Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left.
Welcome to my Blog: The Spiral Saint
It really doesn’t matter where you start, just as long as you begin.
I created this blog to present my writings about art, artists, and the critical analysis of human creative expression. Also, I created this blog to document my journey becoming a certified teacher in the state of Maryland, and beyond into the classroom.
Even more, I provided convenient links for you to explore my other art media; animations, paintings, and graphic arts, stained glass, and poetry.
So, just hang on and enjoy the ride. Peace to you.
The date is July 10, 1851. It’s Thursday, the morning is turning out to be fine and hot, and there is just enough of a breeze to keep away the stench of those living across the way, in their shanty towns, popping up like razor stubble on the face of some unwelcomed guest. A good, hard rainstorm would most assuredly be a welcomed guest this evening when they all gather about the village square to debate. They are miserable, and I am tired of hearing all their stories about how France and Britain wrecked this, France and Britain wrecked that. Nobody has any idea how I was gutted by tariffs imposed by France and Britain! How Daguerre was just cast aside! It cost me everything to ship materials from the outlying territories. Besides, going bankrupt once was enough!
As I was saying, the weather is pleasant, for now. I am writing to you from my modest apartment in the Bry-sur-Marne. My dear, you would love it here; there are mice everywhere. The Templar Priory has furnished me all that I require in exchange, rather insistence, I use that which I require to paint dioramas for each convent and church that has requested as much for their altarpieces and prayer halls. The Priory claims this to be a divine contract; my penance for confessional revelations. The irony does not go unnoticed in that living among the purveyors of crime dramas for many years makes me guilty by association in the eyes of the Priory; they continue to entertain the notion of my direct involvement in the death of my dear friend, and partner, Nicéphore Niépce. They think I had something to do with the fire that destroyed my home, my business, all my records, my supplies and materials . . . all those notes; books and notes and papers of Niepce’s, and mine too, of course! It’s all very convenient, as they say. A pension, in exchange for the secret to capturing details that are now free for the asking.
In fact, if it weren’t for my pension, I’d be dead. Maybe I should have listened to my father and become an architect; I could have been a designer for the royal court. It really was wonderful all those years ago when I was the apprentice, such frivolity, so care-free; the parties were famous. That experience led me to where I am now, comfortably painting my dioramas inside these godforsaken churches and convents. They really do need divine imagery to change the attitudes of their flock, and my dioramas are just the thing; it’s not like those people are living here against their will, and, my paintings will gladden their spirit, dispelling the trivial absurdities to which they have burdened themselves. This is my legacy to those truly in need of salvation; Daguerre and his Diorama of the Fantastique Paradis!
Honestly though, if it weren’t for Isadore’s constant grievances about the smallness of his pension when he need only look down for some perspective, and, Delacroix’s perpetual insults labeling me a cur, a mountebank, and a tricheor, I’d have nothing to live for – Talbot ruined everything. Fortunately, his process literally pales in comparison to the details of Daguerre. Thankfully though, I have Delacroix to consider as it pertains to your well-being; he was just going to toss you out his studio window when he finished drawing you, and quite a superb drawing if I must say so – you never looked more radiant, or lovely. Curse him, and his words: “Paint a picture, it will last longer”, bah, amateur. I told him; “Everyone admires his sketches of you more than all his paintings combined.” He really captured your playful nature, the intensity of your eyes, and your whiskers. As for Talbot, his interloping proved my point. Now everyone just wants to record images of their pets, or how much food they are about to consume.
Oh, my dearest Princess, I don’t mean to bother you with all these boring details. The real reason I am writing is to tell you that I was asked, again, to describe my first Daguerreotype image, you know the one of the house across the street at Boulevard du Temple; it’s just criminal! This must the hundredth instance I have to recall this moment. Perhaps I should tell the truth this time, that I was just trying to apprehend the miscreant child plotting to steal the bread and milk deliveries again; the little bastard. You can see him looking out the third-story window at the throng of people milling about. The police, as usual didn’t care, and, this time I had evidence! All they are curious about is who the person is getting their shoes shined! That actor, Jean E. Fromage. Nobody will ever remember him. His acting is so bad. I am sure there will be a sub-class rating for the kind of dramas those people flock around. Like Bees to flowers they are; Bee dramas.
Sadly, I must end this letter as I feel a bit light-headed. Perhaps my breakfast is causing me some discomfort as there is a tightness in my chest I have never felt. It would do me good to have you sitting here in my lap while I gently stroke you from head to tail. I would welcome your scratches as I miss you greatly.
Driven through the heart by fragments of the one true cross
The brights skim along the surface
Dancing yellows and bright blue whites
Piercing shrieks tighten my eyes
Shut with winching little stabs
Sometimes feel really good
Wanton fat needy arms
Purple wrap lavender lilac
Texture rich lustful bathing
In the open arms of eternity’s embrace
A return to the source with grace
Make rainbow forests before my eyes
Rooted in the opaque gray of twin hemispheres
Navigating upward ever onward in clear reflecting waters
Her voice the sweet siren song
Soft pink candy serenade
Melts the world for pale golden petals
Upon velvet beds of earthen greens
In a patchwork maze to claim cat’s cradle
I am not overly fond of the color red, in fact, I can’t fucking stand its overuse in fashion. Little tidbits and complimentary nuances are great, but if you want to be avoided completely, wear an entire red outfit. If you delve in to wearing all rust colors, like oxidation, consider it as another sign of desperation, danger, death, and decay.
