by Kevin Czap
Am I even allowed to post today? Darryl is on a roll, as you can see, taking over the six sides of the ‘Cube with positivity about this beloved medium of ours (generally positive, at least). With all the love and sunbeams flying around, it seems a shame to carry on the mock-feud from last week, especially since D already conceded, kind of. In any event, I feel like, since I said I would, I ought to finish some of my thoughts that I was laying out in my last post. I’ll keep it brief, however, and end on a sunny note.
I’m going to focus in on one of the aspects that seemed to be a bigger bone of contention — animation. One of the basic accepted definitions of comics is that they’re comprised of static images, ie they don’t move. This is basic McCloud 101 stuff. Understanding Comics came out almost 20 years ago, before the internet became an indelible fixture of our lives. More crucially, it was well before the idea of comics on the web would start appearing, and even longer before they began to explore the brand new limitations available to them. This is important to take note because at the time McCloud’s foundational book was published, it was more or less impossible for animation to be a part of comics besides through some complicated set up or art installation. As far as I’m aware, such attempts to integrate animation into comics’ toolbox were either non-existent, very rare or not well recorded at the least.
Now we’re seeing a much different story, because the technology is readily available. It was simply a matter of time before moving parts and sound found their way into the sequential loop of comics. For some, the interbreeding of moving segments and sequential imagery only weakens the advantages of each distinct medium. However, as I’m getting at, I don’t think there is anything inherently mutually-exclusive about movement and comics. This is because I look at artistic media as being more about concept than process. If I’m able to get more specific, what I mean is that moving images are not the sole distinction that separates animation from other drawn or cartooned art forms.
Since my intention is not to turn around and just modify a rigid definition of comics to allow animation, I’m going to look this issue from one angle and leave open the fact that there are other ways to examine this particular topic. Homestuck and other comics that employ segments of animated imagery, however limited, differ from, say, a full length animation at a basic level of how the movement is used and to what end. Animation as a medium shares many sensibilities with photographic film in terms of structure. Typically there’s an implication of the total piece belonging to a continuous stream. There’s a final sense of singularity to a film or animated feature, whether narrative-based, composed of abstract imagery or somewhere in between.
As I’ve talked about many times on this site, one of the key defining characteristics (for me) of comics is the fragmented nature of the interrelated multiple. Whereas a film obscures its multiplicity typically, comics make this quality apparent. I have not seen a comic that uses animated elements that defies this idea. Even when Homestuck uses interactive game elements or Flash intermissions, they are only ever a single piece of the larger, fragmentary whole. When an online comic has a panel that features a moving piece, it’s never the whole story.
As I said, this is only one way of looking at it. I’m not telling anyone how to think about comics specifically, rather just offering up a suggested viewpoint. It’s interesting to me that McCloud is often cited as setting forth such a immutable definition for comics. Ever since Understanding Comics was published, there’s been controversy about the exclusionary aspects of his statement. However, my insistence of the wide-open nature of comics as a medium was birthed from my first reading of this same book. I took it to be a call to future cartoonists to go out and expand comics into avenues which had never been seen before. It was the moment I started trying to makes comics in any material I could manage while in school. Comics sculpture, comics installation, comics happenings, I saw it all as being possible and well within the rules of the game.
As I’ve been thinking about this whole question, I’ve had two images in mind — one of a garden and one of the rain forest. A garden can be very beautiful indeed, carefully manicured, contained, controlled. I like gardens a lot, and my intention is not to disparage the positives. However, the nature of them is that they are man-made, and predictable in the sense that, ideally, things will only happen that are intended. On the other end is the rain forest, which is very different in nature to the garden. Out of control, organic and, critically, unbelievably diverse. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but there are species of living things deep within the rain forest which haven’t even been discovered by humans yet. The most bio-diverse places on the planet, rain forests are where life in all its unexpected glory thrive. Just a thought.
And, to leave on a very silly note, I give you this:
by Kevin Czap
Image credits, in order of appearance: Andrew Hussie, Vincent Giard, Zac Gorman, Stephen Vuillemin, Kevin Czapiewski (characters created by Kate Beaton, Meredith Gran and Carly Monardo)