6/15/2010

Nancy, Solidarity, Typography


"One tired jab against Ernie Bushmiller was that he didn’t draw his characters but merely rubber-stamped them on the page...
"...if “iconic solidarity” is a formalist property common to comics in general, what Bushmiller is up to is heightening this formal property by making it as blunt and visible as possible. In effect, Bushmiller’s gambit is to make us aware as possible that we’re reading a comic by taking a key formal property and making it part of the narrative itself. Hence all those twins and mirror images. This might explain why so many comics aficionados have a special regard for Nancy, which often seems to be the very beating heart, the very distilled essence, of comics itself (for those who still believe, of course, in essences)." 

I don’t think “iconic solidarity” means the same thing as the rubber stamp.  I think it has less to do with regimentation and uniformity, and more to do with interdependence.   (The political language is maybe interesting?)  But I’m not sure about that.  I gave up on trying to figure out Groensteen for now.

The twinning is a great catch, though.  Drawing Nancy and Sluggo almost exactly the same each time, it’s like he’s making them into a font, like he’s writing “Nancy” in Helvetica.  All the drawings of Nancy are transparently Nancy the way a commonly used font will make a word "transparent."  But I think saying that Bushmiller represents the “distilled essence” of comics is like saying Helvetica is the essence of the written alphabet.  (What about Giddyup?)  It’s no knock on Bushmiller or Helvetica, but it helps to relativize the situation, to talk in terms of use, function, and keep from away from essence-talk.  If cartooning is a kind of handwriting, I'd rather say something like Bushmiller had handwriting that was  beautiful, super-consistent and easy-to-read.



Nancy gets meta, like "Helvetica" written in Helvetica.

Getting a variety of letters and pictures and marks to work together, in solidarity, that's the trick.  It doesn't have to be clean and easy.  Everyone doesn't have to wear uniforms and stand in line.  It makes it easier to do a daily strip.  It's easier to read.  The “rubber stamp” school of cartooning—where images and pages are handled like typography—is something I have an affinity for, but I’m suspicious of claiming too much for it. 

I don't know why my brain gets so hung up on this.  I'm still thinking it through.  I hope I'm not being pedantic.  Maybe it's as simple as wanting to keep clear the distinction between description and prescription.

More reading:
Here's Derik Badman and Neil Cohn working through Thierry Groensteen's System.

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