Commercially produced reds have always been meant to stimulate whether you ingest, or relate to integrate, you are a consumer.
Red leaves in the Fall shore-are-purdy and all, but if you could hear their season long wailing and screams as they die an agonizing choking death, we may behold such grandeur of demise in humbled awe; and we applaud their starvation.
We stopped looking for the signs of changing times, when colors turn away, and the world befalls to gray, color is a revolutionary act.
Rich green forests are in my genes that have been ripped open and rearranged to accommodate the nature of nature. Listening, and singing along with the deepness of infinite green on green upon green after green. Silvers and golds juxtapose the layered pose that Ansel Adams could only compose in black and white.
Green makes me feel like a chameleon, or a salamander living in a bad ass array of ancient rocks beside a stream where I catch all sorts of tasty treats to keep the balance, to keep things neat.
Green makes me think of water so blue because of the sky, like it was handing out free samples of cosmetics. A green so blue, nobody could have painted on an upper eyelid any better and make it any clearer.
The gold lame’ shine of Elvis somehow changes the luster and neon glow of life below the surface; The Liberace gemstone smile lights the way for innocent pink puffy pastels pouting out sweet Welk’s prose to describe brown molded stains of repression.
Hee-Haw the sickly-green institutional yellow pee-stained hay bales litter a set of values dressed up in red, white, and blue crisscrossed plaid. Nestled in the cleavage valley where all roads lead to the deep, dank, humid, golden honeysuckle-south; dripping in the colored blood of generations and tokens of esteem held in such deep regard, deserved of their own private vaults buried in the barren brown earth.
Hot pink solid mods and lime green rages across the screen begging for someone to come and play in the land of yellow submarines, blue meanies, and the red blood of dying soldiers securing the futures of the rich investment portfolios, tucked in to the pockets of slick-oil-fire-stained-hand-buffed-animal-skin wallets.
Plainly stated; I love color. I also have synesthesia; the condition that causes the brain to process data in the form of several senses at once. For me, colors are paired with sounds. Also, people, other living and non-living things emit colors, and sounds or tones like music or a harmony, and little energy wave threads that trail off and in to lots of different directions, like pre-echoes. Then there is the mirror-touch synesthesia; direct empathy transmission – this is difficult to bear at times.
All these examples, they vibrate. Sometimes even the stillest of objects appear to be slightly moving, or about ready to take off. In my visual perception, there are many additional layers. They are like alpha channels in Photoshop, this is the best analogy I can give. So, there are color layers, fog layers, halos, stylized representational overlays, sound layers, energy wave thread layers . . . sometimes it is barely perceivable, other times it is rather debilitating. There are triggers that I must be aware of because of sensory overload leading to meltdown. Everything seems terribly amplified. – M. Murphy – 2019
He reported that these moments manifest clearly and succinctly as vibrating looped still images; little movies a fraction of a second in length. They are his first memories.
He said that it began in Greenbelt, MD. He was one and a half.
He was sitting on the kitchen floor, underneath the Formica topped aluminum table. The view looked huge, but closed in like tunnel vision.
In front of him, the cabinets seemed to glow pale-yellow white. To his right, a white door to the outside was open, filling the room with light.
Clinging to the metal storm door, he held himself up and looked out. A concrete sidewalk directly in front, and a little patch of grass just to the right. There was a fence, and a gate.
Through the door, he could see his brother and sister outside playing. His brother was riding his tricycle on the sidewalk. His sister was sitting on the patch of grass. Half of her face is covered, wrapped in a bandage.
Once outside beyond the storm door of the kitchen, he felt the sidewalk, the fence, and the gate. The sidewalk led to a ribbon of sidewalks. The sidewalk was very significant.
He didn’t know that doctors were about to cut him open and remove the two growths that had attached themselves to his lower descending colon.
His sidewalks led to New Carrollton, MD. He was two.
The Carrollton house had a basement with several rooms; a laundry room, a work room with a table that had a large scale electric slot car figure eight track set-up, and the main room. The main room had a couch, ironing board, television, and a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor where he was molested. He was molested by a babysitter. A teenage male that lived down the street masturbated in to his mouth. Everything about the whole act remains. However, it was not verbally articulated until thirty years after the fact.
His older brother was called James. He followed James everywhere. While visiting his grandparents, he followed James outside, down the brick sidewalk, and across the street. James hopped up on a wall and sat, but he couldn’t get up to join him. James helped him up and together they sat. James teasingly pretended to hop down and run. But, his little brother didn’t pretend and ran out in front of a speeding taxi-cab. He can still feel the impact, and then waking up in the hospital, the whole right side of his body broken.
He had to crawl now to get around, and needed assistance while his body healed. His mom would feed him as he sat in a high chair. She burned his tongue with a hot spoon feeding him chicken soup. He still has a scar on the tip of his tongue.
