Recent Examples of Comics-As-Poetry, Part 2: L.Nichols, Malcy Duff

Posted by on February 14th, 2011 at 5:50 AM

Rob concludes his look at recent minis in the category of Comics-As-Poetry with Unrequited Monsters, by L.Nichols, and Two Stories, by Malcy Duff.

Two Stories, by Malcy Duff. This Scottish artist takes an almost entirely visual tack on comics-as-poetry, using panel after panel of images “rhyming” and transforming in unusual ways. There’s a fluidity evident here both on the page and in terms of the narrative. Indeed, the comics’ subtitle is “Back To The Future 2 And The Entertainer And The Student And The Man With The Purple Face”. In a comic that claims that there are two stories, I count as many as four…and as few as one, because where one story begins and another ends is another part of the puzzle. The story begins with an entertainer promising “The Long Arm Trick” as we cut to extreme close-ups of him to long-range views of him standing under angled lampposts. His head then disappears, turning into a long knot of hair as the design on his shirt also changes. The imagery brings to mind mirrors and trying to reach into them to see what’s there. Encountering the world through feel is an important touchstone in this story, as Duff switches around points of view in an almost dizzying fashion to provide detailed drawings of a hand trying to touch a dead cat’s tongue and later a wooden floor.

From that initial sense of curiosity, the reader is then exposed to a student’s feeling of immense dread of leaving his room, for fear of encountering the man with the purple face. Here, the rhyming of panels creates a feeling of dread, as on one page where we see a shadowy figure pass across a window in the span of fifteen panels. We see a jacket slowly fall off the back of a chair. When the grotesque man with the purple face appears, he’s at once both more and less frightening than one would expect. Less because he politely says hello and does nothing overtly threatening, but more because of the freakishness of his visage combined with the weird control he has over the student’s life. When he’s told “Begin” toward the end, we get several beats of the same scene, leaving the reader to wonder just what he’s begun. The comic ends as it begins, with a static image that’s embued with mystery. The clarity of Duff’s linework is reminiscent of John Hankiewicz’s comics, creating a similar sense of bewilderment and mystery as it creates its own steady rhythms. The reader must either attune themselves to this beat or else move on.

Unrequited Monsters, by L.Nichols. In some respects, this is the most conventional example of comics-as-poetry & immersion in this group of comics. Nichols wants the reader to experience the words as words, to understand them as textual symbols that are pictures in their own right, but she also wants the reader to hear those words in their head, to hear them slowly like a poet reciting a poem out loud. By the same token, the images are directly related to the words (especially in how they interact with each other), but she wants the reader to decode each string of images, to experience their visceral impact. This is another comic about connections, employing some mathematical symbols to help get across Nichols’ idea of asymptotic separation–where two people can get almost infinitely close but never actually touch. That is, two different entities are always apart. The way she alternates between text, drawings from life, mathematical symbols and familiar weather-related images like clouds & lightning creates an immersive environment of its own, creating an emotional narrative that is felt as much as it is read. The poem alone or comic without the words would be considerably weaker without the other, though unlike the other comics discussed here, it is possible to separate them in a somewhat coherent fashion.

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