§ THOUGHT BALLOONISTS is a new blog of comics criticism by by Charles Hatfield and Craig Fischer.
In their inaugural post they analyze just what makes Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL so great.
[Hatfield] One reason it’s more complex is because it sends mixed messages, and works to reconcile them. On the one hand, the book approaches themes of alienation, using potent graphic devices (and wordlessness) to evoke the confusion and loneliness of an immigrant in an overwhelming and cold environment. The Arrival’s abstracted urban world tends toward industrialization, massification, and anonymity, the very picture of a soulless metropolis. Yet, on the other hand, The Arrival’s world does not purely consist of these things, and that’s where the story digs deeper.
[Fischer] I don’t agree with Brunetti that stylistic devices have any sort of inherent power to bring characters to “life” or to “deaden” a page, and The Arrival reminds us that artists should be as cinematic or uncinematic as they want in their search for devices that create emotions in a reader. I trust Tan–who can draw better than just about anyone else in comics, and whose storytelling has taken a quantum leap in quality from his early picture books to The Arrival–more than I trust prescriptive rules for what makes good and bad comics. I hope Tan decides to do another graphic novel as his next project; I hope he keeps stretching our definitions of what comics can do.
§Comics Comics is rapidly becoming the go-to spot for meta discussion of what works and what doesn’t in comics, especially when Frank Santoro posts.
Comics have a similar trajectory. All the talk that comics artists today can draw BETTER than their forebears is meaningless. The point is that this common language I’m describing IS NO LONGER IN USAGE. It’s all but dead because the people who were formed by it, who passed it on, are gone. Toth was an innovator; he was more forward-thinking than Caniff, yet he was still a “Caniffer.” Darwyn Cooke can attempt to evoke Toth in some of his Batman stories, but he will never be Toth because he was not formed in the same 1950s cauldron. So subtly, step by step, each generation puts its own spin on the dominant style. Any attempt to resurrect these “house styles” is seen as retro and somewhat conservative. The bland illustration style that ruled ’50s and early ’60s comics was part Caniff, part advertising, part hackwork. The practitioners of this style, though, knew how to construct a page that read clearly, much like directors of the ’50s films knew how to stage action.