Madinkbeard’s smart-as-hell Derik Badman and my fellow Balloonist Craig Fischer have just posted a dialogic post, a veritable conversation in writing, regarding Abstract Comics, the anthology of non-narrative(?) comics edited by Andrei Molotiu and recently published by Fantagraphics: surely one of the loveliest and most psychoactive comics collections of 2009. Check it out! Derik and Craig’s back-and-forth addresses Abstract Comics from a variety of angles, offering a provocative, prismatic and very personal take on what will surely be remembered as a monumental book.
I came to the party late, so I’m posting my own review of Abstract Comics here on TB, in hopes that Craig and/or Derik will comment. In turn, I plan to comment on their post. You’ll see that I’ve cited and linked to them in several spots below, while they have done the same in their post. We’re hoping to get you to bounce back and forth between our sites! So, again, check 'em out!
Here we go...
Abstract Comics. Edited by Andrei Molotiu. Fantagraphics, 2009. $39.99. 232 pages.
I was struck by how enticing this book is, as an object. Its whole design, by Fantagraphics stalwart Jacob Covey, resonates beautifully with what it contains. I liked the way its paratexts, for instance its bewildering page numbers, are done up in geometric symbols à la Wingdings:
As Derik says, "oh-so annoying abstract markings." Sure,they run the risk of being a distracting gimmick, but I like them because they defamiliarize typographic and design conventions so as to draw attention to the way books -- not just this one but all books -- are artfully constructed. I grant that it’s strange to see the entire Introduction printed in this hermetic code, but thankfully there’s a parallel English text printed in red (rather Biblical, eh?) running underneath. I actually worked out the code!
Besides this gimmick, certain other motifs -- I’m thinking of geometrical devices and color patterns -- are used throughout, though subtly enough, I’d say, so as not to obtrude into the visual space of the comics themselves. The covers, for example, imply a sequence: reddish tones up front (from comics by Alexey Sokolin and Warren Craghead) contrast with blues and grays on the back (from John Hankiewicz and Gary Panter), as if to suggest that the subject matter of the book will blueshift toward us as we read; the colors of the endpapers shift accordingly. That sort of designing intelligence is in evidence all over, which, to me, makes Abstract Comics very appealing. Consider too how the graphic dividing of the title word, CO/MI/CS, into three successive “panels” -- a trick repeated throughout -- not only brands the book but implicitly stresses the very idea of sequential form which, for Molotiu, constitutes the core of comics when all narrative considerations are stripped away. All this, from my POV, is smart and lovely and fun to page through.