Saturday, October 31, 2009

Recently posted abstract comic???

Hello everybody--I will remove this post as soon as I get an answer to my question. A couple of days ago I left a comment on a blog where an artist had posted his first attempt at an abstract comic and said he was planning to do more of them. If you are that artist, please get in touch with me! I had found your blog through my periodical Google search for "abstract comics" but forgot to bookmark it, and now can't find it again.

Edit: ok, I won't remove this post, rather I'll put up the image I was looking for:

By EscapeHatch, from here.

We're educational!

This very blog is listed (at no. 77) among Online School's 100 Best Book Blogs for Kids, Tweens and Teens.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Epic of Gilgamesh, for apes

here's a page from Wilfried Hou Je Bek's translation of parts of the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh into the pictograms used by ape researchers. (he had to invent new symbols for the characters Gilgamesh & Enkidu.)

obviously not abstract, being a translation of a story originally in words. but if you took the subtitles & IS & HAPPY away, very few humans could read it, therefore bringing it back towards abstraction.

this work might sound like a completely crazy idea, but Wilfried explains himself in a few free-to-download e-books:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Street Scene Abstract 18 series 2

Abstract 18 series 2 This is my first attempt at revisiting the process making these comics. I like the ambiguous role of the paint. Sometimes it functions as a gutter sometimes as a panel. Abstract 19 is another piece done with the same found image.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Asian aesthetics

this is a photo of a frame full of penjing (Chinese miniature tree and rock landscapes), by Cao Hua, which was part of an exhibition by the Singapore Penjing and Stone Appreciation Society. (scanned from the book Bonsai Master Class, by Craig Coussins [D & S Books, 2006]).

which way does the energy flow in this composition? is there a sequence, comparable to abstract comics?

there's a sensibility in Asian artforms such as penjing, bonsai, bunjae, gongshi, hon non bo, tieu canh, suiseki & so on, which could be incorporated into abstract comics.

a quote from Craig Coussins, comparing bonsai to penjing:
it is generally thought in the West that if a styling is an abstract form, as opposed to a recognized form, the tree is a penjing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Abstract comics by John Jennings

John is an associate professor of graphic design in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Fine and Applied Arts and, with Damian Duffy, co-author of the graphic novel The Hole.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New (and very long) interview with me

Catherine Spaeth, a NYC art historian and critic, did an interview with me here. We go in depth into issues of the aesthetics of abstract comics (and comics in general), the relationship between abstract comics and abstract film, on one hand, and abstract art on the other--but a large part of it is about my own approach to art rather than about the anthology or abstract comics in general.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

a process/poem | uma poema/processo

here's a visual poem, which I think was quoted at on 12 Março 2007.

haven't worked out who it is by, or when it was made. will probably have to write a letter to the gentleman who posted it.

postscript: Gutemberg Cruz sent me an informative email. apparently, this one's by Almandrade, & probably from the 1970s. obrigado, Gute.

Abstract Comics from New Zealand part 1

A while ago I put a call out to the New Zealand comics community to see if anyone had made any Abstract Comics recently. I only got a couple of responses, here is one of them:
By Isaac Freeman

first published in Funtime Comics #23: The Walls of Halls

Statement by Isaac:
Very occasionally I try to do a comic with a specific formal agenda. In this case the objective was to produce something that was completely abstract but also definitely sequential, and to do it entirely by hand. The production involved tracing repeatedly from a master pencilled panel, which I reworked between each frame. While I met the technical requirements I set for myself, I don't think it's particularly interesting as a comic, because the transitions between panels are very rigid and simple. It could just as well be a series of stills from an animation.

Issac is the current editor of the long running New Zealand anthology Funtime Comics.

Personally I like it.

Interviews with Abstract Comics contributors Jason T. Miles and Jason Overby, as well as Austin English.


A bitter, fault-finding (and -inventing) review of the anthology at du9. Stepped on some toes, I suppose?


Now is the time on Abstract Comics when we dance...

This was made for an anthology of minimalist comics called OM which was being compiled by David Lasky and Davey Oil back in 2003.

Apparently they dropped it because they couldn't find enough cartoonists who would do something truly minimalist, but who knows, maybe it wouldn't be so difficult now that there are so many of you on this blog and elsewhere who could possibly do something great for such a project. I hope it still happens someday...

