2014年7月3日 星期四

Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean

Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Trade Paper Edition edition (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English

Suddenly, comics are everywhere: a newly matured art form, filling bookshelves with brilliant, innovative work and shaping the ideas and images of the rest of contemporary culture. In Reading Comics, critic Douglas Wolk shows us why and how. Wolk illuminates the most dazzling creators of modern comics-from Alan Moore to Alison Bechdel to Chris Ware-and explains their roots, influences, and where they fit into the pantheon of art. As accessible to the hardcore fan as to the curious newcomer, Reading Comics is the first book for people who want to know not just which comics are worth reading, but ways to think and talk and argue about them.

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Significant Seven, August 2007: With none of the bashful, "comics aren't just for kids any more!" throat-clearing that accompanies most mainstream writing on comics, Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean leaps straight into smart, conversational talk about perhaps the liveliest medium going. His enthusiasms and criticisms are infectious and often surprising, and, most refreshingly, he treats the two often warring (or at least mutually ignorant) sides of comics--the superhero tradition and the art comics that have gained highbrow attention lately--without ignoring the differences between them. Reading Comics is an appealingly idiosyncratic tour of many of his favorite artists that doesn't hesitate to criticize some of the most revered names in the business (like Chris Ware and Will Eisner) or investigate some of its most forgotten genre byways (like the '70s series Tomb of Dracula) with serious enthusiasm. --Tom Nissley
Questions for Douglas Wolk
Amazon.com:What do comics--the writing and the pictures and the narrative combined--give us that other art forms don't?
Wolk: The most important thing comics give us, I think, is drawing that makes a story. What you're seeing when you look at a page of comics, you're not just looking at a bunch of images that represent a plot, you're looking at something that came from somebody's hand--a deliberately distorted world, changing over time, built by a particular artist, line by line.
Amazon.com: There is a great perceived divide in comics, between the superhero tradition and what you call art comics. One of the pleasures of your book is the way you happily work both sides of that divide without fuss. Do you think the divide is valid, or does it melt away the more attention you pay to individual artists?
Wolk: There's definitely a useful distinction to make--art comics are primarily about particular cartoonists' self-expression, and superhero comics are primarily about the characters and their shared fictional history. One's an ethos, the other's a genre. But I don't think individual artists have to stay in one camp or the other, and in any case an ethos and a genre can overlap. You can say that Mark Bagley and Hope Larson belong to totally different schools, but then somebody like Bill Sienkiewicz turns up and makes the idea of a binary opposition look ridiculous. In fact, the best genre comics almost always have a really strong sense of expressive style about them.
Amazon.com: One way you, by necessity, limit the range of your discussion is to leave out the newspaper-strip side of comics history. As someone who came to comics from that side of things, it was a little disconcerting to read a book on American comics that only made a single passing reference to Charles Schulz. What influence do you think newspaper strips have had on the development of art comics especially?
Wolk: One of the biggest breakthroughs I had in writing Reading Comics was realizing that not only did I not have to make it comprehensive, it'd be more interesting and useful if it didn't even pretend to be comprehensive! I didn't mention newspaper strips much because they mostly seem to me to be playing a slightly different game from narrative comics--at least, there hasn't been a lot of extended narrative in newspaper strips in a long time. (By their nature, they have to get in and get out in a few lines, and now that they're all postage-stamp-sized, there's really no way they can move a story forward.) What newspaper strips did contribute to art comics was the development of distinctive visual style--the idea that an artist's handiwork was at least as important as a strip's characters--but these days they're so tightly limited by their size and populism and every-third-panel punchlines that they sometimes seem like an arcane kind of microminiature. Everybody loves "Peanuts," but I don't know that there's even room for a new stylist as fresh as Schulz (or George Herriman or Milton Caniff or Winsor McCay) on the newspaper page now. On the other hand, "Calvin & Hobbes" wasn't so long ago.
Amazon.com: And for a reader like me who has pretty much bypassed the superhero tradition and become a Dan Clowes/Charles Burns/Chris Ware fan via Peanuts and literary fiction, where would you recommend I start reading on the superhero side of the divide, which, as you say, has become so self-referential that it can be hard to crack the code?
Wolk: I was talking with some friends recently about the common mistake of recommending Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, as great as it is, as a starting point for superhero comics--as one of them put it, that's like recommending The Seventh Seal as someone's first movie! For pure, unencumbered superhero joycore, I love Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman--if you've heard of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, you know everything you need to know to enjoy it, and it deepens with repeated reading. Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos's cruelly witty Alias, about a self-loathing ex-superheroine-turned-P.I., has lots of Easter eggs for the continuity-obsessed, but it probably works even better as a stand-alone story. And if you're at all into Victorian literature and/or want to sample Moore's work, the two volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen(drawn by Kevin O'Neill) are hugely fun on their own, and also illustrate by analogy the way a lot of the best superhero comics and other pulp art work: providing metaphors to illuminate the central concerns of their moment.
Amazon.com: You're as prolific a writer about music as you are about comics. How do you compare writing about the two?
Wolk: They're hard to compare--it feels like different parts of my brain deal with music and comics. I suppose both of them present the risk of paying too much attention to the words and missing the really important stuff. There's also much more of a tradition of music criticism with a strong, personal voice, and a richer shared vocabulary for talking about what's happening in music. ("Musical," for instance, is a perfectly normal word; there's no word that means "comics-ish"...) Right now, people writing about comics (in English, anyway) are still making it up as we go along, which is risky but exciting.
Amazon.com: I'm a big fan of your little book on James Brown's Live at the Apollo, my favorite so far in that wonderful 33 1/3 series, and one thing that struck me, having read your two books now, is that one, the James Brown book, is super-tight (fitting its subject I guess), aphoristic and efficient, while the other, Reading Comics, seems purposefully loose, willing to take a stroll and maybe not come back. Is that a difference you thought about while writing the two books?
Wolk: It was! I thought of Live at the Apollo as one long essay, a way of diagramming how the 35 minutes of that album exploded outwards in time, and I stole a lot of its tone and technique from George W.S. Trow's tiny fireball of a book In the Context of No Context. I wanted Reading Comics to be more conversational--the idea was to open up as many arguments as I could, to try to broaden the way people talk about comics instead of codifying it.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As the graphic novel flourishes and gains legitimacy as an art form, serious comics criticism is an inevitable byproduct, and PW contributing editor Wolk's analytical discourse is a welcome starting point. The volume contains two sections: Theory and History, an explanation of comics as a medium and an overview of its evolution, and Reviews and Commentary, a diverse examination of creators and works. This section spans Will Eisner's pioneering efforts as well as the groundbreaking modern comics by the Hernandez brothers, Chris Ware and Alison Bechdel. Since there are decades worth of books already focusing on the superhero genre, the raw clay from which the comics industry was built, the relatively short shrift given to the spandex oeuvre's insular mythologies is a wise choice that allows the nonfan a glimpse into the wider range that comics commands. Wolk's insightful observations offer much to ponder, perhaps more than can be fully addressed in one volume, but the thoughtful criticism and knowledgeable historical overview give much-needed context for the emerging medium. B&w illus. (July) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside the Box

