Rhythm & Rhyme: Asthma, The Blot and Comics-As-Poetry (Part Two of Three)

Posted by on December 9th, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One.

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John Hankiewicz and Asthma


John Hankiewicz has long created strips with an enigmatic, elusive quality that fully employ the language of comics, with conventional page and panel designs recognizable to any reader of the form. Though on the surface level his iconic imagery seems familiar, his comics do not have a traditional, linear, plot-driven narrative, but rather an emotional and cryptographic one in which meaning is more challenging to tease out. Best known for his depiction of mundane objects, such as chairs, as a sort of visual rhyming device, Hankiewicz’s comics force the reader to immerse himself/herself in the imagery and yield to the emotion generated by the flow of images. He discussed his creative method at a recent gallery talk at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design as well as at SPX 2006, noting that he “rhymes” an image with the one that precedes it. Hankiewicz’s panels depict emotions in the same manner that abstract expressionist paintings were meant to provoke an emotional reaction: without the benefit of recognizable iconographic reference points.

Asthma (Sparkplug Comic Books, 2006), a collection of Hankiewicz’s stories, reveals a number of repeating motifs and variations on themes. His most heavily cross-hatched and realistically rendered strips tend to be the most static of his comics. The more cartoony or iconic figures in his strips tend to have the most movement, both within each panel and in terms of panel-to-panel transitions. Hankiewicz often subverts the reader’s expectations of what is to appear in a comic strip, making full use of familiar tropes of the form to create meaning.

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2 Responses to “Rhythm & Rhyme: Asthma, The Blot and Comics-As-Poetry (Part Two of Three)”

  1. DerikB says:

    Probably the best writing I’ve seen on Hankiewicz’s work. I keep pulling Asthma off my shelf and rereading it, but I can never figure out what to say about it.

  2. Rob Clough says:

    Thanks, Derik. It took me a long time to grapple with John H’s comics, and one of the keys to doing so for me was to stop trying to impose meaning on each page and instead allow the meaning to reveal itself through careful study of what is actually on the page.