Amongst the many pieces featured in the relaunched A1 Annual this year is FROGS from Jim Steranko. Originally published in COMIXSCENE #3 in April 1973, FROGS is a experiment in storytelling, in which Steranko sets out 48 identically-sized panels which tell a story in whatever order they are read. FROGS requires the reader to choose their own pattern of reading.
With each panel wordless and identical in size, FROGS invites you to read left to right, or top to bottom, diagonally; in any random sequence you decide. As a result the story shifts depending on your own reading of it – challenging the way in which people approach sequentialism, in a sense.
With the A1 Annual out now, Steranko spoke to The Beat about FROGS, storytelling, and experimentation. Read on!
Steve: Could you tell me about the central concept of FROGS – what was your intention with the comic?
Steranko: It’s not a comic; FROGS was a cognitive experiment that took the traditional comicbook panel element across a cognitive threshold it had never crossed previously: a true, interactive, experiential collaboration between the artist and the user, where the latter decided on what story to tell by determining how it would be told. Essentially, the user becomes the director.
Steve: When you created the concept, was it always intended for there to be an element of horror in the story? A huge part of the horror genre is the unknown – by making the story itself into that unknown quantity, the comic itself becomes inherently unsettling.
Steranko: The concept has nothing to do with story theme. It could have been comedy, drama, romance, thriller, melodrama. Actually, I created another story first, but it was dominated by the color red, which was the prominent color in the previous issue of COMIXSCENE. So, the color–green–in a manner of speaking, dictated the subject matter. Necessity was the mother of invention.
A limited preview section taken from FROGS
Steve: The pages strike me as an inspiration to something like Bullet Proof Coffin #4 by David Hine and Shaky Kane, who made a comic, cut each panel out, and rearranged them at random – presenting a story that readers had to invent and sequence themselves, in whichever manner they choose. Do you feel that current comics are as experimental now as they could be?
Steranko: Current comics are not experimental at all; they essentially recycle the same narrative processes–and story elements–which have prevailed for the past 80 years. From a pragmatic perspective, today’s and yesterday’s comicbooks generally repeat a dead rhetorical ritual that makes a spectacle of irrelevance.
Steve: You have a new treatise published in the annual, discussing the impact and thought process that went into making FROGS. How was the experience of looking back at the work – did you find yourself reading new expression into the pages, even now?
Steranko: FROGS‘ 48 panels can be read in a myriad of ways–left to right, right to left, up and down, down and up, spirally into the center, four corners, every possible configuration. The number of possibilities is 12 trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, which means if someone began at birth reading variations at one a minute, they couldn’t live long enough to even dent that number. At that level, it’s an experiment in aesthetic consciousness like few others in the form!
Steve: The treatise mentions your goal to have FROGS go online, flashing the panels in random sequence to create a new story each time. You have a strong web presence – especially through your Twitter. How do you feel that the internet has freed artistic expression?
Steranko: The net has unequivocally leveled the playing field regarding universal “publishing,” but I’m uncertain about it unleashing rampant artistic expression. That phenomenology has yet to be proved–but there’s not a doubt in my mind it will happen.
Steve: Have you seen any webcomics or other online work which you think has pushed the way comics are created and told?
Steranko: Only marginally, but I hope to be part of it when it happens definitively. I’ll keep you posted!
Many thanks to Jim Steranko for his time. For more, you can find him on Twitter here. Thanks also to Owen Johnson, for arranging the interview!