Comics or Not Comics?


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

As always, there is only ONE right answer! It is a moral imperative to keep our categories clear, and our aesthetic bloodlines pure.

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31 Responses to “Comics or Not Comics?”
  1. Robert Boyd says:


    Here’s my own personal criterion. Is it actually useful or helpful for this to be called a “comic”? Or is it just confusing? That’s always been my main objection to Scott McCloud’s definition of comics that includes random photos put up on a refrigerator door with magnets, but excludes The Far Side. What does it aid to say the former are comics and the latter are not? Nothing, as far as I am concerned.

    (Admittedly, this kind of subjective but practical definition won’t go far in keeping “our aesthetic bloodline pure.”)

  2. T. Hodler says:

    I like that criterion. And I agree with it, I think, with one stipulation: That some things are useful to call comics at certain times (like when you’re trying to win an argument–or when you’re baked), but not at other times (like when you’re trying to win the same argument from the other angle–or when you’re drunk). This makes my version of your definition useless, probably.

  3. T. Hodler says:

    I am suddenly reminded of my co-editor Dan’s infamous mini, Pot vs. Porn, a lost classic.

  4. david t says:

    “is it comics?” i would respond the same way as robert boyd: not very useful, unless you can back your claim persuasively enough.

    now, what you could do is analyze “la jetée” with comics’ critical methods, & we’ll see where that brings us. maybe farther than we think, actually.

  5. Tom Spurgeon says:

    what about that powerpoint game, the 20 frames/20 seconds thing? Is that comics?

  6. T. Hodler says:

    Ha. I am neither stoned nor drunk, so I’ll say no. But then again…

    Also, how about Bob Sikoryak’s Carousel show? It seems obvious that the cartoonists’ slideshows are still comics, even when set to music, and read aloud by professional actors, but are they?

  7. Defintions are only useful for critics, therefore useless for the rest of us (particularly artists) but no, that’s not comics. Neither is Raoul Ruiz’s “Colloque de chiens” or any number of similar films. For that matter, most of what sits on the shelves of today’s comic shops could hardly be called comics either.

    Comparing the beauty and complexity of Marker’s work with the gradeschool-aesthetics of McCloud is depressing (and ironic, since even though Marker named himself after the simplest of tools his art is layered with meanings and ambiguity, avoiding definition at all costs, while McCloud’s work looks as if it were rendered with a crayon and is embarrassingly desperate for conclusions.)

  8. david t says:

    the main problem in calling la jetée comics is the time aspect. as a “reader”, you don’t have control over this film, you’re subjected to it. the way some still images (i.e. “panels”) stick for quite a long time, while others last less than a second, is very unnatural for comics: even with a “fast” action scene, you would be able to stop your gaze & take the time to read the panel.

    i suppose the way to view this as comics is to imagine (strictly as a thought experiment of course) that la jetée is actually a comic book that somebody is reading for you, & showing you the panels as he goes along. so the image will stick for as long as reading the contents of the “narrative box”. this way, actually, we’re sort of reaching a more natural comics reading situation (the same way as, if somebody reads you a book out loud, even though you’re not actually seeing words on a page, you’re still pretty much “reading a book”). if anybody is to analyze this film “as though it were comics” then it would probably be from this imaginary, not particularly comfortable vantage point.

    that’s all i’ve got for now!

    • Lastworthy says:

       The readers ability to move through the sequence of images at their own speed, and occasionally in their own direction, is one of the most integral signifiers of something being a comic. 
      Comics are not an event, and do not have a predetermined duration. 

      Opinion: I think that in relation to film, this facet of the medium gives creators a slightly looser grip on the reader’s experience of the work but also makes it easier to achieve clarity in more complex scenarios. It’s just easier to juggle more when the reader is working with you at their own pace v.s. Here’s a jump cut, hope you caught that shit in the background.
       I don’t think artists make full use of this often enough. 

    • T. Hodler says:


      Interestingly, a “comic book read for you” is more or less an exact description of the performances in Bob Sikoryak’s Carousel show. I agree with you that La jetée is not a comic, but it is funny that Carousel so obviously is comics, and that there doesn’t seem to be any really easily drawn difference between the two. Besides that the Carousel stories are performed live (not important, I’d think) and that they are mostly drawn—which may be much more significant?

      • david t says:

        i’m not aware of bob sikoryak’s work, so i can’t really talk about it. but, having watched la jetée yesterday night (precisely thanks to this post, mind you), a few more thoughts came to mind:

        first: la jetée considered as a comic (let’s call it J’, whereby the film is just J) comes with all sorts of extras you won’t find in a comic: a narrator’s voice, obviously; but also a soundtrack. in a film, these aspects are natural, they make a film a film. in a comic they are not: they become paratextual, the same way illustrations in a written novel are (in many cases) paratextual: they are at the border of the text, neither inside nor outside. so J’, in this sense would be somewhat akin to a comic that comes with its own soundtrack (say, blankets with the accompanying CD).

        second: la jetée claims to be a “photo-roman”, meaning (if wikipedia translations are to be trusted) a fotonovela. now this obviously brings us squarely in comic book territory, & suggests, perversely, that la jetée‘s filmic form is actually not its ideal viewing experience. we are to understand, moreover, that that this film has been made into a book that (from what i gather) contains all still pictures from the film, combined with the complete narration, in order to form a bona fide “photo-roman”. now, not having read the book version (i intend to), i can’t assess how the story fares in this form, but the mere fact of the book’s existence (with chris marker’s assistance, no less) suggests a switching of viewpoints: that the photo-roman is actually J, & that it is the film which, being derived from J, is actually J’.

        now we’re definitely getting closer to claiming la jetée to be a form of comics. from here i could go on for a while. actually, i’ll probably go ahead & do that.

