Plasticty of Worlds

09Oct08

Previously, I discussed Graphic Novels and Comic Books in relation to spatiality and the art of drawing (as articulated by Badiou). The act of drawing creates the form itself as well as the background (from the whiteness of the page) embodying a schizogenesis – of the cut that holds together. This stitch-trailed-abscission is the central effect of comic books; it is that which gives them their unique quality. Again, as I have previously mentioned, the barrier of the scene found in the graphic novel (the panel) is the limit of this unsplitting, this interspatiality, and the loss of its cohesion is when the effect of the graphic novel is most clear.

The test of a film adaptation of graphic novels and comics books is not how this interspatiality is grasped (since, via the difference of medium it cannot be directly although it was attempted in American Splendor) but how the film balances the world of the graphic with the world of the film. That is, some times the vestiges of the medium are erased completely (A History of Violence, Road to Perdition, Ghost World,) and elsewhere it is pushed to a comic degree (in the joking sense) as in the Batman Series up to Batman Begins. Basically the issue becomes whether one sacrifices realism or loyalty (to the materiality) which often surrounds origins, costumes and technology which are all threaded through temporality. The error of the original Batman films (Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin) is that they were polluted by the campiness of the television show. The Spiderman films in a similar vein, for instance, participate in the anachronistic comic world in that, when Dr Octopus robs the bank in the second film, he steals bags of gold coins. Everything about the newspaper that Peter Parker works for serves the same function in all three films. The same is true for Dick Tracy, the Rocketeer, and The Shadow, since these films are bound to the retro-futurism of the 30s, 40s and 50s.

The cinematic acceptance of schizogenesis can also be done stylistically as in the case of Sin City, 300 and The Spirit. This move consistently disrupts the relation of subject to background thereby galvanizing the unreality of the world the character inhabits as well as the surreality of their actions. This is not to implant a golden age ideality on all comics however. As is clear in the Ten Cent Plague, comics were not always dominated by the superheroes and villains of the golden age, but were cultural cesspools of monsters, degeneracy and true crime.

The implicit philosophical question becomes of the transcendent in relation to the material – the question of infinitude in an increasingly dismal world – whether it is evental transcendent subjectivity or the leaky finitude of psychoanalysis. From the side of the comics themselves the question becomes – what is the exceptionalness of heroes mean to us? Are they meant only to be the discursive reintegration and updating of myth (as is argued in Unbreakable), or do they point to some sense of material possibility?

This question relies on the tension between text and image in the comic world. Too much text and one can feel like they are reading an illustrated story – too little text and it can feel like one is getting lost in a set of images (as sometimes happens in Templesmith’s work).

It could be argued that the tension between text and image shadows that of materiality and matter – that matter’s push is undeniable and materiality’s petty hold on it is tenuous at best.

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One Response to “Plasticty of Worlds”

  1. 1 Will

    I am most interested in this strain between text and image – how we define the borders, not just of the scene, but of the categories of representation from reader to text to image to text to reader. Navigating the mimetic decisions made in comics as a static art forced into motion can be dizzying. Your last point on matter and materiality and text and image feels dangerously open in my understanding of it, but I like it. Nice Post!


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