October 16, 2013


The most despairing image in Chris Ware’s magnificent new graphic novel, “Building Stories” — and there are plenty of candidates — depicts a dumpy middle-aged couple, naked in their bedroom. She’s just dropped her clothes to the floor; he’s lying on the bed, oblivious to her, his face and chest illuminated by the iPad propped on his belly.
Illustration From “Building Stories”
You will never be able to read “Building Stories” on a digital tablet, by design. It is a physical object, printed on wood pulp, darn it. It’s a big, sturdy box, containing 14 different “easily misplaced elements” — a hard-bound volume or two, pamphlets and leaflets of various dimensions, a monstrously huge tabloid à la century-old Sunday newspaper comics sections and a folded board of the sort that might once have come with a fancy game. In which order should one read them? Whatever, Ware shrugs, uncharacteristically relinquishing his customary absolute control. In the world of “Building Stories,” linearity leads only to decay and death.
Arguably, the box’s central nugget of story is a sequence Ware serialized in The New York Times Magazine in the mid-2000s, which appears here in something that approximates the dimensions and binding of a Little Golden Book. The chief protagonist of “Building Stories,” a sad, lonely florist with a prosthetic leg (Ware never gives her a name), lives on the third story of a 98-year-old building in Chicago. She’s a former art student who eventually gave up on creating anything: as she explains in a pseudo-gag cartoon on the edge of the box (!), she was “just art curious.”
这个盒子里最核心的精华故事无疑是韦尔2005年前后在《纽约时报杂志》上的连载,现在又在这里出现,尺寸和装帧与“金色童书系列”(Little Golden Book)相当。《小楼故事》的主角是一个悲伤、孤独、装有一条假腿的卖花女(书中始终没有说她的名字),住在芝加哥一栋有98年历史的建筑的三楼。她以前是艺术系学生,后来放弃了创作。她在一幅假造的幽默卡通(是画在盒子边缘的!)里解释说,自己“只是对艺术有好奇而已”。
Illustration From “Building Stories”
Below her, on the second floor, there’s a couple whose romance is utterly dead; the ground floor is occupied by the landlady, an elderly, faltering spinster. On an autumn day in 2000, the florist deals with a plumbing problem, briefly loses her cat and has a fumbling makeout session with a former classmate. An epilogue shows her, five years later, driving past the building with her baby daughter; on that section’s back cover, a wrecking ball is smashing off the corner of her former apartment. That’s what you get for chasing time’s arrow.
Instead, Ware lets his readers follow the gnarled paths memory takes as it builds and rebuilds stories. The individual elements of the box show us the building and its residents at fraught moments in their lives, or chart aspects of their existence over time. Ware has an extraordinary command of time and pacing: one bravura page depicts the florist and her husband dealing with her father’s decline over several months, every panel a perfectly composed little square, the thought balloons doubling as after-the-fact narration, and the whole thing a tribute to the look of Frank King’s old “Gasoline Alley” Sunday pages. In another sequence, we see the landlady age 80 years in 18 panels, with paper-doll tabs extending from her body. A bee who’s trapped inside the building until the florist opens a window turns up again as the star of his own comics, the closest thing to comedic relief here. (The spiritual crises and sexual neuroses of “Branford, the Best Bee in the World” amount to little more or less than any of the human characters’; in a moment of self-loathing, he concludes that he’s “an impure, disgusting slug who thinks too much of fertilizing the queen.”)