Since some animation has been posted here, I hope it's alright for me to show you an animated version of Dancey I made (it's just all the panels played at the same frame-rate in sequence). I wasn't sure how it would move because I made the piece as a comic but it might be of interest as to the difference between comic and animation:

New review in Portuguese

From Brazil, I think, here.

For once, I will venture to (barely) copy-edit the Google translation, to make it more readable in English (however, I gave up on trying to fix the last three sentences, though I think overall their meaning is clear; if you have any suggestions, please paste them into the comments, and I will update the translation):

One of the major releases this year, still unpublished in Brazil, is the anthology Abstract Comics, launched by the North American publisher Fantagraphics. Organized by Andrei Molotiu, the album brings together abstract comics produced by a number of artists between 1967 and 2009. In practice, this means that instead of recognizable figures, like dolls and houses, the narrative is constructed from abstractions - as in a painting by Kandinsky or Pollock, for example. The first milestone in the book is the comic Abstract Expressionist Ultra Super Modernistic Comics by Robert Crumb which had already been published in the journal Zap Comics # 1, 1967 - and only flirts with pure abstraction, because there are many panels that are clearly figurative. In the introduction Molotiu - himself a major abstract comics creator - relativizes the date citing examples even before Crumb, as is the case with illustrations by Russian artist El Lissitsky, created in 1920 for a children's book about two squares. And even pages of Marvel comics bring examples of abstraction older than the Zap Comics # 1. For example, the book recounts a story of the magician Dr. Strange drawn by Steve Ditko in June 1965. The fact is that comics have always had an abstract artistic potential - and as far as my memory goes, one that is accepted by all worthwhile theoretical definitions of comics. But, until now, its role was secondary, relegated to isolated experiments. It is here that the anthology does its job: presenting an overview and organizing it, Abstract Comics creates a movement. From it, abstraction in comics can move beyond an experiment and become a legitimate possibility - a process that began in the visual arts years ago. The impression that the role of a book goes beyond: it can take several closet abstractionist and inspire other designers to abandon - even temporarily - the picture. And here for us, makes you want to see abstract works of many people just to know how it would be. Just to give a taste, I leave a short list for provoking the imagination of the reader: Craig Thompson, Laertes, Milo Manara, Art Spiegelman, Angeli, Frank Miller and Guy Delisle.

(The post goes on to discuss the introduction of new e-readers; though that's interesting, it's not particularly relevant to the discussion of the anthology.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sequentiality, Abstraction and Representation

(click on image to enlarge)

I've been working on a series of sequences (so comic strips, actually) as planning for several new stone lithos which will be leporellos, yet also I am working toward "gallery comic" installations as well. I'm attempting to make them ride the line between apparent abstraction and loose representationalism. Hence, as my art school profs would have it, they are indeed abstract, at least abstracted, but not fully non-representational. My work of this nature is usually quite large and the surfaces are very haptic, so scale and surface enter into it as well: due to them, many people do not notice any representations at all. Reproduced small, as on this website, the impression is of course quite different, but I very intrigued by the idea of flirting with but defying full abstract AND full delineation.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Aaron Zvi Felder

Second in a series of interviews with abstract-comics artists of whose work I learned only after finalizing the roster for the anthology. I asked Aaron the same questions I asked Chris Kreuter. Here are Aaron's answers:

I initially started doing abstract comics for my college newspaper. My biggest concern when I came up with the idea to do abstract comics (not that I was the first to come up with them, only the first to my knowledge) was that they would not be viewed as comics, but rather viewed as something like an abstract triptych or other work of art containing multiple images. I thought Scott McCloud did a very good job defining comics in Understanding Comics and I thought one could do abstract comics without breaking those boundaries. To totally do away with the boundaries of the definition of comics would make the term comics meaningless. What I wanted to do, was show how much wider the interpretation of that definition could be. I was very lucky that my work was printed in a newspaper on a page clearly marked "Comics" this allowed there to be acceptance from the viewer that they were in fact looking at something intended to be a comic.

