Recent Examples of Comics-As-Poetry, Part 1: Jason T. Miles and Aaron Cockle

Posted by on February 12th, 2011 at 5:37 AM

Rob reviews several different comics that tackle the notion of Comics-As-Poetry in their own way.  Included are reviews of Annotated #5, by Aaron Cockle and Pines No. 1, by Jason T. Miles.

I’ve long been interested in two related sorts of comics: Immersive comics and comics-as-poetry.  Immersive comics force a reader to approach the page on its own terms instead of being led by the hand like most standard narrative comics.  That’s because the layout and design can be deliberately dense; frequently, words themselves are important for their plastic qualities as well as conveying information.  Comics-as-poetry can use immersion as one technique, but they can also be wordless and clear in terms of design if they are using images in non-standard narrative fashion, such as “rhyming” images or creating a certain rhythm & meter with images.  They can have narratives attached to them, though it’s most often an emotional narrative.  The minicomics examined in this column and on Monday all take different approaches with regard to these techniques.

Annotated #5, by Aaron Cockle.  At first glance, Cockle is telling a straight narrative about a mysterious field agent getting a behind-the-scenes look at the planning that goes into his superiors’ plans for surviving the inevitable apocalypse.  However, Cockle has always grappled with elusive ideas and emotions felt in the face of pure helplessness.  In the second part of the “William Wilson” story, the narrative captions we get from our protagonist trapped on a ship (we assume, after the apocalypse) offer little in the way of explanation, because the character himself is so lost.  This comic is immersive because the reader is pushed into this uneasy, paranoid world and forced to catch up…but there is no catching up.  Instead, what one realizes is that this book is about the way human constructions (weapons, technology, and even time itself) are distractions and impediments to connection.  The final outburst from the main character reveals that there is no connection truly possible, that our ids prevent this from happening.  Despite, or because of, the bleakness of this story, Cockle is always able to draw the humor from each situation.  His design work in this comic was very interesting, even if his draftsmanship isn’t quite up to what he was trying to portray on the pages where death-dealing weapons were being demonstrated.

Pines #1, by Jason T. Miles.  In this group of comics I’m discussing, Miles’ work is the one most deeply influenced by the history of comics, though his take on it is completely different.  Throughout Pines, one can see touches from EC Comics, underground comics and classic cartoonists like Elzie Segar.  He mixes the grotesque and the cartoonish with the density and scratchiness of Gary Panter.  I think the reader is meant to recognize these images and process them as part of the experience.  However, this is a pretty pure example of comics-as-poetry: word and image are juxtaposed against each other to create tension.  There are panels consisting of nothing but text, arranged the way a poet might space their words to create gaps and shapes.  His images are shot through with dense cross-hatching but also have a fragile quality to them.  As the narrative called “Aberdeen” begins, his fragile world comes to life, lurching from panel to panel with an almost vibratory sense of energy.    Miles then flips between using erasure and blurring, forcing the eye to track a fading image, to using an inkstained, blotchy page that forces the eye to hunt for the figures lurking within.  The comic moves from country to city, exploring recurring themes of beauty amidst ugliness and destruction.  The impact here is a visceral one: Miles wants you to feel the dirt of the world he creates, to feel the impact of the violence, to hear the ugliness of the slurs.  This comic is a journey through some dark places, and at the very least the reader can feel a sense of having gone through something with the artist.

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