He fell off the couch, convulsing, not breathing, hitting his head on the basement floor. When he woke, the world was pink. His parents would wrap him up inside a blanket like fruit in a paper bag whenever this happened. This time, he was on the way to the hospital. He woke again inside an oxygen tent. The doctors didn’t seem happy when they found poop shoved in to the ventilator.
He liked his playpen. He liked that his legs could fit through the bars, and his toes could just reach the ground; mobility and independence. When it got warmer, his mother would place him in the wheeled playpen and take him outside. He was able to commandeer the playpen off the front porch, down 3 stairs, down the driveway, and off down the street before his mother caught up to him. It was exhilarating.
He followed two older girls walking their dog. The shape made by the girls rear-ends inside tight blue jeans created distinct lines that made two flowing waves as they walked; a hypnotic pattern. The shape, movement, and color held great interest for him. As he reached out to touch the flowing waves, the dog, a standard poodle, had other plans. In the blink of an eye, the poodle bit him in the face, nearly taking his eye. There was blood everywhere.
He was standing in the kitchen because he heard a noise coming from the basement. His father ran up the steps yelling; “Get in the tub!” Moments later, sirens. From the bathroom window, he could see fire engines. They parked in front of the house, the flashing lights reflecting back off the bathroom mirror lit up the small room. The bathroom door was opened by one of the firemen that were now inside his house. The house was on fire. A faulty outlet in the basement.
The new home in Bowie was twice as big as the Carrollton house. He’d just seen it, and the room he would be sharing with his brother. It was a big deal that he got to sit in the front seat of the new Pontiac Tempest. In the back seat, his brother and sister fought while mom sped everyone back to the Carrollton house to finish packing. A drunk driver made sure that process would not go smoothly by running through a stop sign. The Pontiac Tempest versus a Ford Galaxie. Seat belts and car seats were not mandated at this time. People can, and did, get hurt.
By summer, the family had settled in to the Bowie house. Even their dog, Bee-Gee had adjusted without incident. But sometimes, it’s hard to see small dogs at night, and that is how Bee-Gee got run over by a car. She didn’t make it, and the car got away.
School started in September; kindergarten. He was five and a half now.
Many of my artist friends tell me: When engaged in the process of art making, before, during, and after, in addition to producing a piece of art, one outcome is catharsis. Art is expression, and expression is catharsis. The artist may have multiple reasons for producing a work; a commission, an exhibition, an assignment, or just for fun … those are just some of those reasons. But, I think no matter the reason, catharsis will always exist as a natural complement to art and creative expression. Art is healing.
I was fortunate to be part of a group invited to a personal showing of Beyond Beautiful: One Thousand Love Letters, by Peter Bruun, and Maryland Art Place. Before I attempt to describe anything – please go and see this exhibit! It really is beyond beautiful, on so many levels. Rarely, do we get to be a part of something that is deeply intimate, yet shared universally. We take that stuff for granted.
As the artist spoke, he described the many ways in which transformation occurred during his process, and the role he had to play as caretaker of other people’s confessions while managing his own. Meanwhile, my synesthesia response has visually manifested the form of the incidental doctor – I feel as though I am witnessing in a kind of doctor-patient privilege relationship. Now, I feel I am ethically and morally bound/obligated not to share the intimate details; you must experience this for yourself and decide.
Here is what I will share. Each work has a textual component, a letter, and a visual component, a drawing – and there are hundreds of them. They are all uniform shape and size, grouped by theme, with the inclusion of some stand-alone sections that serve as introduction and emphasis. This is helpful in and of itself for basic cognitive recognition and storage purposes, at least for me. There are four themes being presented at this space (MAP): “Forever Family,” “Cupid’s Arrow,” “Wild Horses,” and “Love Thy Self.” The other half of the show is being exhibited in another space. But it doesn’t mean you will leave this exhibition feeling unfulfilled. There is a kind of irony that in today’s world where people’s privacy is ever encroached upon for reasons other than positive, here, we are invited to examine snapshots of this privacy.
Once I acclimated to the space, my visual perception became layered so thickly with color, shape, sound, vibration, wave forms of moving energies and moving pictures; this, on top of all the works exhibited.
The drawings that accompanied each work’s textual component came to life for me; elegant and simple, capturing a moment that encapsulates the very spirit for which it was intended. The work was so alive, so many souls talking. The drawings are all in response to letters received by the artist. Letters intended for sympathy, empathy, condolences, support, and love, addressed to the artist after losing his daughter, and how things change, and how circumstance changes things.
The writings; the pieces that drew me in visually were the ones I read. The ones I read related so deeply to the point, I could not read anymore. I simply understood. I have experienced loss under circumstances that our world readily defines as sad, tragic, pitiful, preventable – drug overdose. But, people do make their own choices. And, we are left seeking some kind of understanding. In this context; the hardness of addiction – I can’t synthesize what it means for you. But, I can say this: One thing all humans share, and have a stake in, is love. Love helps fill up the holes left by loved ones, family, and friends who made a choice that ripples forever.
