Monday, October 6, 2008

"Freedom within Boundaries": Derik Badman on Constraint in Comics

Derik Badman—cartoonist, critic, and comics theorist—recently gave a presentation at the first annual Web Comics Comic-Con and Conference, wherein he discussed varieties of constraint in comics. His presentation, "Freedom within Boundaries: the Theory and Practice of Constraint in Comics," may be viewed (and heard!) in full here.

His presentation lasts about 22 and a half minutes, during which he discusses general principles of constraint before focusing on some examples of "generative" and "transformative" constraint (borrowing categories from a Thierry Groensteen article in OuPus 1, a publication of the francophone Oubapo movement for formal experiment in comics). There are a number of interesting examples along the way, among which the following stood out for me:

1) David Lasky's adaptation of Poe's "The Raven" (which crops up around 9:50), a work I was already familiar with and which I enjoy a great deal (save for the transcription error where the meter gets loused up in a line, confound it). Its minimalism makes an interesting contrast with the Kurtzman-Elder adaptation from Mad, with its typically Elderian profusion of detail.

2) Frederic and Luc Schuiten's Nogegon (about 11:10 in) presents a symmetrical layout that outdoes even issue 5 of Watchmen (the first issue in the pair devoted to Rorschach).

3) Tom Hart's implementation of Matt Madden's obstructions (14:45 or so) for a week of his Hutch Owen strip, based in part on director Lars von Trier's Five Obstructions challenge. Tom and Matt's joint effort was of course the inspiration for our own "Stepan Crick and the Chart of the Possible," also known as Satisfactory Comics #8...

4) ...which also appears in Derik's presentation (at 17:15)! I'm pleased that Derik included us in his presentation (and I didn't know we were a part of it until I followed the link to it from Journalista this evening), and I'm doubly pleased that he showcases my favorite page from the story, Isaac's riff on Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (page 7 of the comic).

5) Badman concludes the generative constraints with his own "Things Change" (19:00), based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. He shows two pages from a sequence designed so that each page doubles the panel count of the preceding page, till the art dissolves into blackness. (Before it does that, though, the use of color is quite striking, as seen in the adjacent 16- and 32-panel pages on display in his video).

So if you're interested in seeing and hearing a bit more about comics constraints (from somebody other than Isaac or myself, for a change!), I recommend giving Derik's presentation a listen.


DerikB said...

"cartoonist, critic, and comics theorist"

Thanks, that made my day. I should start putting that on my business cards.

Mike said...

I made sure it would alliterate, too!

Meanwhile, our pal Tom Motley sums it all up in a single word on his business card: "cartooniologist."