With my goal in mind I came up with a few boundaries for myself. I wasn't going to do any non-sequitur abstract comics. To do so seemed no different than making a bunch of unrelated abstract images and arbitrarily putting them in a sequence. Now I believe that if one were to do just that they would in fact have an abstract comic on their hands, but this did not serve my goal of widening the perception of said definition. The work could simply be disregarded as not a sequence but merely a juxtaposition. I decided to keep my focus on what I considered logical sequences. For me this meant sequences centered around movement and or progression.

Movement intimidated me at first so I focused on progression. I had been been working on many solitary image abstract drawing at the time and I noticed I would fall in love (pardon my romanticism) with the drawing at various stages of its completion. My very first abstract comics centered around this. I would scan in the drawing at various stages and then put the images in sequence. The viewer sees the image being built little by little in each panel.

It's when I started working digitally that I was able to embrace movement and the combination of movement and progression. Working in a vector based program allowed me to make an image and literally move around or change various components of that image.

For me comics are very much about storytelling. My stories instead of being about characters with personalities are about shapes or lines moving, changing, and/or multiplying. The life of a composition if you will.

I believe that comics are more than an aesthetic or genre. Panels, gutters, and word balloons do not make a comic. It is sequence and readability that are the true nature of comics. If one looks at an abstract comic, or any comic for that matter, as a single composition they are not doing it justice. Comics are by nature a sequence of separate but related images. They are meant to be read rather than simply looked at.

I am very open to discussion of my ideas and/or work, if you have the slightest inclination please contact me. Also check out my comics (abstract and other) blog at


New review of the anthology by Sean T. Collins:

...What I liked, I liked for more than just the strips themselves--I liked them for the proof they offer that comics really is still a Wild West medium in which one's bliss can be followed even beyond the boundaries of what many or even most readers would care to define as "comics." That an entire deluxe hardcover collection of such comics now exists is, I think, one of the great triumphs for the medium in a decade full to bursting with them.

New Review in Spanish and Google translation thereof.

A couple of new abstract comics have shown up online recently. Here is blog/anthology reader phanaeromikon's self-portrait as (in?) an abstract comic (scroll down for the post itself), and here is a new piece (with the promise of more to come) by someone whose name/handle I have a hard time ascertaining (it would seem to be "fast bee," but the posts are posted by "Installation").

At "The Art of Memory," here is a post featuring stills from Brakhage's abstract films, followed by pieces by Pollock, Motherwell, Still, etc. And another (this one with comparanda from Gerhard Richter). And one more, with stills from the films of Jose Antonio Sistiaga.

And last but (I hope...) not least, may I point out that the brand new The Best American Comics 2009 edited by Charles Burns and series-edited by Matt Madden and Jessica Abel, mentions my piece, "Expedition to the Interior," from Blurred Vision 4 (and now available in Nautilus), as one of the notable comics of 2007-2008?


Weather Abstract comic with all the panels together. I also published it as pages which starts here. I wanted to try my hand at multipage Abstract comics.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

RT: Robert Sergel

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chris Kreuter

Chris Kreuter published his abstract comic book, "Stray Thoughts," in 2008. I discovered his work too late to be able to consider it for the anthology. I was interested in finding out how he came to abstract comics, what his influences were, what the concept was behind the pieces he has made so far, and what new projects he is working on. Here are his answers, together with some images from "Stray Thoughts." This is the first in a series of interviews with abstract-comics artists of whose work I learned only after finalizing the roster for the anthology.

I've never been ashamed to admit that when it comes to art, I’m kind
of a neophyte. I have no format art education, and while I was very
artistic growing up - I was never really exposed to a wide variety of
what's out there and what's been done. Luckily, living in New York
City these past four years, I've found it's impossible to not have
your horizons expanded. A few years ago, I became quickly enamored
with more abstract concepts; making my lines break from the more rigid
and structured nature my engineering and technical background had
developed. I found it liberating to play with this new method of
spontaneous expression.

My art started to become more and more abstract, and soon I was
drawing almost exclusively spur-of-the-moment, with no plans or
preconceived notions of theme in mind. The results were often dynamic
and exciting, and eventually I wanted to take this style of expression
a step further. I was going through some old sketchbooks, mostly full
of comic strip characters and ideas, which sparked a notion: What if I
could combine this method of spontaneous expression within the medium
of comics? This is how the idea developed for "Stray Thoughts."

