lengthy pondering about ambition, sophistication, and formalism in comics

Of course, I’m also constantly trying to apply these ideas [i.e. art/lit theory/criticism] to making comics. Anybody who’s tried to talk to me in the last year knows that I’ve had comics on the brain, but the development of the last month or so is that I’m thinking about making them. There’s a strong argument to be made that comics is the ultimate artistic medium (except perhaps film), really. Any criticism or theory that applies to literature or visual art should theoretically apply to comics just as well. It’s a very young medium still, and the collective intelligence of its creators has never been terribly high*, so there’s only a bit of work that shows a care for really high-level concerns. But we’re getting there.

*as in pop music, it’s probably less appropriate to speak of a dearth of intelligence as it is a dearth of education: Jack Kirby was a brilliant guy, but he never went to college. There’s also been a lack of ambition until recently: I can’t get that image out of my head from Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics of Rube Goldberg telling Will Eisner that they were nothing more than vaudevillians.

Reference list for structurally/theoretically intelligent comics:
Ernie Bushmiller (need more of him in the MLLL)
Eddie Campbell
Howard Chaykin (him too)
Will Eisner (him too)
Warren Ellis?
Los Bros Hernandez?
George Herriman??
Paul Hornschemeier (him too)
David Mack
Winsor McCay (him too)
Scott McCloud?
Dave McKean?
Frank Miller
Peter Milligan?
Alan Moore
Grant Morrison
P. Craig Russell (him too)
Bill Sienkiewicz
Dave Sim
Art Spiegelman (him too)
Osamu Tezuka
Chris Ware

And presumably a whole heap of stuff I’m not yet aware of, probably including:
-Small-press “pretentious art-school fucks” that The Comics Journal loves
-Forgotten pre-WWII innovators that The Comics Journal loves
-European and Japanese innovators that even The Comics Journal tends to ignore

5 Responses to “lengthy pondering about ambition, sophistication, and formalism in comics”


  1. 1 Ryan January 14, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    you are correct, there are tons and tons of others.
    You may also want to check out Jason Shiga’s mathematical/divergence comics

  2. 2 Leigh Walton January 14, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for reading, Ryan. (I think the whole internet owes you guys a beer for introducing us to Kago!)

    I love Shiga! It’s hard to believe I wrote this post only two years ago — I’ve discovered so much great material since then (both formalist and non) that if I made it today, it’d be much longer. And I would probably be less obsessed with the Journal!

    Can you name any mangaka along these lines, besides Kago (and, hmmm, Takemiya and Ariyoshi)? That’s an area where I still feel pretty weak.

  3. 3 Leigh Walton January 14, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    And that New Engineering book out from Picturebox that I keep hearing about.

  4. 4 Ryan January 15, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Oh dude, this post is from 2 years ago?? I just saw a link in my site traffic and jumped over— derrr, i’m a moron.

    I was at a talk by Scott McCloud a few months ago, and when people asked about experimental comics he named Shiga. Not bad right? Shiga is actually working on a new full-length book, and I hear from folks that have seen it that it’s incredible (and his art style has started to get more detailed, lush backgrounds and everything).

    The one that I’m completely enamored with right now is Usamaru Furuya. He’s been around for a long time, but just recently I got a few more books by him and he totally amazes me. The easiest way to check him out is to either track down Short Cuts from Viz (which is funny and strange and fucks with panels and points of reference but is mostly a gag strip) OR his Palepoli comics in Secret Comics Japan. Those hint at what he’s really up to… He did another book, Plastic Girl, which varies medium on each page— paintings, cardboard, stained glass, etc- all while keeping the panel motif going.

    It’s weird to thing he’s also the guy that wrote the manga Suicide Club was based on… multi-talented, he is. :)

    oh yeah, and New Engineering— it’s not satisfying as a narrative comic but is a totally rad read in a more academic-meets-who gives a shit kind of way :)

    Oh dude, this post is from 2 years ago?? I just saw a link in my site traffic and jumped over— derrr, i’m a moron.

    I was at a talk by Scott McCloud a few months ago, and when people asked about experimental comics he named Shiga. Not bad right? Shiga is actually working on a new full-length book, and I hear from folks that have seen it that it’s incredible (and his art style has started to get more detailed, lush backgrounds and everything).

    The one that I’m completely enamored with right now is Usamaru Furuya. He’s been around for a long time, but just recently I got a few more books by him and he totally amazes me. The easiest way to check him out is to either track down Short Cuts from Viz (which is funny and strange and fucks with panels and points of reference but is mostly a gag strip) OR his Palepoli comics in Secret Comics Japan. Those hint at what he’s really up to… He did another book, Plastic Girl, which varies medium on each page— paintings, cardboard, stained glass, etc- all while keeping the panel motif going.

    It’s weird to thing he’s also the guy that wrote the manga Suicide Club was based on… multi-talented, he is. :)

    ! ryan

    ! ryan

  5. 5 Ryan January 15, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Whoa, wtf just happened. Copy and past overload. MY BAD


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Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.

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