While teaching a short class on the history of comics in 2016, a question I had to wrestle with how to properly teach and understand comics was “What constitute a comic”? I was able to find some interesting answers in Christopher Gavaler ‘s writing over at his blog The Patron Saint of Superheroes and the Hooded Utilitarian. There are countless interpretation on how to interpret what makes a comic. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been intrigued by Vanishing Perspectives, one of 2dcloud’s release from earlier this year. Alexis Beauclair’s comics and artistic output is interested in stripping down the medium of comic to some of its most basic elements and explores the ways readers understands comics. I couldn’t be happier with the resulting book.
There’s something absolutely fascinating about this book. It is a formalist experiment, it forces the reader to get comfortable with the suggestions of space, movement and perspective. Each page is meticulously designed so as to force the reader to understand perspective and it’s effect on reading. How do we identify what constitutes space and movement on a page. Beauclair posits that a series of panels with simple lines are enough to construct a physical space and showcase movements within that space. As we read each comic, those designs become more and more abstract, but the reader understands each page, it never strays too far into abstraction as to be unable to discern what we see.
All of this might sound abstract, or even simplistic, after all, there are endless examples of comics where movement and space are used. What is interesting about Beauclair’s comics is that they are predominantly concerned about those things. Beauclair’s work scrutinizes those fundamental aspects of comics. Reading it, or more accurately, seeing and understanding it, becomes a way to better understand how these properties are deployed in comics. The lack of text or narrative puts a higher focus on those formal qualities. It is entirely focused on the form of comics. It’s a stunning reminder that while we typically think of comics as words and images, another fundamental of comics is time and space. Beauclair retains some fundamental features of comics, including the use of panels and linear reading yet still manage to question how comics are read and understood.
Vanishing Perspectives is a collection of various self-published comics by Beauclair in the past. Each of the comics included within explores different phenomenon. The opening comic Photon imagines the readers as a beam of light going through filters and prisms. The contraption we are looking through is depicted on the cover and readers, then essentially journey through it as the light moves forward, each panel representing an ever forward progression in the machine. We are also told at the end that should we want to read the comics backward, we are essentially travelling back in time as we retrace the effect of light in reverse. Another interesting comic is Labyrinth, this time, readers are simply shown a first-person view of a walk in a labyrinth. It’s disconcerting and quite neat to see these simple lines moving ever so slightly to recreate movement and depth. All of the comics in Vanishing Perspective explore different aspect of that same puzzle, how do we understand comics. I think what sets this comic apart than other abstract formalist experiments I’ve seen before is Beauclair’s commitment to clarity and linearity. We read the image in succession, creating a sense of space and time that I feel is absent in the work of, say Stefanie Leinhos or Aidan Koch.
The other reason i wanted to read this comic is that it is edited by Kim Jooha, a comic critic and editor at 2dCloud. Her perspective on comics has been crucial in helping me develop a new appreciation and understanding of the medium of comics. Her focus on formalism, abstraction and the ways readers understand comics in some way aims to bring readers to see the medium differently. Vanishing Perspective, an anthology of Alexis Beauclair formalistic comics experiments, is a perfect encapsulation of what Jooha wants readers to see in comics. In showcasing Beauclair’s work, Jooha provides a thorough package to allow readers to challenge and refine their own understanding of comics. Abstract comics ask us to consider how specific elements like space, movement and linearity shape our reading. I found this to be an engaging way to read. I’m looking forward to the next comic edited by Kim Jooha, it is sure to be another unmissable book to widen my understanding of comics.
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.