Archive for ‘Experimental Comics’

Checking Back with Live Labs

Artists have continued to toy with the Infinite Canvas engine from Microsoft’s Live Labs since we last checked in. In the current “featured”category is “Amhot” by Tam, a cool set of Vignettes worth checking out.

Also of interest, below the fold, is a long list of other recent comics, art projects, and random screwing around which use the engine.

As before, the comics themselves are a mixed bag, using a smattering of navigational models, some of which work better than others, but they point in interesting directions.

I’ll be curious to see what surprises might emerge from the slushpile in the future.

A Study in Contrast: Lisa Hanawalt and Laurie Sandell

I got a TON of books at San Diego. It would take me half a day just to list and show them all, much less review them, but a couple which caught my eye toward the end of the day on Sunday offered some interesting contrasts I thought worth noting here.

I Want You by Lisa Hanawalt is a 32-page black and white pamphlet with color covers from Buenaventura Press. It’s filled with weird, sexually-charged or scatological short subjects. Some are funny, some are disturbing, many are both. It would look at home in Kramers Ergot.

The Imposter’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell is a 245-page full color graphic novel from Hachette Book Group. It’s an autobiographical account of the author’s relationship with her father, an Argentine immigrant whom she gradually discovers is a fraud who’s taken advantage of everyone around him for years, including his own family. The art is simplistic and straightforward.

The number of comics readers in San Diego’s mammoth exhibit hall who’d be likely to bring home and enjoy both comics could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand, but I’m apparently one of them. I liked both for different reasons.

Hanawalt’s pages are aggressively experimental. She takes her art seriously, even when the subject matter seems tossed-off. Her line-work crackles with energy. The details almost overwhelm her jumbled compositions, but bold contours always step in just in time to make sure the form isn’t lost. There’s no pretense of a “story,” but there is content; an echo chamber of fleshy obsessions and violently upturned social mores.

Meanwhile, Sandell’s graphic novel is a mainstream book in nearly every sense. The (presumably) true story is told as literally as possible. Sandell is no virtuoso artist, but her layouts are sensible and the drawings get the job done. Cars look like cars, bottles look like bottles, and hands have five fingers. Every line and color choice serve the story, and the story is an engaging one, filled with mystery, sex, addiction, and the parade of celebrities Sandell encountered as a reporter and contributing editor at Glamour. It’s a beach read.

Whereas Hanawalt was showing her wares in person at Buenaventura’s table—a venue so lovably alternative that you might expect denizens to refer to Fantagraphics as “The Man”—Sandell’s book was being offered in a tidy, cookie-cutter Hachette booth that looked like it hopped directly over from Book Expo, and being given away, perhaps on the assumption that everyone is a retailer (and thanks to a great cover designed by Julianna Lee it had no trouble finding takers).

I can imagine each of these books rubbing someone the wrong way. In some respects, Sandell’s glamour-sprinkled tell-all is a hard-core comics lover’s worst nightmare; a book deal fueled by celebrity, completely bypassing comics history and craft, ready to leapfrog more serious or well-crafted graphic novels onto The Today Show or even Oprah. Meanwhile, Hanawalt’s work is the type often dismissed by artists I know as “pretentious” or “self-indulgent.”

I like Sandell’s book though, because it was a fun read. It can gently coax new readers into comics who would have never cracked open an Asterios Polyp much less a Blankets, and because a healthy mainstream has never precluded a healthy alternative. And I like Hanawalt’s work because it creates sensations I’ve never seen comics achieve and opened my eyes to radical possibilities.

It’s a good sign that 2009′s comics scene can accommodate both. I hope neither feels squeezed out in coming years.

Pre Comic-Con Round-Up

We’re heading down to Comic-Con early Wednesday morning, and frantically getting ready tomorrow, so blog updates will be spotty at best starting tomorrow. Here are a few distractions in the meantime:

Merlin has a new hypercomic up, The Four Derangements. Gorgeous, inventive stuff as always.

Johanna Draper Carlson offers some in-depth thoughts on our recent Zot! Collection.

