Sunday, April 12, 2009

Syntactic (?) Comics

Hello again,

well first I prefer to inform all of you that I usually speak french and that my english may be somewhat shaky from time to time.

When I started to be interested in abstract comics, I took them as a way to investigate the intrinsic narrative power of the language of comics and its tools (frames and speech balloons). I tried to see whether it was possible to tell stories with a very reduced "vocabulary", a little bit in the spirit of Georges Perec when he wrote his novel "La Disparition" without using the letter "e", which is the most frequently used in french. The stories I (tried to) tell involved "characters" (for example squares and circles) and were in a way "concrete" stories, the abstract characters could have been replaced by realistic ones in a lot of cases (as seen in my pages in the Anthology). They are therefore quite different from most of the material that has been posted here, where the narrative content is more related to an esthetic progression or feeling, more in the spirit of poetry than that of a short novel. (I know I am simplifying much, but it is just to stress the different approaches.)

Later I decided to try to push idea as far as I could, that is, tell stories ("concrete" ones) using only the syntactic elements of the comics language: speech balloons and frames. (I know that there are comics without frames and/or without speech balloons, and some other medias use frames and/or speech balloons, but anyway I think that these two syntactic elements are used in comics in such a specific way that they belong to its language in an intrinsic way.) What I found interesting is that the same element, say a word balloon, may be used as a character, then as a syntactic object, then again as a character, etc.

It is however true that this kind of stories are not properly abstract, as nothing but syntactic elements are depicted, so we should maybe call them "syntactic comics", or "syntactical comics", but I find in them an interesting experimental playground worth of more investigation. I have put below the first 5 pages (of 22) of my last story of this kind.


  1. Genius Mathieu --- as are your works!

  2. Wow! Draw sent me over, and I'm very glad I came.

    I *love* this!

  3. yes!

    this is genius!

    it reminds me of minimalist poetry, how so little can be used to gain so much, for example,
    as in the poetry of R Lax, something can be said for "concrete abstraction" in that it creates within the viewer/reader a pause, like a deep inhalation, like a meditation.

    this is excellent work,
    thanx for posting it!

  4. Actually, Mathieu, there is at least one comic of yours in the abstract anthology that could be called "syntactic" in the way you define it here: the one about the circle and the square talking to each other. That's the first piece of yours I ever saw (in a review of "Cidre et schnapps" in The Comics Journal), and I loved it. It was a real inspiration for me. I see no reason it couldn't be called "abstract" too--it's a wide enough umbrella term, after all.

  5. I really like this a lot. The first mini I ever did ("I love the smell of X-tol in the morning.") was based on this premise, though it wasn't using the syntactic building blocks in quite the pure manner you are. In fact, in most of the comics I've done I've occasionally used a character to represent myself ( that has no relationship to my appearance. One of the strengths of comics is that context has a great effect on meaning so that semantic content can be alluded to using pictorial elements, words, plot, etc. so that it's possible to express whatever it is you're trying to express very minimally.

  6. "Meaning" or content is therefore generated, not by an organization of discrete semantic objects, but through an organic combination of verisimilitude, suggestion, phenomenological aspects, etc. This holistic way of viewing structure is in opposition (I guess) to the notion that the symbols within a strip each have a specific meaning associated with them, and that there's a proper grammar you can use to put these elements together like you would a sentence in 9th grade English or something.

  7. By the way, that Robert Lax poem is hilarious (and, by that, I mean great - like Warhol's Mona Lisas)!

  8. = )

    great comments here folks!

    i recently discovered his work
    & have been breathing innit...

  9. Hey, I'm glad you discovered Ibn / Mathieu by way of that review, Andrei --- since I wrote it! The piece by IaR reproduced in that review is still one of my all time favorite comics.

  10. Hello everyone.

    Andrei: well, this is really a detail, but I think that there is a difference between the pages I posted here and the one about the circle and the square talking to each other that is reprinted in the anthology. Here, I have drawn ONLY speech balloons and frames, nothing more, and these are syntactical elements of the comics language, while circles and squares aren´t. That is the reason why I proposed to call it a "syntactical comic", but I agree with you that it may as well be called abstract, as it does not depicts anything... It is not very important anyway.

    Thanks everyone for the nice and interesting comments. I agree with you Jason that one of the strength of comics is this semantic content (or explanation) that the sequence can bring, and I am trying to use this "property" in the pages I posted here.

    By the way, I can post the rest of the story if you like. I wanted to make a small book with it, but it seems it was refused by the editor, so maybe I´ll put it in Bile Noire, the anthology of the editors Atrabile.


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