The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History

By Robert C. Harvey | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER I
The Aesthetics of the Comics A Preamble through History and Form

In a world brimming with uncertainties, we must take our verities where we find them. And for whatever comfort it's worth, one of the world's more secure truths is that Homer never drew comics. It's not a profound truth, but it is secure. Fairly secure.

How secure? Well, the truth of the matter resides in the sometimes disputed authenticity of a scholarly rumor that the antique Greek was blind. Those who dispute this revered tradition say that the Bard's alleged blindness was but a poetic metaphor for his inability to read. But I say that no gentleman goes about calling one of the world's greatest storytellers an illiterate. And if they aren't gentlemen, they're not scholars either; consequently, we needn't believe one jot or tittle of their slanderous contumely.

So Homer was blind, and it therefore stands to reason that he couldn't draw comics. He could tell stories, though. And he did--at least a couple of real rousers that eventually achieved international acclaim even before we had box office receipts to tell us how good something was. In his stories of the battle of Troy and the wandering of Odysseus, Homer sometimes painted pictures with words. But he couldn't draw pictures in the usual way because he couldn't see to do it. Now I'm the last one to look a Greek telling tales in the mouth, but it seems to me that we have a lot to learn from the circumstance of a storyteller who couldn't see and who therefore couldn't draw comics. If you can't draw comics because you don't see, it's plain that you can't properly read comics if you don't look at the pictures.

Homer proved you can have good stories without pictures. And because there's nothing to look at, you can understand those stories without being able to see. But if you have stories with pictures-- pictures and words, comics--then you must look at the pictures to get the most meaning out of the stories. Fact is, stories in the comics cannot be truly and deliberately considered without taking the pictures into account. If we don't take the trouble to understand the storytelling role of pictures in the comics, then we may as well be as blind as Homer. Or as illiterate. Since no one reading this book is either blind or illiterate, we all implicitly understand the role of pictures in comics as soon as we roll an eye in their direction. But to understand the art of the funnies--the craft of storytelling with pictures and words--we must try to render our implicit understanding explicit. That's the task of criticism, and that's what I propose to commit here in these pages.

The study of the comics has as its objective the same goal as that set before the student of art and literature: to promote the sort of understanding that sharpens perception and awareness, leading,

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