Academic journal article Afterimage

Comics Uncontained

Academic journal article Afterimage

Comics Uncontained

Article excerpt

That's Novel! ... Lifting Comics From the Page

London Print Studio

London, England

October 22-December 18, 2010

Comics have long transcended the domain of children's entertainment in the Saturday papers. Although some persist in seeing the medium as lightweight, there arc many credible reasons for taking sequential art seriously. One is its implicit relationship to film: both film and comics are based on a series of frames used to visually narrate events in space and time. On a practical level, films and comics closely resemble each other in their early stages. A film's storyboard resembles a comic book's sequential appearance, while the planning stage of a comic strip often involves cinematic descriptions illustrating the way the frames should be drawn.

"That's Novel! ... Lifting Comics From the Page" presented highlights of contemporary British and international comics. It was the centerpiece of last year's Comica, an annual international comics festival in London. In addition to numerous special events, the festival included a smaller exhibition featuring the winners of The Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize 2010 (at Orbital Comics in London's West End). This year's winner. Room 208 (2010), is writer and illustrator Stephen Collins's stylistically unique breakthrough piece about an unusual honeymoon. In this comic, each frame adds its own piece of information to the story, as is standard, but the frames also fit together to form a larger image that fills the entire page. With this uncommon use of visuals, Room 208 stands out when compared to more traditionally styled comics.

Each artist in "That's Novel!" was given a single panel on the wall of the gallery space that could accommodate one very large frame, a page-long comic, or a single page excerpted from a graphic novel. A few were 3D comics, but the exhibition was overwhelmingly low-tech: no projections or animation were involved. It took some time to adjust to this exhibition; rather than encouraging the usual distracted spectatorship, the exhibition's format and content required visitors to take the necessary time to read each comic properly. This was not always easy, given the small size of the text and the occasional above-eye-level display. Nevertheless, the viewer's efforts were amply rewarded by the superb quality of nearly every comic in the exhibit.

As if to assert from the very beginning that comics are a medium worthy of weighty ideas, the first display in the exhibition featured comics exploring creation myths. A particularly beautiful example of this notion was Jon McNaught's Pilgrims (2010). Like Room 208, which plays with viewer expectations about the limits of" the frame, Pilgrims implicitly draws a link between comics' sequential visual narrative and Christianity's use of stained glass to tell Biblical stories.

Conversely, the end of the exhibition presented the apocalyptic, dynamic, and passionate vision of John Hicklenton. The artist suffered from multiple sclerosis, and took his own life in March 2010. His posthumously displayed work, 100 Months (2010), depicts the earth goddess Mara taking revenge on capitalism for its role in environmental destruction.

Another section explored the way in which the medium can be used to cope with mental illness. Brick's Depresso (2010) recounts the artist's experience with depression and the pressures it placed on his job and marriage. The slightly childlike and caricatured style of illustration makes the characters appear all the more vulnerable and sympathetic, increasing the story's impact. …

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