I am including the direct link to Peter Bruun’s exhibition website detailing everything about the work.
When I go to an artist exhibition, I go there to ‘feel’. Exhibitions are different in terms of how I feel when compared to going to a museum. I still ‘feel’ when visiting a museum; it’s like seeing old friends. But, an exhibition is like meeting someone new, a blind date. I am always thinking; “will I hit it off with this new body of work?” Or, will I feel unable to communicate in some way. My emotions know the answer. So, I filet them open and lay them out in front of me, like some kind of food – because it is nourishment, after all.
Let me tell you how I felt walking in to Ruppert’s exhibition: I wanted to interact with the works, desperately so. The Vine(s); I wanted to climb on them, or wander in them, touch them and feel their texture. I thanked them for the life they gave to be there in context, and, cursed them for the life they live because vines like that are essentially vampires, sucking the life out of anything they come in contact with. I wanted to physically embrace the stone boulder and lay on it like I do when I am out in nature, its cast-metal twin could certainly tag along – one never knows the value of earthquake detection until the big one hits. To not be able to manipulate the magnet shavings was agony. It made me wonder about other planets and if they might have oceans of magnet shavings like that. I had (to resist) the urge to crawl all over the thick black iron wedge slices, they seemed like big hunks of some kind of black cheese, for a hungry giant to eat. The tall, thin narrow slice of what looked like a cross section of something from an unknown part of the earth, or a horrible splinter removed from the Earth and displayed like a medical oddity.
All of these works, for me, they were really beautiful to behold. This is how the exhibition made me ‘feel’. I didn’t go there to read. However, I did read the available literature detailing the artist’s influences and methods later when I got home. I am not going to paraphrase or summarize any of it, but I will offer a response. Regarding Ruppert’s influences; I can certainly sympathize with the extreme fascination of ‘slices of time, exposed, showing erosion and decay’. I am not really sure ‘time’ is the correct term, although time is relative. So, maybe the term ‘time’ is true and false simultaneously, like Ruppert’s expressions of the in-between paradoxes.
Please, go and see this exhibition before it closes. You may leave feeling a sense of renewal, or casually observe that you do have an appreciation for life.
This everyday thing has been available to purchase only for about eighty years, but there has been a need since the dawn of humanity. In fact, there were many versions and alternative uses before the available versions being used today. And today, it is a matter of preference as well as need, and accessibility; unless you advertise it, nobody will even know you are using this thing.
The early incarnations and uses for this thing is just lined with diversity. The research is padded with all kinds of interesting bits, and, leave it to the Japanese to correctly identify the precise need and use, and stick with it. But, that was long ago before strip malls, convenience stores, and gas stations began to absorb the great American landscape, stringing us along on the great adventure.
Also, throughout its existence this thing has provided much needed relief, saved countless lives, and probably prevented countless other lives from even occurring. Just the name of this thing has been known to stop a man in his tracks and freeze his heart cold which demonstrates the power of everything surrounding this thing. Half of humanity created a stigma surrounding this thing because of ignorance, and misunderstanding. Laws were passed, and legislation continues to this day surrounding where, when, and how this thing is used. Moreover, one can scarcely imagine a world without this thing, or the thing that would have to replace it. Also, this thing can kill you if it is used irresponsibly.
Not mentioning offshoots and variants on the theme, today this thing is still relatively the same as it was when it got snatched up, legally, in the early part of the 20th century and transformed in to what it is today; cylindrical, and made mostly of natural materials with a variety of discreet lengths and ranges for specific need. The competition to produce the best overall thing is fierce; competitors are out for blood! Moreover, a significant detail about this thing, since its first recorded application the use of a similar material has been its main component. So, it may not be the number one rated thing but believe me when I say that it is right up there, period.
To begin, this was an awesome read. This guidebook served as a wonderful reminder of the foundations behind my life as a working professional artist. I have been blessed with an ability of visualization that has enabled me to view life, so far, with as many eyes as there are souls; for retaining and strengthening intrinsic objectivity to learn by. But, in relating concepts discussed in the book to the world of media artwork around me by means of what my eyes see and my brain records will of course be subjective at best; I am a Media Artwork.
The book also reminded me of my purpose for, and connection with, cultural iconography and all its attachments to exist as second nature embedded in one’s ability to communicate. We are intrinsically linked to iconography and it seems as if our brain functions in part on this level; in shape, color, and sound vibration or frequency. Part of what McCloud may be attempting is to convey the absolute essential primordial drive of humans to achieve greater understanding and awareness. The simplicity of forms used as derivatives (part and parcel) to express language and words is especially intriguing to me as it always piques my instincts with regard to the keys to opening the centers of our brain that allow for more subtle forms of communication; mind to mind sensations and higher yet incomprehensible undiscovered/inactive forms of communication closing the gaps that obviously exist in the human being. This is the future I see as it relates to new media artworks. A current example of this relationship is all the icons for the mobile communication applications. Shape, color, and sound are the catalyst to which we invest, as of late, emotional attachment in the process of enhancing our productivity, or furthering a cause.
