Surprisingly, I still haven’t figured out a grand unified theory of comics reading. (I do think that Eisner/montage bit at the end was kind of stupid in retrospect, though not regrettably so.)
However, after much research, I can finally report that Frank’s comment about David Mazzucchelli’s theory of comics simultaneity (“The page is taken in as a whole, the two page spread. It’s not one image at a time. And it’s not necessarily linear in so much that it’s all absorbed at once and then accepted as ‘ordered.’”) is absolutely spot on. At least when you’re reading Mazzucchelli comics. It’s kind of amazing really. It works with everything from Batman to Asterios Polyp. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s true: entire spreads enter the reader’s brain instantaneously.
But the two-page-spread simultaneous reading thing doesn’t seem to work with a lot of other comics, at least not for me. And not just inferior comics, either; some of the best comics around don’t work that way. So more research is needed. I’ll be in my study.
In the meantime, though, here’s a new stupid opinion: I like Philip Guston just fine, but I think it’s time that cartoonists started appreciating other painters now and again. (Always lead with a straw-man argument—that’s the blog way.)
Like, for instance, why aren’t cartoonists all over James Ensor? (If they are, and I’ve missed it, someone please correct me. (Actually, according to French Wikipedia, at least one European comic drew inspiration from him.))
Lauren dragged me to an exhibit of his drawings years ago, and I loved it, but I didn’t really get how great he was until I went to the retrospective that opened at MoMA last month.
For the most part, Ensor didn’t really attempt any of the sequential-art proto-comics often associated with people like Hogarth or Goya, and he had a tremendous range of tone, subject matter, and approach, but there’s no question that he often displayed the soul of a cartoonist.
For example, check out the famous self-portrait he painted in 1883, and revised five years later to add a hat and other evocative details.
Or for that matter, his later self-depiction, “My Portrait in 1960″:
(This one in particular doesn’t work in the same way without its title, which essentially functions as a caption.)
Most of the work included in the exhibit loses even more power than art always does when seen via the internet instead of in person, particularly the two enormous (and enormously complicated) drawings of Christ entering Jerusalem, and Christ revealing himself to the people. It’s impossible to tell when looking at them online, but they’re packed with incidental characters and background details that my comics-rotted brain can’t help but compare to chicken fat. He also often uses typography in a subtle, interesting ways.
Anyway, I could go through the exhibit pointing out drawing after painting after etching as possible kinda-sorta-like comics examples, but really I just wanted to use this as a setup to ask if anyone knows where Al Jaffee got the trademark fish bones so many of his characters disgorge whenever they vomit?
Because if you zoom in on “The Strike”, and move your attention to the figures leaning out of the windows to throw up on the right, I think we might have something like a 19th-century Belgian precedent!
IMPORTANT UPDATE!: I found out the answer to the fish-bones/vomit question from the man himself! Read it here.