The gang at the Human Creativity Project sent along an adorable gift for our family in the mail, possibly in response to our recent discussion of see-through comics. (Thanks, HCP people!)

Our family’s in-depth review of 500 Days of Summer: We liked it. It was good.

Larry Marder has his own convention schedule up. Gotta see Larry!

And of course, for those of you going to Comic-Con you can find me Thursday at Noon interviewing Bryan Lee O’Malley on stage, and otherwise relaxing with the family this year. (Yay! Off years = no pressure). If anything else does come up, I’ll try to post it here, or for more timely updates, you can follow me on Twitter.

See-Through Comics

Here’s a cool idea I haven’t seen before. Pat Race, one of our gracious hosts when we visited Juneau during the 50 state tour, has posted a “see-through” comic on his site.

As Pat explains it, you can download and print a 2-sided pdf, read the front page, then hold it up to the light so that the backside shows through and literally see the comic in “a new light.” There’s a flash version too, though the effect is a bit different.

It’s a nice trick, giving a new dimension to a charming, if melancholy, short subject.

Neo Mento

Neo-Mento is a new flash-based web and print comic series created by Dylan Culhane. Sharp stuff in a readable, innovative format.

Speaking of Neal Von Flue…

this collaboration with writer Alexander Danner from 2005 is five kinds of wonderful if you’ve never read it. Reading it again yesterday, I was reminded of Neil Gaiman at his most dry (and most succinct—it’s a quick read). 

Neal Von Flue used the original “infinite canvas” application developed at Vienna’s University of Technology by Markus Müller under the supervision of Peter Purgathofer in 2003-2004 (not to be confused with Microsoft Live Lab’s recent experiment). The app isn’t being actively developed anymore, but a few artists gave it a try with some cool results. The implementation on Alexander and Neal’s story is simple, but I think it adds a lot to the reading experience.

Tymothi Godek’s “!”

Tymothi Godek offers a gargantuan sidescroller simply called “!” that I enjoyed— it’s just a “rough draft” but an entertaining and brain-bending read nonetheless.

Thanks to the Neal Von Flue (no slouch in this department himself) for pointing us to “!” in the comments section of the XKCD post from Friday. Tymothi’s experiment, like the much shorter XKCD strip is playing with parallel narratives, but ramping it up with more characters and some great intersections. Despite the crazed fantasy storyline, Tym is mapping the sort of intersecting, branching, and colliding paths that people in real life take all the time, but that only comics can make visible. Very cool.

The Shape of Story

XKCD goes parallel.

One of the byproducts of all those ancient infinite canvas debates (nestled in webcomics history right after the Clone Wars and shortly before the Norman Conquest) was the idea of the spatial nature of story structure.

So many of the terms we use for stories (rising action, turning points, parallel/intersecting plots, circular narratives, multiple layers…) have equivalents in space, it seems only natural to make them literal through comics.

It may sound academic to some, but I think the very fact that comics MAPS TIME is pretty frickin’ cool, and I’ll never get tired of seeing smart cartoonists screwing around with it.

The Fringe of the Fringe

Nawlz has been around for a while, but in case you haven’t seen it yet, it’s pretty much the quintessential experimental webcomic. Weird, dissonant, and relentlessly inventive.

I sometimes joke that my early experiments in webcomics put me in comics’ “lunatic fringe” but it’s nice to know that there are artists like Sutu out there that make my scribblings look tame by comparison. He tells me he may release a graphic novel follow-up including the first chapters on DVD, so I guess all the walls between print and web are tumbling down if a strange beast like Nawlz can cross the line.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rowland points us to MS Paint Adventures and an entirely different sort of experiment with cartoons and interactivity. Simple on its face, but not so much when it sucks you in.

Experiments in any medium are like a blind man tapping about with a cane, finding the shape of his surroundings. His peers, comfortably sitting still on the couch, can dismiss the dead-ends and stubbed toes that result, but every once in a while a vast new room of possibilities opens up.

I’m sitting still myself while working on the graphic novel, but I’m grateful for the sound of tapping all around me.

Is “Abstract Comics” An Oxymoron?

I don’t think so.

And neither do these artists.