Mignola’s graphic style in the H.B. and BPRD books evolves quite a bit in the titles’ first few years. That’s a common enough observation, and nothing specially to do with Mignola as an artist or a writer, for that matter. (Take, e.g., my cartooning idol Richard Thompson: the way he drew Cul de Sac — already at the height of his career as a cartoonist and illustrator, his style well established — underwent a similar period of refinement and simplification after it began in the Post Sunday magazine, and then again after he took it to syndication as a daily.) I’m interested in talking more, sometime, about the evolution of Mignola’s graphic approach in relation to his evolving approach to the stories, but for the moment, let’s just look at an isolated aspect or two of the change, in very brief terms.
The last two posts here cracked open the door, just a bit, to some discussion of visual stereotyping and race. I didn’t have any definite plan to open that door further, but it’s interesting stuff, to say the least, and a good way to go for a wider historical field on the subject of graphics and human figure. So let’s just push it open and encounter the dangers within as we may.
I may not draw a lot these days, but it’s no real exaggeration to say I think about drawing all the time. What I think about — or have in back of mind at least — particularly is the problem of representing human form, not so much in the sense of portrayal and its possibilities, but in the sense of iconography, visual language, linear phraseology. It’s what makes comics and cartooning so compelling for me, I believe, in spite of my general feeling of disappointment with the medium’s evolution.
I’ve been reading Grant Morrison’s gushy-trippy memoirish, Supergods, lately — since about a week after learning of it by way of this post in Darrell’s series meandering among the pagans, currently in progress. (Go take a look.) I mention in a comment there that I hadn’t heard of the book. Actually, I had no idea who Morrison was before reading that post. That tells you something about extent of my appreciation of comic book culture.
A friend completing ancient-Near-East PhD work contacted me from the other side of the world a few weeks ago. It led to something I haven’t done in years, an illustration job. She didn’t ask me to do the illustration, actually. She wanted to know if I could help find somebody to do it — which interested me, but not as much, as I thought about it, as the possibility of doing it myself. Either was going to take time, anyhow.
Over a few recent days I’ve been listening to an interview with Jack Kirby, done in L.A. in 1990, posted on YouTube by the Jack Kirby Museum. He’s 72, and he rambles and loses track of the questions, and you get the feeling the show hosts don’t quite know what to do with him. But he’s fun to listen to, on the whole. A theme he seems to like returning to is the idea that storytelling runs in his family. I can’t help thinking that he was probably always the rambly, discursive, storytelling type of conversationalist. Maybe the guy we’re hearing on tape is someone really not far removed from the guy who started out in Superman and Batman knockoffs during the Depression, fifty-odd years earlier.
PBS has a three-part series on the American comic-book superhero running now — from Siegel & Shuster to the recent summer blockbusters. I watched (minus dozing) tonight while doing some bookkeeping. If you get your comics history largely from Wikipedia and YouTube, like me, you’d say it feels sketchy. At times, seems not much more than a long commercial for the Marvel and DC media shops. It may be the work of a Ken Burns alumnus, but it’s some way from doing what Ken Burns does for Americana.
And now, merely for example’s sake, I will, with your permission, read a few lines of a true book with you, carefully; and see what will come out of them. I will take a book perfectly known to you all. No English words are more familiar to us, yet few perhaps have been read with less sincerity. I will take these few following lines of Lycidas: —
Last came, and last did go,
The pilot of the Galilean lake.
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain,
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain,)
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake,
‘How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as for their bellies’ sake
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold!
Of other care they little reckoning make,
Than how to scramble at the shearers’ feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learn’d aught else, the least
That to the faithful herdsman’s art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But, swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread;
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.’