To relate this concept of iconography to a media artwork let us examine some aspects of two films; Forrest Gump and Castaway. Several times in Forrest Gump the audience is instantly transported through time and space in their mind; when Gump wipes his muddy face on a yellow tee shirt to reveal the iconic have a nice day happy face, the shit happens bumper sticker scene, and the letterhead logo from some “fruit” company (the Apple logo) Gump invested money in. Great story telling, superb acting, and identifiable imagery make for plausibility of the illusion. The fact that there is added deliberate closure narrated by Gump supports plausibility as it helps to fill in the blanks in our mind with believable outcomes. In the movie Castaway the character assumes the role of an iconoclast to some extent while eventually clinging to a new found iconic symbol (an artists’ logo inscribed on a fed-ex package) to renew and sustain his resolve to survive during his transformation.
Moving forward, one thing I found quite refreshing, useful, and hysterical was the creation and deployment of the various charts, graphs, and statistical comparisons throughout the book. I had never seen with my eyes quite a way of putting relating issues in perspective, like what comics do naturally. It is as if the degrees of separation are no longer a mystery or convoluted. McCloud draws factual historical associations to defining comics. He introduces a timeline on to illustrate how the Mexican Codex is essentially a comic. McCloud removes the “mystery” and breaks down what was seemingly elusive in to an easy to understand translation. He does this for the Bayeux Tapestry, Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the tomb of Menna the scribe, and infers the same by applying his description to 15,000 year old cave art. Just this concept alone is vital as it serves as a tool for teaching most anything. In fact, I’d say we’ve become quite accustomed to pictures, symbols, charts, graphs, timelines, scales, polls, and so on . . . analysis and presentation of data streams that convey some kind of message so one may learn a base of understanding, more so depending on significance or relevance of topic or issue. Transcribed communication is just stylized pictures that over time have become more abstract, adapted for specialization, and simplified for broad understanding (McCloud 10-15, 141).
Furthermore, there is something McCloud expresses that carries enormous weight and should not be overlooked, ever; “. . . cartooning isn’t just a way of drawing; it’s a way of seeing (McCloud 31).” The concept that imagery can impact our focus on an idea is one that leaves huge piles of evidence all over the front yard of human history, and unfortunately much of it stinks; glossed over by more sensational expressions that make us draw from greater emotional resources to process such stimulus, and it is addictive. Millions have perished needlessly over iconography and the ideology they support, just as many more millions have seemingly enriched their lives embracing those idioms.
This leads in to another concept discussed in the book; the concept of closure. As an artist much of my work revolves around this concept of closure. I like producing imagery that amounts to essentially nothing more than cropped views of some particular subject. It is up to the viewer to fill in the gaps, to complete the rest of the story; open borders are for exploration and discovery. There is always more than meets the eye. When we are invited to fill in the blanks it is an invitation to become the creator. What we do with that gift is another story.
This concept of closure couldn’t be more evident in today’s art media culture, certainly in broadcast media. Although I no longer subscribe to receiving broadcast television it remains unavoidable. One can only remove oneself so much from the onslaught of coercive, negative media execution of information. I am reminded of George Orwell’s 1984 society of the All Seeing Eye spitting out nonsensical gibberish of an authoritative regime. Today’s media outlets have made it their business to dish out only the tiniest of slivers of what one could equate to an infectious disease. The formula of pairing graphic imagery with sound-bites is at the heart of broadcast media; this is propaganda art at its most seamless. What’s more, this is going to be quite the marriage in the years ahead with advancing technologies and the ability to directly interface our senses with nano-digital platforms by means of bio-organic computer implants. One effect this process may have is the new and improved version of messiahs, belief systems, and a whole host of megalomaniacs existing with all others in a kind of freak show collective polarity. Being able to interface directly with bio-organic nano-technology means individuals will become even more iconographic; to what ends remains undefined. I am Jack’s festering media artwork.
In theory, I suppose most all things work. But societal/cultural structural theory is devoid of real practical testing and good intentions become lost; we learn as we go. Religion is a great example of this condition when theory is put in to action. Subsequently, there exist portrayals of media artwork today that demonize the many religions spawned from the Koran. Indeed, there are plenty of examples being exploited from suicide bombers who commit the ultimate radical expressions, to tribe after tribe of folks whose idioms are expressed through physical action, sometimes extremely violent physical action. Broadcast media has been complicit in the transformation of these ideologies in to iconography, certainly in the case of any interests not aligned with the status quo. One really good example of this transformation is the political hangnail; Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The image of a prisoner standing on a box draped in tarp with arms outstretched represents the fact that America will torture you, period. I am Jack’s horrible irony as a result of ill-deployed non-scientific methods.
Understanding Comics; this book was released in 1994 which makes it twenty years old, but far from obsolete. In fact, media artworks are becoming more immersed in to our lives, causing many to continually reexamine their existence, changing cultural boundaries redrawing the lines that unify and divide; we are Jack’s polarity collective, resistance is futile. Compared to any point in humanity’s timeline the only thing that has changed is the delivery system. Today’s delivery system is pretty much instantaneous, globally. McCloud talks about challenging the status quo a little bit here and there throughout the book, at least which is how I translate part of his work. Something he says really is quite profound:
[The dance of the visible and invisible is at the very heart of comics, through the power of closure! Creator and reader are partners in the invisible creating something out of nothing, time and time again (McCloud 205).]