但是,韦尔让读者沿着曲折的记忆道路,追溯记忆建构与重建的故事。盒子中的每一个元素都向我们展现这栋建筑中的居民生活里的忧虑时刻,或者为我们描绘出在时间流逝过程中,他们生活里的种种侧面。韦尔对时间和节奏有种非凡的掌控能力。其中有一页描述卖花女和她丈夫几个月来一直在应对她父亲年老体衰的问题,这一页格外精彩。每一帧正方形的画面都很完美,对话框里有人物的思维活动和事后叙述。整幅作品是在向弗兰克·金(Frank King)古老的星期日连载漫画《汽油巷》(Gasoline Alley)致敬。在另一个系列里,我们可以看到18帧画面,画的是80岁的女房东,她身上标记着纸板娃娃的标签。还有一只蜜蜂被困在楼里,直到卖花女打开窗子才逃出去,它也是一个故事的主角,是全书中最接近轻松喜剧的部分。它的故事名叫《布朗福德:世界上最好的蜜蜂》(Branford, the Best Bee in the World),其中蕴含的精神危机与性焦虑使它多少有点像个人类角色,在自我厌恶时,它说自己是“肮脏恶心的鼻涕虫,光想着怎么让蜂后怀孕”。
Illustration From “Building Stories”
The organizing principle of “Building Stories” is architecture, and — even more than he usually does — Ware renders places and events alike as architectural diagrams. He’s certain of every detail of these rooms, and tends to splay their furnishings out diagonally to show how they fit together. Every visual observation of bodies or nature is ruthlessly adjusted to the level of symbol, rendered in a minimal number of hard, perfectly even, perfectly straight or curved lines. Elaborate strings of micro-panels explode scenes’ components outward through time or through a character’s thought patterns; mandala-ish page compositions arrange associative chains of text and pictures around a central image. The florist’s young daughter appears, practically life-size, at the middle of one of the biggest double-page sequences in the book.
“Building Stories” is one of the two enormous projects Ware has been working on since “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” made his reputation in 2000. (The other is “Rusty Brown,” apparently still in progress.) It’s so far ahead of the game that it tempts you to find fault just to prove that a human made it, and there are absolutely faults to be found. The way Ware hangs a lantern on his story’s weaker beats, for instance — when a not-quite-dead baby mouse reminds one character of a long-ago abortion, she thinks: “What a ridiculous metaphor . . . really,could it have been any more obvious? I was embarrassed for who or whatever was coming up with the script for my life” — doesn’t make them any stronger.
2000年的《吉米·卡里甘:世界上最聪明的孩子》(Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth)为韦尔奠定了声誉,自那以后,韦尔又推出了两本大部头,《小楼故事》就是其中之一,另一本是尚未完成的《生锈的布朗》(Rusty Brown)。这本书实在是太超前了,诱惑着读者去挑剔它的缺点,哪怕只为证明它是凡人所写的也好,当然,它也的确有很多缺点可以挑剔。比如在类似这样的情节里,一只快死掉的小老鼠让书中人物想起自己很久以前的流产,她想:“多可笑的隐喻啊,还能更明显吗?我为那些带着我生命的密码出现的人或事感到尴尬。”韦尔想强调故事里感情脆弱的部分,却没有使这些部分变得更有力量。
Illustration From “Building Stories”
Still, Ware is remarkably deft at balancing the demands of fine art, where sentimentality is an error, and those of storytelling, where emotion is everything. He rejects the possibility of showing his hand in his (notably handmade) artwork, but that watertight visual surface lets him get away with vast billows of existential torment. Quiet desperation is just about the best anybody can hope for in Ware’s world. To be fair, this time he doesn’t punish all of his characters for having the temerity to be in his story. A lengthy, wordless pamphlet about the florist’s love for her daughter may be the tenderest thing Ware has ever published.
Like everything else here, it’s also slow, demanding and melancholy. Ware has earned the right to make demands of his readers, though. He’s built a whole microcosm in this box, over the course of more than a decade. You have to play by his rules to perceive its complicated splendor, or find yourself like Branford the bee, stuck behind a pane of “hard air” and unable to reach the flower beyond it.
Douglas Wolk is the author of “Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean.”
本文作者Douglas Wolk著有《阅读漫画:插图小说原理及释意》