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Every couple of months or so, another article will come out considering the question of “Are comics literature?” Much has been discussed about the value of graphic novels with attempts to place them alongside prose books.
Less has been discussed about comics as art, however.
Abstract Comics (2009, Fantagraphics) tries to make the case for the latter. On one hand, it succeeds beautifully. On the other hand, it’s really hard to say if some these are truly “comics.”
The book is designed beautifully — editor Andrei Molotiu presents this book like an exhibition catalog and the oversized pages are filled with rich blacks and vibrant colors. It’s maybe not quite a coffee table book, but it’s a lovely one to leave lying around to flip through idly.
The content serves as a great introduction to a genre of comics that few people knew existed. Molotiu takes somewhat of a scholarly approach to the content, placing the concept of abstract comics within art history in his introduction. He makes a good case.
Obviously, some of these are absolutely what I think of comics. Robert Crumb’s “Abstract Expressionist Ultra Super Modernistic Comics” is done in his classic style, even if it lacks a narrative, and Mike Getsiv‘s “Shapes,” with its swirl of colors, has plenty of movement. Henrik Rehr‘s “Storms” is powerful as it builds, evoking the chaos of storms. Mark Gonyea and James Kochalka also provide interesting contributions — abstract, certainly, as the title of the book would imply, but very much grounded in the traditional sequential form of comics.
Other works in the book, I think it’s a stretch to call comics. In fact, I think it’s a stretch to even say they’re sequential art. Tim Gaze’s series of splotchy patches of black ink, segmented randomly, are appealingly disorganized, but they don’t seem to move from one to the next with clear transitions. Richard Hahn‘s bicolored paintings, divided into tiny, uneven boxes, are lovely and soothing, but don’t say “comics” to me at all. I understand that some of this is just a matter of personal opinion — you may think they’re comics whereas I don’t — but some of this feels like a stretch.
And you may have noticed that everyone I’ve listed so far is a man. There is not one woman creator featured in this book. The Abstract Comics blog features a couple — such as Satu Kaikkonen and Nina Roos — so I’m going to think their work was discovered too late for inclusion here and it wasn’t some intentional oversight. Still, I would’ve loved to have seen more diversity in the creators featured in this book.
Overall, this is a cool concept and I was surprised by it. I think it’s definitely going to cause some debates about what comics are and are not, and that’s a good thing. I’m going to enjoy revisiting this book, even if I don’t agree that all of the works featured here are comics.