on five formal elements in Asterios Polyp: speech balloons, colour, the ending, brushwork, and large interiors.

My interest in more natural and less arbitrary panel divisions in Asterios Polyp gestured back to the early cartoonist Lyonel Feininger, whose “Pie Mouth is Rescued by Kind-Hearted Pat” strip is solid, impenetrable, and metafictional.

Then I talked about stairs a lot.

An interview with Carla Speed McNeil on the world of the Finder comics. Laura Hudson on Finder: Voice: “It is the lie of Betty Draper, the lie of the magazines and the movies: that if you can find a way to do a flawless impression of the person you are expected to be, then you will finally be happy.” And if you enjoyed Finder: Voice, then you can read a pencilled version of the sequel on McNeil’s website. Torch furthers Rachel’s story.

Expect a mass email tomorrow, class.


Three towers

Above: David Mazzucchelli’s cover for The New Yorker from July 26, 1993, after the first attack on the World Trade Center. (Image source.)

Although Asterios Polyp comments on the World Trade Center (“The brilliance of it is that there are two of them”), Asterios Polyp (2009) does not acknowledge 9/11. It is an absent event in the graphic novel. There is something haunted in, or subtracted from, Asterios’s view of transparent, functional architecture. He would lead you to believe that this absence is the death of his twin, and his aesthetic a form of survivor’s guilt. But his definite, idealistic aesthetic is also reactionary: drawing up precise borders, seeing things dualistically (ie. war on evil), and shoring up meaning for himself, instead of democratizing it, or making it participatory and multiple (which is composer Kalvin Kohoutek’s view). Asterios is authoritarian, closed off, detached, and excessively confident. He’s an allegory for a post-9/11 United States.

The Wise Others and Marginal Voices that Asterios encounters and learns from on his journey open and redraw the borders, and their liberal commitments offer a counter-script to the official, national script: feminism, vegetarianism, New Age, Native rights, communism, and even alternative energy (solar power). Ursula supplies one such counter-narrative during the local Independence Day parade.

Remember Hana’s lesson: for two to have meaning, a three has to be omitted. You have to train yourself to see the unrepresented, invisible, and negatively-defined third tower.