Growing up, I loved the cartoons in the newspaper such as Calvin &
Hobbes, Garfield and of course Peanuts. The most important influence
of all these comics was that it wasn't the art that mattered as much
as the depth of story and character they depict. This lesson is
important for me to remember whenever I have self-doubts regarding my
artistic ability. Aside from comics, I try and immerse myself in as
many different styles and mediums of art as I can. It’s my intention
that my art never become stagnant by staying within self-inflicted
boundaries. I feel that like me, people are influenced the most when
they’re taken outside of their comfort zone.

When I had the idea to do an abstract comic, I honestly thought I was
being really innovative. Looking back, I'm really glad I never did
any Google searches for "abstract comic"...because I would have
either; A) Been influenced by other works, which would have changed my
approach; or B) Had my creative energy stifled, knowing I wasn't quite
as innovative as I thought I was.

When I was getting started, I laid out some ground rules for how I
would draw abstract art in a sequential format. The goal was to try
and keep consistency in style, so that the reader had the opportunity
to perceive a narrative in their own way, by playing off of their
existing conventions of how a comic is supposed to work. I drew each
page as part of a 3-step, free-form process. The first step was
drawing the panel frames, which I did one page at a time off the top
of my head. As the book progressed, I found that my page layouts
become much more complex and explorative. After the panels were
setup, I went straight to ink for all of the linework. I drew one
panel at a time, all off of the top of my head. Looking back, the
variety in the results reflects many different moods over the course
of the four months it took to draw the book. After the linework was
done on each page, I came back with color - which was just as
spontaneous as my linework. Looking back at the final product, it's
very interesting to see the interaction of the different color
combinations. I also feel that the vibrant colors help to unify the
book and give it its own unique identity.

Since "Stray Thoughts," the demands for my time have grown
significantly. I am currently doing a lot of graphic design work for
card & board games, which eats into the time and creative energy I
have. I have a day job as a sales engineer, which makes art a passion
and not a job (This is certainly true for most artists today). While
this leaves me with a limited amount of opportunity to create, it also
allows me the freedom to explore new directions and new ideas without
having to worry about income. Lately, when I do find time for
personal art, I’ve been doing a lot of painting and non-traditional
media. However, I have so many stories in my head that I’d like to
tell, so I’ve been back to drawing comics lately, both traditional and
abstract. I believe that both of these methods have a value, yet
abstract comics are different in the way they demand the viewer to be
an active participant, as it is their background and emotions that
dictate the experience.

Besides, one of the things I love the most about abstract comics is
that I don’t have to draw the same character 50 times from 50
different angles...I’m honestly not very good at doing this, and I
envy all the cartoonists who have the skill and patience to do this.

More of Chris's work can be found on his website,

Monday, October 12, 2009

RT: Jed McGowan

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Perfect Modernism diptych

Separately the pieces can be seen here and here. I like the idea of fracturing modernism.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Unexpected precursors: Scott McCloud, part II

Here's an abstract comic; quick, who is it by?

Ok, ok, I know this won't work twice in a row, not to mention I already gave away the answer in the title to this post. Here is the page from "Understanding Comics" from which the above comes:

(It's page 137, the last page of chapter 5, "Living in Line.")

Scott was here in Bloomington this past Monday, giving an amazing talk to the largest and most enthusiastic audience I've ever seen at a university lecture; I fortunately had the chance to hang out with him both before and after his talk, and I'm still pumped up about all the artistic and technological possibilities we batted back and forth (and also with seven PhD students from Computer Science, over dinner!). (Scott was also kind enough to link on his blog to my earlier post on Understanding Comics and Zot, and I'd like hereby to thank him for both that and for his visit.)

