Black & White Again

January 31, 2010

Comics are in color too, but I prefer the black and white variety.  Thomas Ott makes stories using scratchboard, rectangles of white material covered with India ink.  The artist scratches to reveal the white underneath – once a popular medium for newspapers since it is so easy to photograph and print.  The image above, from Ott’s Tales of Error, is a wonderful example of the way light can be made to shine out of pure black.

Ott’s stories in that book are full of little O’Henry plot twists and Twilight Zone effects, but I felt they fell flat more often than not.  His images, from what I have seen on the Internet, are all similarly focused on the bizarre, the grotesque, and the plain ugly.  His wordless “novel”, The Number, however, is very successful.

In a series of beautifully designed pages, the bizarre story of a prison executioner is unraveled as he is led on to his doom by a series of numbers on a slip of paper dropped by a murderer sent to death on the electric chair.  At first, the numbers, popping up in unpredictable ways in his life, give the man luck, but that’s gotta change!  Here the man, and his new girlfriend, return home after a successful go at the roulette wheel, using the numbers as a can’t-lose system.

The end of the tale isn’t surprising, but the way that the logic is worked out to its predestined conclusion is nice, and the drawings are wonderful.

Another favorite B&W scratchboard example is Peter Kuper’s comic adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The expressionistic style of the stark black and white compositions works well with the story, and it is very true to the spirit and humor of the tale.  (Yes, Kafka is funny! )

Finally, a black and white image done with pen and ink, and reproduced in the newspapers of 1925 – a Sunday panel from Krazy and Ignatz, by George Herriman.  I have dipped into these before because they are celebrated widely as a high point of comics, a great 20th century achievement in art and satire, and a deep poetical statement about…well, lot’s of things.  At first, I was merely amused, but found them a bit tedious.  Now, however, having followed them a bit, as Sunday readers would have, I can say that the more I read, the more seduced I am.  They have a unique atmosphere and sensibility:  surreal, dadaist, poetic, satirical, slapstick, and always composed with sophistication and wit.  One never knows what will come next.

The plot line of the series is quite simple:  Ignatz Mouse lives for nothing but to throw bricks at the head of Krazy Kat.  Officer Pup tries to stop him, but usually fails.  Kat seems to take the endless attacks as a sign of true love, because when a brick hits someone else in one strip, he is very jealous.  I’ve not fathomed all the motives of Ignatz yet.

Sounds like a dada version of a Greek tragedy.  Here the Kat muses on the nature and source of time in a typically arid and otherworldly landscape.

Here Ignatz thinks he’s come upon a source of bricks to last him for a near eternity of head-smashing attacks on Kat.


Just sayin’…

December 29, 2009

You can click on the images to enlarge them…


On to Unemployment

February 4, 2008

street.gif

“What does Dada mean? Dada has no meaning!” So declared the Zurich Dadaists, derided by George Grosz and his friends as “salon dada.” He was more directed towards revolutionary thinking, if not action. Among other demands:

“…the introduction of incremental unemployment linked to wide-ranging mechanization of every field of activity. Only unemployment assures the individual of an opportunity to assess the truth of his own life and be finally reconciled to experience.”

As another great socialist, Oscar Wilde, said, “Work is the refuge of those with nothing better to do.” Of course, this was before there were so many things to buy, which, of course, makes working all the more desirable. Quite a clever little rat race it is! What a situation…

[the founding of the] Situationiste Internationale in 1957. At first, they were principally concerned with the “suppression of art”, that is to say, they wished like the Dadaists and the Surrealists before them to supersede the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life. Like the Lettrists, they were against work and for complete divertissement … To hell with work, to hell with boredom! Create and construct an eternal festival.

And back to one of the clearest statements I have read about the nature of work in our society of controlled, stimulated consumption that keeps the wheels going as we all turn our cranks in our cubicles and our factories, while most of us – humans that is – are living in poverty and even squalor and don’t really work as we do but toil and struggle to exist, but we are privileged, and of just what does this privilege consist..?”

The idea that a society can exist without work is disturbing because it implies that work is the product of society and not the other way around, as we ordinarily imagine …

…the act of work, as the manner in which human energy is concerted under civilization, is inextricable from exploitation. That is a word before which we tend to wince. But in early civilization it is not difficult to see it nakedly apparent and coercively enforced. The figures of the rent-racked peasant and the abused slave are inextricable from the centralized mode of production.

Yet is the common observation that men and women want work, even when they do not have to have it’ that few individuals are happy on welfare; in short, that work is looked on as a desirable condition of life, even though it is no longer essential for life. Capitalism is the first civilization in which the upper class “works” in ways that would have been regarded with disdain by the upper classes of previous social orders…Capitalism has combined prestige and power into a new social value, available to many and tempting to all: the value of success. Prior to capitalism, there was triumph, glory, high rank, wealth—but there was no success. Success is the reward of power and prestige that comes from work.

The submission to the dictates of the system[of work]is not as overt or dramatic as that required on a field of combat or before a court of law, but it is there just the same—all the more overmastering because it seems no more than the warp and woof of daily life.

Robert Heilbroner:
“The World of Work” from Behind the Veil of Economics

Pardon me, but I repeat myself. See my Lotus Eaters.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 205 other followers