Monday, July 31, 2006

Seduction of the Innocent (the console version)

This article by Shankar Gupta says something I've been noticing for a while - namely, how similar the current fears about video games are to the 1950s comics scare.

Of course, over the centuries, the same fears and the same language have been applied to video games, TV, comics, rock music, jazz, the novel, opera, theatre, troubadores, and even philosophy (remember Socrates?). Oh, and the internet...

Burn baby burn

Speaking of which, I just have to post this, now - from an old issue of the Comics Journal. Hopefully provides some kind of karmic balancing effect with the previous picture of waterlogged comics.

God, I love this photo...

When Bad Things Happen to Good Comics

Considering my complex, ambivalent relationship with comics over the years, and my occasional secret fantasies about the 1940s comics burnings, I was naturally quite taken with this post by Milo George, who's just lost everything in a flood - including his irreplacable comics collection. Our sympathies to Milo!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Religion = art

The arts are not just a substitute for traditional religion, a second-rate or scaled-down version of religion pressed into service to fill the gap left by secularisation. On the contrary, religious belief is itself just a special case of the way in which narratives, stories, shape our lives and give them meaning.
Richard Norman, On Humanism

Monday, July 24, 2006

All superhero movies should be like this

JAMES BATMAN (1967, Philippines). Click on the image above for the .WMV clip, which comes from here. Or read a review here.

More on 'Literary' comics

My aside about Kevin Huizenga being a 'literary' cartoonist has provoked some response (including on Nick Mullins' blog). This being my first experience of blogging, it gave me quite a thrill (jaded veterans of the blogosphere can just sigh and click away at this point).

However, I thought it might be worth clarifying what I meant, lest people get the (incorrect) idea that I'm dissing Huizenga. I'm not trying to suggest that Huizenga's work is 'not visual enough' or 'too word-based' or anything like that. It's more that it seems very engaged with the history and practise of literature, and with what's currently happening in the literary world. His intent as a cartoonist seems to be about constructing narratives that explore various issues and themes (and particularities of everyday life) in a way which seems very 'literary' - to me, anyways.

Whereas others seem to approach their comics more the way a painter might - being compelled to explore certain images or motifs, issues of style and representation, etc. Rege's work, for example, feels less like a writer constructing a novel, and more like an artist making an intensely personal series of narrative images - in which the 'action' is not only (or even primarily) within the 'story.' The way he's drawing, the rhythm and music of the page as a visual structure, his decorative motifs, individual images asimages - that's where much of the real action is. With some cartoonists, narrative - story - seems almost a by-product of that process, rather than a primary motivating force. Or maybe it's merely another tool in their repertoire, along with colour, line, visual iconography, etc.

Of course, I don't want to overstate this distinction and turn it into yet another false dichotomy. One of the things I've always said about comics is that they allow you to be both an artist and a writer all at once. And many (James Kochalka is one example who comes to mind) seem to me to defy any attempt to place them in either of two such arbitrary 'camps.'

I also don't want to give the impression that I'm criticising Huizenga. I truly don't believe it's better to be an 'artistic' or 'literary' cartoonist. The main reason I mentioned it in the first place is entirely selfish: as Nick Mullins points out, my own comics have always been extremely 'literary' and novelistic. But there's the thing, you see: as my own taste and enthusiasm for the novel has waned, I've been forced to reassess my relationship with my own comics, looking for other ways of thinking about them, bringing to the fore things I'd previously neglected. I guess I've been rediscovering the graphic, as opposed to the novel, in my work. So this is more about me dealing with my own disability (that allergy to literary fiction); I'm not about to start criticising others for not sharing that disability!

So I hope that makes some kind of sense. There is an infinite number of ways to look at and think about comics (as I've said before ad nauseum). And I'm not trying to suggest that one way is better than another.

Oh - one last point: a different way of comparing Huizenga to Rege would be to say that one makes 'prose fiction' and the other makes 'poetry'. Again, that doesn't mean one is better than the other - just that there are slightly different things going on with their work.

Or I suppose we could just say "they both make great comics" and have another beer...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Dream of Venus

Did this for an Australian art magazine (Artlink), as the cover for an issue on current New Zealand art. The theme of the issue was turangawaewae. In the end, my cover wasn't used, so I may as well put it up here.

As it happens, a variation on this image made it into Siso, the story I did for the Les Belles Etrangeres book.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Physics Engine

I've just updated the news page of my website (first time since February - ahem) and included a sample double-page spread from the story 'The Physics Engine', which is the story I contributed to Are Angels OK? So I thought I should post that here, too.

Atlas #3 sample page

To prove that I'm not just sitting around fretting about science and art, here's a page I've just drawn for Atlas #3 (which is almost finished).

Might need a bit of tinkering still (cars have never been my strong point - and neither has perspective), but at least I'm happy with panel 2.

Of course, what I should say - in accord with my new mantra (see below) - is that it all makes me happy!

The Vintage Man

This Ben Jones page touched a nerve (it's from 'Space Ballz', in Paper Rad's Paper Rad, BJ & da Dogs). I'm going to try and adopt this as my mantra:
The difference between a good artist and a great one is: the novice will often lay down his tool or brush, then pick up an invisible club on the mind's table and helplessly smash the easels and jade. Whereas the Vintage Man no longer hurts himself or anyone and keeps sculpting light.
I tend to experience my work as a struggle - with myself, with pen and paper, with my lousy drawing ability, with everything. I think it had reached the stage where I'd been unwittingly fetishising that struggle, treating it as a sign that my work is 'serious, mature, meaningful' - i.e. real art.