Anyway, since that post, I have kept going back to Understanding Comics, and realizing more and more not only how extensive is the presence of abstraction in its overall argument, but also how UC itself opens up a space for the possibility, and reception, of abstract comics. To begin with, notice that McCloud's definition of comics says nothing about narrative or figuration:

Secondly, after discussing "iconic abstraction," the simplification inherent in cartooning that may reduce figures to very simple shapes which nevertheless still have meaning (this is something that I also mentioned, probably remembering this passage from UC, in the introduction to the anthology), McCloud goes on to mention the more traditional sense of "abstraction," the one we largely use here:

To talk about "ink on paper" is to talk about the dissolution of diegesis, of representation; and that "it means what it is" seems to me to echo (unconsciously?) Frank Stella's "You see what you see." This, then, completely opens the possibility of abstract comics, which can occupy the top of McCloud triangular schema:

Now, as you will notice, once McCloud begins to fill up his triangle with examples, he actually does not have any that go all the way up to (non-iconic) abstraction. The highest-placed example in his schema is "Mary Fleener at her most abstract," but that is still fully iconic abstraction:

So, in a way, McCloud functions here like a nuclear physicist positing the theoretical possibility of a particle--or, in this case, a genre, a kind of comic--even before having any empirical proof of its existence. (I should add here that the anthology does contain some examples of pre-1994 fully abstract and non-iconic sequential art, but most of them had not been published at the time--such as McDonnell's, Badger's, or Joly's--or come from other media, such as painting or graphic design; given my expanded definition of abstract comics, I also included earlier work by Crumb or Zenick that does include representative elements, but clearly that's not what McCloud is talking about here.)

Abstraction, once you look for it, is present everywhere in UC, as is the possibility of its being used for sequential-art purposes. Here are two example McCloud gives of non-sequitur panel-to-panel transitions:

(Come to think of it, it would be interesting to try such hybrid, figurative-to abstract-to-figurative comics.)

It is significant that abstraction is used specifically to illustrate the "non-sequitur" category of transitions. The previous five categories--moment-to-moment, action-to-action--clearly imply a fictional time ("moment"), represented actors and actions, etc. They are categories that only apply to traditionally narrative comics that construct a fictional diegesis (and, yes, even when such comics are based on fact, the diegesis is still fictional--think of "Maus"; but that's a discussion for another time.) In a way, the non-sequitur category is left to gather all (?) transitions featured in comics without such a diegesis; and it is our task, I would argue, to keep exploring that realm, and to try to understand all the possibilities inherent in it. (Including to study its apparent paradox, that of a "non-sequitur"--i.e., which does not follow--transition, in "sequential" art; and notice that "sequitur" and "sequence" derive from the same root.)

The possibility of abstract comics is broached repeatedly when McCloud's examples tend toward the abstract:

(This last sequence, though not fully abstract, does address an important issue that many of us have been dealing with--and even using to our advantage--in our abstract comics: when time is no longer clearly represented, how do you draw out a sequence from the abstract page layout? Do you even need to? Another question to be explored later.)

Even when not intended as such, some of McCloud's examples achieve a kind of formal sequencing that essentially turns them into abstract comics, or would do so if we were to remove the words; in this case, for example, the gradual multiplication of elements, together with the growing confusion of color, makes for a clear and simple sequencing principle:

There is one more way in which UC opened the possibility of abstract comics--not only theoretically, but by confronting the fanboy or fangirl who had opened its pages, trying to understand how The Dark Knight or Jimmy Corrigan functioned, with the visual evidence of abstraction in comic panels. Just look at McCloud's chapter titles:


Look at his extensive use of examples of abstract art (thereby, I should add, expanding the art-historical perspectives of his readers):


Look again at his restatement, in the final chapter, of the wide range of possible rendering styles in comics, from the nearly photographic to the cartoony to...

And look at the backgrounds--clearly intended to be comic panels--on this page (part of UC's conclusion) meant to celebrate the continuingly evolving language of comics:

Here we are, fifteen years in UC's future, and some of the possibilities of evolution that McCloud predicted have taken place, some of them on this very blog; and quite possibly because of that very prediction.

Thanks, Scott!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Are things wild the where?

Brief review of the anthology at We Love You So, a blog mainly dedicated to "Spike Jonze’s feature film rendition of Maurice Sendak’s classic story Where The Wild Things Are." Makes a weird kind of sense, actually.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Interview about the Anthology at Inkstuds

Robin McConnell of Inkstuds interviewed me by phone all the way from the wonderful faraway land of Vancouver, B.C. Listen to the podcast here (believe it or not, this was even broadcast on a number of real live, non-internet college radio stations!). And, oh yes, please enjoy my musical selections. I got to play DJ for once and, well, that's what I came up with.

Oh, by the way, please do let me know what you think. I don't know if I can stand the sound of my own (recorded) voice for long enough to listen to it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009