My interpretation of this statement, at least today, represents a challenge to continue creating artworks that question and challenge the status quo. This statement is inspiration to create an intention surrounding and enveloping my thoughts as I go forward on my path. As an artist, one of my thoughts stems from an observation of the above quote. One can easily substitute the words government for comics, and, leadersand citizens for creator and reader, and from this new statement create a whole lot of something out of nothing which many artists indeed do. In all seriousness, the concept of “partners in the invisible creating something out of nothing” (McCloud 205) means a great deal when technology is quickly closing the gap between just having a dream while asleep in bed of flying faster than the speed of sound ten feet off the ground dressed all in black, and, actually creating an interactive hyper-real holographic digital environment just by thought projection and a bio-organic nano-tech platform interface app. The new app from Apple, the iSoul . . . I am Jack’s Matrix, there is no spoon, and this is not a pipe.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994. Print.
I was asked: By what standards do we judge animated films? It would seem an industry standard that how one judge animated film is broken in to five categories; artists intentions, cultures subjective values of art/aesthetic, popularity and/or commercial success, innovation and originality, and laugh meter. Of course there are many other facets to consider that ultimately broaden or narrow one’s scope of observation but it seems for now that animated film easily adheres to the aforementioned standards.
I will attempt to compare two very different adaptations of one story; Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The first adaptation is by Jan Svankmajer with his 1988 film, Alice, and the second is by Tim Burton with his 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland. I will be applying the five standards by which one judge an animated film, and briefly highlight any similarities, differences, and anything else that may seem interesting or noteworthy.
Something I do find quite interesting is that since Carroll’s Wonderland was first published in 1865; as a book it has never been out of print, and it has been translated in nearly a hundred different languages. There have been numerous adaptations in all types of media and in my mind Wonderland makes an ideal template to measure the standards for how one judge animated film; after all, Carroll’s story is extremely imaginative and fantastical. It lends itself as a perfect foundation in which to build an animated adaptation.
Jan Svankmajer’s adaptation is truly remarkable. I absolutely loved this film. From my first viewing I felt as though Svankmajer intended for his film to reflect the fact that the story is about a dream, or daydreaming. Moreover, I think Svankmajer intended for his film to be the result of his ability as an artist; his skills and technique as an animator, and the implementation of what is familiar in Svankmajer’s environment. Most of all I think that Svankmajer’s intent was to tell a story in such a way that reflects the hand-crafted traditions of lore.
Tim Burton’s adaptation is also remarkable, but I like it less so than Svankmajer’s film; Burton combines two of Carroll’s books to make this adaptation, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass. I think that underneath everything layered upon Burton his intent was to make an entertaining film; in this aspect he was successful. This adaptation certainly has many of the trademark Burton-like characteristics that have made his previous films successful, but for all its imagination it seems to lack that elusive intangible that would otherwise assist in clarifying intention outside of purposes for entertainment only. This is not necessarily a bad thing either; Burton’s film is extremely well made and exactly what he intended.
Culture’s Subjective Values of Art/Aesthetic
Oddly enough, we are not exposed to examples of art that expand and breach boundaries of our perception as much as I feel we should be, but perhaps there is so much absurdity already in real life that we gloss over such occurrences too frequently for anything to really take hold.
When I compare Svankmajer’s work with the subject value scale of art and aesthetic in today’s culture I see a reflection of the raw primitive grit that makes people what they are. We are driven by base needs and wants, simple constructs and mechanisms, and most of all we love a good story. It doesn’t matter if we’ve heard it a hundred times before. I think Svankmajer is very successful with his artistic execution. One does not expect, nor prepare, to receive such imagery yet in the end one seamlessly accepts the imagery as plausible in context.
Artistically, Svankmajer’s adaptation is executed with live-action combined and interacting with stop motion, small scale personal set-builds, adoringly rich archaic puppets, simplicity and ingenuity, hand-made and produced on a much smaller scale by comparison. Burton’s adaptation is all live-action and green screen capture animation, full digital process, large staff, enormous budget . . . the result of many people working together on common goals to come close to some personal vision; another cog in the great entertainment wheel of fate.
Aesthetically, Burton really made a beautiful film. His adaptation is immensely rich visually, but there were certain expectations already in place and his film comes across as an exercise in new technologies and their use, equally as much as it is a great artistic production.
Culturally, there is somewhat of a stigma that comes with artistic production relative to its business side. Compared to some other Tim Burton films, I feel that this film should have been stop motion because Burton does amazing stop motion, and because fuck expectation.
Popularity and/or Commercial Success
Let’s face it. I never saw any Jan Svankmajer Alice movie memorabilia, clothing line, video game, action figures . . . but I have seen an obscene overload of Disney mass marketing of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland starring Johnny Depp. It’s that type of ram it down your throat approach that really makes it special. Like I mentioned previously, certain expectations were already in place regarding the Disney production.