So I really like the idea that such struggle is actually a sign of immaturity, and that the great artist steps aside from the fight and "no longer hurts himself or anyone."

After all, I just want to make comics. Why should that be painful?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Kramer's Ergot 5

Just read Kramers Ergot #5. Fucking brilliant. Can't wait for #6. Favourites included CF's work, and David Heatley's detailed account of his own sexual history - made all the more fascinating by the awkwardness with which he avoids discussing his relationship with his wife. Somehow that detail made me squirm far more than the extreme candour of the rest of it...

In contrast, Kevin Huizenga's story, while very interesting, of course, reinforced for me how novelistic and literary his approach to comics is. This is something I've been thinking about a lot, as I struggle to find anything to like about 'literary fiction' these days and am instead increasingly drawn to those comics that operate more as visual art with a narrative element (e.g. Ron Rege, Gary Panter, CF, etc), rather than as literary fiction.

Maybe I'm just becoming illiterate?

Might post more about this later. But for now, I'm watching Huizenga's comics (and his blog) with interest, picking away at the scab that is my current allergy to contemporary fiction...

Scientific Truth vs Artistic Truth

Been reading this book: On Science by B.K.Ridley, as part of the thinking I've been doing after Are Angels OK. Y'know: science, art, religion, truth, fiction, all that stuff. What's it all for, etc etc...

This particular book is interesting - he talks about the roots of modern science in magic (as explored by Bacon, Newton, etc) and is keen to demonstrate the limits of the scientific method. He quotes Francis Bacon:
That the sense of man carrieth a resemblence with the sun, which (as we see) openeth and revealeth all the terrestrial globe; but then again it obscureth and concealeth the stars and celestial globe; so doth the sense discover natural things, but it darkeneth and shutteth up divine.
Indeed. But it's a frequently frustrating book for me, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it's a piece of polemic, aimed largely (I suspect) at Ridley's fellow scientists. He's pointing out to them that science has its limits, and there are areas the scientific method can't really help us with. Which is where the humanities, art and spirituality come in - and what he calls 'natural magic'.

I don't really know precisely where he's coming from - maybe he's a physicist who also believes in God. Maybe not. But I have to say I can't share his dewey-eyed enthusiasm for 'artistic truth'. For example:
We are generally interested in understanding the physical world, in the behaviour of our fellows, in art and in God; and as a consequence, there exist the scientific, the ethical, the aesthetical and the religious perspectives. Our aim is to discover interesting scientific truths, interesting ethical truths, interesting aesthetical truths and interesting religious truths. Evidently there is no such thing as Truth with a capital T without any subscript; there is only truth(sci), truth(eth), etc.
Oh, please! What the fuck is an aesthetical truth? Not to mention an ethical one? I suppose I should have seen this coming, when he scornfully rejected postmodernist relativism early on in the introduction. Ridley seems to want us to accept that the humanities, art and religion can reveal truths about existence that the scientific method cannot - and that these truths are equally valid and important. It would be nice to think so, I guess, and as Picasso is supposed to have said: "art is a lie that tells the truth."

Well, maybe. Or maybe truth doesn't enter into it. Maybe it's just a lie...

So where does that leave us? With reality - the one gradually uncovered by scientists. No God, I'm afraid. And no 'aesthetic truths' either. Which, frankly, can be a bit disappointing...

It's funny, as a life-long atheist, to find myself grappling with this vague yearning for something more than the material reality described by science. I think when I was younger, the realisation that there really is nothing more was exciting enough - it put fire in my belly, gave me the conviction of a powerful truth, etc.

Now, though, I keep thinking about just why I've always been into fantasy - and why as a kid I was obsessed with UFOs, parapsychology, etc. And I'm becoming increasingly aware that the truth about the universe can be - well - disappointing...

I love this line from an essay by Lyell Henry on 'pseudoscience', which I found in a book by Brenda Denzler called The Lure of the Edge: Science, Religion and the Pursuit of UFOs:
[The work of pseudoscientists] might be interpreted as efforts to re-enchant the world through science. They would bring back into science's ken the monsters, giants, wee people, dread cataclysms... that once upon a time were exorcised from science and by science. There is, in other words, a fascinating apparent effort to be "for" science and yet, at the same time, against the "impoverishing" impact of science on our modern world view.
Now, when I read this, all kinds of bells went off. I realised that this is indeed a big part of my childhood obsession with UFOs, 'world mysteries', parapsychology, etc. And also a big part of what draws me to fantasy, and indeed to all kinds of fictional realities (in art, comics, stories, roleplaying games, etc). Most of my own comics (and roleplaying games!) are, in a sense, all about doing precisely this. But of course, I know they're just that: fictional realities. I mean - I'd love to really, truly believe in magic (as Tim Hunter might say). But I don't.

So where does this leave art (let alone fiction)? When art presents the universe as suffused with (and motivated by) meaning, when it implies some kind of meta-narrative to the way the world works, when - in short - it attempts to "re-enchant the world" - doesn't that make it a lie that tells a lie?

I guess I would like Ridley to convince me otherwise. He hasn't yet. We'll see if the last few chapters make a convert of me...

By the way, I recently gave a talk about all this, called 'Physics Engines and Narrative Machines,' at Auckland University's Winter Writers Week. And I'll be doing another in September, at Going West (with physicist, poet and fellow roleplaying gamer Tony Signal), which I'm looking forward to quite a bit. I guess this stuff will continue to filter its way through my work in various ways...