18 March 2018

COMIC TIMING

Francesco-Alessio Ursini, Adnan Mahmutovic and Frank Bramlett (Editors). Visions of the Future in Comics, International Perspectives. McFarland, 2017.

By far and away the main issue concerning 'comics' in the English-speaking world is that one word; comics. Comic without the plural 's' means amusing, with a whiff of the trite and inferior. It refers to the funny three or four-panelled short strips in newspapers, and children's publications such as the Beano and Dandy in the UK. 
🔻Many will also associate American superhero periodicals with the 'c' word. 'Serious' data depicted in this form, however, is nothing new to us. Two-dimensional art, imparting what the artists and their social superiors regarded as essential information about their world, is where all this started. 


From the Lascaux cave paintings in the Dordogne to the stone reliefs in Uruk, Mesopotamia; from Egyptian murals to Greek friezes, art depicting one event after another has come down to us in a stunning and impressive fashion, to impart to the viewer the greatness of their peoples and, significantly, the importance of the events depicted. The writer and artist Scott McCloud noted the discrepancy of the momentousness of the subject matter and the similarity in the method of disseminating it to modern-day comics. He came up with the term 'sequential art' in response, thereby enabling the reader to further examine the nature of current 'comic' art with a more objective eye. Furthermore, when a whole series of comics are published together in one volume, we get the graphic novel, which certainly sounds more portentous and worthy of academic study.

The editors are all scholars; "Francesco-Alessio Ursini is a linguist working on universal semantic typology and a comics scholar working on cross-cultural aspects of narratives in comics. He lives in Sweden. Adnan Mahmutovic is a Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Stockholm University. Frank Bramlett is a Professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His research focuses predominantly on the linguistic nature of comics and he serves on the editorial board of Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society." – courtesy of the book's Amazon page.

The sections that the book is divided into cover various interpretations of how the future may be seen. Part 1: Future-Formal, looks at the nature of time in general, as well as that of the future itself. Part 2: Future-Past and Future-Present concerns itself with how the past affects the future within the medium of the comic strip. Part 3: Future-Culture examines how comics cross over into films, our concerns with ageing, how our individual futures are shaped and more about our personal worries for the future. Returning to Part 1, the doyen of comic writers, Alan Moore, whose stories single-handedly almost seem to have resulted in the comic coming-of-age, replacing wisecracking, throwaway comments with introspection and drama, has both his From Hell and V for Vendetta laid out for inspection. 

From Hell is Moore's time-spanning fable about the Ripper murders as ritual, changing the nature of tomorrow. This was in turn influenced greatly by the poet and filmmaker Iain Sinclair's book-length poem Lud Heat, concerning lines of force laid out across London, mostly by the work of the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. V for Vendetta is about a future fascist British state, where anything outside of a tight view of Britishness is banned, and its downfall mainly due to the actions of one determined and resourceful rebel, whose essence was created in the concentration camps of that state, along with the medical experimentation he underwent whilst incarcerated. "The Future in Comics" is not all beer and skittles. 'Dystopian' is very much the zeitgeist, not just in comics but in most quotidian artistic depiction.

This, then, is an academic look at a genre that many might dismiss as a frivolous indulgence. The writers treat this medium as a valid form of communication, and their work is set out as such. For the most part it is laid out in as plain English as possible, and whilst a few areas contain jargon words  these are, mercifully, kept to a minimum, thus enabling the less academically-minded to mostly access fascinating concepts from what has hitherto been an area that was less explored than the novel or the painting. The articles themselves supply lists of works referenced. The book includes short notes about the contributors, and there is an index, which cannot always be taken for granted these days. A person who would appreciate insightful essays into both the nature of comics today and the nature of time itself will welcome this volume. -- Trevor Pyne.

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