Sunday, September 13, 2009
Abstract Comics: The Anthology -- It seems almost beside the point to say that yes, here's a book you can judge by its cover. But other than the introduction by editor Andrei Molotiu and some notes about the individual contributions at the back, the cover image -- chaotic, mysterious, and hinting at hidden dimensions of meaning -- describes the experience of reading the book pretty succinctly.
Needless to say, one could study the art found within Abstract Comics: The Anthology (published by Fantagraphics Books) for months, or one could flip through the entire thing in five minutes, and the conclusions one could draw from either experience of the volume could easily be justified as informed and insightful. Here are hundreds of pages of inexplicable lines, colours and visions, at best open to interpretation and at worst inviting John Lennon's definition of Avant Garde, "French for bullshit."
Having now lived with it for a couple of days, I can't say I love Abstract Comics: The Anthology, but considering that it includes contributions by R. Crumb and James Kochalka, two cartoonists I hold in the highest esteem, and considering that their works are among the best-realized and most thought-provoking in the book, well, I can't dismiss it out of hand either.
Some artists challenge more than they enlighten. Alexey Sokolin's, murky, hairy panel progressions seem to emulate comics form without speaking to it. On the other hand, the images by Elijah Brubaker, Geoff Grogan and Janusz Jaworski use the panels and pages to create a sense of meaning and movement that invite multiple readings.
Just creating panels and putting stuff in them is not always successful, though -- Jason Overby does just that and the resulting images reminded me of nothing more than marginal doodles from an 11th grader's math notebook; diverting for the artist but not necessarily as rewarding for the rest of us.
Mike Getsiv's "Shapes," defines space with lines and colours inside irregular panel borders in a manner that appeals to the eye and is not wholly unsimilar to James Kochalka's stylings. Both use the tools at their disposal to suggest passion and emotion, and Getsiv's striking images are worthy of a collection all their own.
I really liked former Galaxy contributor Derik Badman's rambling, dream-like creations, too, suggesting partially obscured views into a world unseen, unknown and unknowable.
In a sense, there's a lot of art in Abstract Comics: The Anthology and almost no real comics per se. I was blown away, however, by my son's recognition of a Sentinel (a giant mutant-policing robot) from Marvel Comics' X-Men in a page by Noah Berlatsky that the artist says is abstractly based on images originally created by the late Dave Cockrum. I studied the page for quite some time and could not see a damned thing other than amorphous shapes and lines, but when I told my son (who was curious about the book I was reading) that the page I was on was originally based on the X-Men, he casually blew my mind with his comment "Oh, yeah, there's one of those giant robots, what are they called? Sentinels?"
If that isn't proof that meaning is in the eye of the beholder and that the work within Abstract Comics: The Anthology isn't absolutely open to interpretation by every single reader that encounters it, and that every opinion it generates has some validity, than I don't know what else to tell you. I still can't see a frigging Sentinel on that page.
Learn more at the Abstract Comics blog. Noah Berlatsky kindly provided a link to both the original Dave Cockrum page and his own abstract interpretation of it, which you can see here.
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