        • T. Hodler says:

          Well, all you need to know about Carousel for the purposes of this discussion is that it is a series of slideshow performances, mostly comic strips or stories read by the authors (sometimes with other voice actors), and often accompanied by music.

          As for La jetée, I’m with you so far. I’m curious about the book version now myself. Interestingly, according to a typo-ridden customer review by “Uthor” on Amazon, “Sometimes instead of printing a full page image, the authors (editors?) would to put multiple small images on a page. Sometimes it’s used to good effect (showing ‘movement’ buy letting you see a sequence all at once) and sometimes it just makes you squint.”

          • david t says:

            well, i just ordered the book, so i’ll see for myself. but that amazon review is intriguing, of course: multiple panels on a page to suggest movement… well, duh! that’s actually one of the things i wonder: how they’re laying out the stills in the book. i’m hoping for something smart, that actually shows an understanding of comics sequencing. but it might end up just flat.

            the topic is interesting because it forces us to go into the fundamentals of what makes comics comics. at the end of the day, i don’t care to define la jetée as anything other than a film, which is obviously what it wants to be considered as–but it’s interesting to ponder the conditions under which it could be considered as comics. if you’re interested, i’ll write something more substantial as soon as i have the book in hand.

          • T. Hodler says:

            I’d love to hear about it if you get the chance to report in, David. Thanks!

  9. Steven H says:

    Isn’t it basically the same format as those “animated” Hulu X-men comics and whatnot? Have you ever heard of Oshima Nagisa’s Band of Ninja (1967)? A similar idea, taking a comic cutting and panning across the page to create “animation” when it’s anything but. I think that the fact that comics can be read *to you* in this way reminds me of how interrelated the arts of film making and comics are.

    • Steven H says:

      err, “anything but” is too strong, I mean “while technically ‘animation’, more ‘strongly related’, and at the least not playing to the strengths of the form.” *pulls at collar* is it hot in here?

    • T. Hodler says:

      Yes, but it’s important not to make too big of a deal of that interrelatedness, at least without also realizing that comics are interrelated with many other art forms, such as literature, graphic design, drawing and print-making, poetry, etc. The film thing tends to get more play than the others, which can lead to a distorting effect. But I think you’re right, just saying.

  10. michael L says:

    <3 la jetee

    i would like to point out that this film was later "adapted" to a book that contained all the still images and narrative text. (also, less pressing, is the fact that there is a single moving image in the film version)

    incidentally has anyone heard of kid radd?
    it was a sprite "comic" whose panels are seen one at a time through a "viewer," and some of these panels are animated loops. it called itself a comic, but it was really more like a viewer-moderated slide show (there was also a bit of music now and then, but it was always inessential)
    [less to the point, I actually really enjoyed Kid Radd, whatever it is. it starts out as a kind of typical gag-a-day video game trip, but ultimately escalates into a touching, psychedelic epic. worth reading all the way through]

  11. djm says:

    Not. I don’t read this. I am told it.

  12. Dave O. says:

    As others note, with printed matter the reader is in full control of the speed at which the narrative occurs, as aided by the art panels (in the case of comics). With film, the illusion of time is thought out in full by the filmmaker and the viewer is more passive as the illusion plays out in actual time.

    If you strip away any aesthetic definitions of film editing, it can technically be thought of as measuring out the illusion of time for the duration of the film. Chopping up the narrative also occurs in comics, but unlike film is not measured out by actual time. The fact that there is some degree of editing for even the most rudimentary of films is an indication that while comics and film might overlap in some way, they cannot be interchangeable. That’s not keeping aesthetic bloodlines pure, it’s how different mediums are defined by their processes and end products.

  13. Well shit, Taschen put out a giant ass Kubrick book which illustrated all of his films with a few hundred frames from each (poorly, almost randomly picked, and many spread across the spine, sigh) — is that a comic? Is it a fumetti?

    • T. Hodler says:

      I haven’t seen it, but probably it’s just a book of film stills. It’s a difference in kind, really, since Kubrick’s films weren’t originally composed of still photographs themselves (except in the literal sense that all films are just thousands of still frames, and that way lies madness), while La jetée is in its original form a series of still images. But you’re right, this stuff can get ridiculous pretty fast—I’m not trying to write any manifestos here.

  14. michael L says:

    what if you watched it on mute w/ subtitles heheh

  15. Well, if I’m not mistaken, Marker prefers the spoken narration (obviously dubbed in various languages) over subtitles, meaning he prefers the audio/heard experience to the written/read, at least for this film and Sans Soleil, if not all of his work.

  16. Wasn’t La jetée the basis for 12 Monkeys?

    • I’m afraid you’re mistaken.

      Oshima’s “Max, Mon Amour” was the basis for Gilliam’s “Twelve Monkeys.”

      “La jetee” was the basis for Rafelson’s “Head.”

      You might also be thinking of the Howard Hawks/Cary Grant project “Atrrocity Exhibition.”

      Somewhere Ronald Reagn is president forever.

      • michael L says:

        actually I believe Terry Gilliam has plainly stated that the central ideas from 12 Monkeys were lifted from La Jetée. or were you joking…?

    • T. Hodler says:


  17. Why are there so many monkeys in the DC Universe?

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