Fortunately, I did happen to see Svankmajer’s Alice, and many of his other films at animation festivals screened at the Charles Theater in Baltimore and several old theaters in Washington DC from late 80’s through the mid 90’s. The Animation Film Festival circuit was fairly popular and most showings had great turnout. There was always publicity and visibility centered on the event and many of the filmmakers whose works were shown went on to accomplish a great many things, Tim Burton was among them.
Innovation and Originality
Honestly, Svankmajer’s adaptation is much more innovative than Burton’s; the big factor here is budget. Innovation is bred from having to adapt in environments that are less than ideal while remaining attentive to positive aspects. Svankmajer is more successful in this regard probably because he is beholden to himself, and everything occurred on a much smaller scale.
Burton is successful at achieving technical/digital innovation, and more importantly paving the way to the future of film making through digital animation. Burton is part of the trend that has the means and imagination to realize potential and vision; this innovation helps the animation industry survive and thrive.
Svankmajer is innovative in blending live action with stop motion. Great editing and careful planning can be attributed to this. I also feel that he is innovative in choice of set pieces, puppets, repetition, color palette . . .
As for originality; both Svankmajer and Burton have transcended that label by the sheer virtue of being individuals. Both possess an almost archetypical individuality that elevates what these artist/filmmakers accomplish as benchmarks to aspire to, and they make it seem so easy.
A lot of this depends on one’s taste in humor. I find both films to have a great laugh meter ranking.
Svankmajer’s humor is a bit more sardonic; reflective of the book as well as Svankmajer’s cultural associations as executed with the material constructs of his immediate environment. The minimalistic interactions between Alice and all the other characters are quite funny to me; perhaps due to my suspension of disbelief.
Burton gets laugh by way of his actors portrayals paired with digital manipulation. His adaptation creates a much more playful attitude with lots of good twisted-ness thrown in, and oh yeah, drama, plenty of drama. Seriously, Crispin Glover is hilarious in this film as the Knave of Hearts.
Alice. (1988). [film] Directed by J. Švankmajer.
Zanuck, Richard D., et al. Alice in Wonderland. Walt Disney Pictures, 2010
I love graphic novels. They have always been a big part of my life from as early as I can remember; from simple comics produced by Marvel and DC, and EC comics. Underground comics like Zap Comix, created by geniuses Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Harvey Kurtzman, Spain Rodriguez, Robert Williams, and S. Clay Wilson. Groundbreaking efforts from Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal with artists named Enki Bilal, Richard Corben, Jean Giraud aka Moebius, Liberatore’, and Milo Manara just to name a fraction. These are the examples of my art heroes, my art mentors, my guides in helping to understand different points of view not entertained or expanded upon by other media sources for whatever reasons regarding topics that profoundly impact society and individuals from all walks of life.
Two topics in particular that have had an enormous impact on humanity are eloquently conveyed in graphic novel form; The Jewish Holocaust as portrayed in Maus, by Art Spiegelman, and the Islamist Fundamentalist takeover of Iran as portrayed in Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Ethnic cleansing is not an easy subject to stomach let alone teach without some trepidation. Most media sources gloss over much detail in exchange for visual/emotional sound bites, be they inert and innocuous, or shocking and incomprehensible; either way it seems agenda supersedes teachable moments. That said, the graphic novel, like Maus and Persepolis, seem to be a most excellent form of teaching and conveying information that otherwise might get lost in a world where 30 second sensationalism is pervasive and truth is an afterthought, and other forms of media miss the mark in involving people, and invoking change.
I write this without hesitation and with full confidence for many reasons. The first reason being that graphic novels offer something much more than just data; textbooks lack personality and often lose the interest of the reader. Moreover, graphic novels stand apart from television and other books in that they invite the reader to become a part of the story whereas television although closely related doesn’t quite invite deeper cognitive experiences the way a graphic novel does. The standard printed novel and book convey an abundance of detail when it comes to storytelling but are lacking when it comes to inviting the reader to implement closure as frequently or deep as the graphic novel. But this is not to say that novels don’t invite closure, rather I feel the cognitive connections are different. Another reason I think the graphic novel is a better method is due to the inclusion of highly personal artwork. Textbooks typically use generic illustrations, data charts, and sometimes photographs to support information. Rarely does a standard novel use any form of artwork other than the cover, but this aspect is extremely vital in that many people will choose a book based on that artwork; it helps to complete the sale in the mind for both author and reader.
Another thing about graphic novels is that they seem to be something like a living document; a record of creative expression and unique perspective. Actual documentaries like films, picture books, music, and visual art are quite different than the graphic novel but can be just as successful at dealing with complex issues, but the graphic novel seems best suited for this purpose. The impetus for this particular assertion originates from my experiences and desire to engage in higher learning techniques like transcendental meditation, visualization and affirmation, and learning as play, just to name a few. It is as if a graphic novel is being played in the mind; a transparency overlay embedded in the visual cortex, or something.
When comparing the graphic novels Maus and Persepolis as they relate to concepts found in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics one doesn’t have to look too far as both Maus and Persepolis convey all of the concepts covered by McCloud.
To begin, Maus and Persepolis follow the concept of six steps; idea/purpose, form, idiom, structure, craft, and surface. In fact, both graphic novels start out with an integrated preface/intro by each author who states their idea/purpose quite plainly. In Maus, Spiegelman begins the book with a flashback to 1958 highlighting an incident of his childhood where he was the recipient of uncompassionate behavior (Spiegelman 5, 6). It becomes clear in the next few pages that the author wants to move forward with his book, and is urged by his Father and stepmother to complete his book (Spiegelman 11-13). In Persepolis, a young Marjane was motivated by her experiences and reveals her contemplations with God which seem to be the impetus behind her idea/purpose, helping her to understand what is happening to her country, the people, and the future of both; she wanted to be a Prophet, and in a way she is (Satrapi 3-9). Whether these authors know it or not the six steps add up to what amounts as a living document of truly significant historical events. I understand that each author may have intended something completely different and that their idea stage in no way relates to my point of view, but I feel that the beginning of each book, including Understanding Comics, clearly states an intent, or idea.
Moving forward, in terms of graphic style, line use, symbolism and use of iconography, archetypal utilization, closure, timing, and flow, both graphic novels utilize these concepts with plenty of differences but each work stands alone quite strongly, and, both works relate.
First, let’s look at graphic style. Maus is very masculine and rife with background details whereas Persepolis is more feminine and delicate with minimal background detail yet still conveys as much power and strength through the use of black. The graphic style of Maus is reminiscent of works by artist Robert Crumb and the underground comic art of the 1960’s; each drawing utilizes a type of hatching and shakiness adding life to each page. The graphic style of Persepolis has the boldness and smooth intimate delicacy of art nouveau yet is rendered completely in solid black and white, and like Maus, adds life to each page.
With graphic style comes the use of line. The use of line in Maus has great movement and energy, and, is very heavy handed for all characters and subject matter while background details are penned with a bit finer line and executed with consistency throughout the whole book. The use of line in Persepolis is consistent throughout but is flowing, smooth, and more refined, and, with lots of negative space used as white outlining when all solid black is being used. Each graphic novel uses line in a way that lends support to the intense subject matter and who it is written by and for. If the line use styles were switched I don’t know if the graphic novels would be as successful in being effective teaching tools.
Next comparison is the flow of the panels and how each story progresses. Both graphic novels follow a fairly conventional flow of panels for storytelling, and this is just fine. Each book could have easily integrated some really wild placement of panels because each story has such intensity but simplicity always trumps sensationalism. This simplistic convention really helps to move each story forward with ease as opposed to using other forms to emphasize climactic moments; this simple flow really showcases the merit and strength of each story.
The use of time is really wonderful in both graphic novels, and both utilize time quite differently. In Maus, time jumps back and forth as the story unfolds, it is seamless and expected because Maus is being narrated by the author’s father Vladek, in present day while taking us back in time so we may experience what he experienced. In Persepolis, time progresses naturally as Marjane grows from chapter to chapter. There are also flashback time jumps inserted to accommodate the stories of other characters, but Marjane narrates and tells her story much like Vladek; it is as if the story is taking place while we are reading it as opposed to a mere re-telling. This use of timeline really helps to connect emotions to the subject matter and provides even greater context for closure.
Regarding closure, both graphic novels utilize this concept quite effectively. We really don’t need to see violence and gore when we can imagine it beyond any comprehension. Using lots and lots of artwork specific to these graphic novels to show violence just wouldn’t work, but it does work in how it is minimally conveyed, and, when showing the aftermath of such events; our mind can easily fill in the blanks. Moreover, closure is attained not just between the frames but during the frames as well because of what is being said; we are invited to imagine everything as each story unfolds just through storytelling.
The final comparisons have to deal with symbolism, iconography, and archetypical utilization, and both graphic novels display many of these elements throughout each work respectively. Maus begins with its cover art, the perversion of an ancient iconic symbol that originally represented transcendence through the cycle of life in many cultures long before Hitler’s derangement and perversion in to a hated icon. The cover art of Persepolis harkens more archetypical imagery blended with symbolism indicative of Middle Eastern culture; the inclusion of a sad girl adorned in a veil conveys a new symbolism when paired with the stylized motifs. In fact, Persepolis conveys much more symbolism throughout compared to Maus. Moreover, Persepolis blends its symbolism together with archetypes to create new symbols, icons, and identifiers in juxtaposition to tradition. Furthermore, the use of repetition in Persepolis really enhances the underlying messages in this respect (Satrapi 5, 11, 18, 28, 40, 89, 95, and 103). Maus relies upon archetypical utilization by portraying Mice as Jews and Cats and Nazis. This convention makes the symbolism much stronger, especially when iconography is paired with imagery in some of the panels, particularly the chapter title pages (Spiegelman 9, 25, 41, 71, 95, and 129).
I have read Maus dozens of times since its first release in Raw Magazine but this is my first reading of Persepolis. Admittedly, I always passed it by for some reason or another when selecting graphic novels for purchase; I am thankful that I now have a copy to hand down to my son when he gets older. Both stories are living documents and deserve much more attention.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994. Print.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003. Print.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. 1. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Print.