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Abstract Comics: The Anthology

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Abstract comics? Don't all comics tell stories? How can a comic be abstract? Well, as it happens, beginning with the experiments of Saul Steinberg, through some of the more psychedelic creations of R. Crumb and Victor Moscoso, and with increasing frequency in recent years, cartoonists and other artists have played with the possibility of comics whose panels contain little Abstract comics? Don't all comics tell stories? How can a comic be abstract? Well, as it happens, beginning with the experiments of Saul Steinberg, through some of the more psychedelic creations of R. Crumb and Victor Moscoso, and with increasing frequency in recent years, cartoonists and other artists have played with the possibility of comics whose panels contain little to no representational imagery, and which tell no stories other than those that result from the transformation and interaction of shapes across the layout of a comic page. Reduced to the most basic elements of comics — the panel grid, brushstrokes, and sometimes colors — abstract comics highlight the formal mechanisms that underlie all comics, such as the graphic dynamism that leads the eye (and the mind) from panel to panel or the aesthetically rich interplay between sequentiality and page layout. Abstract Comics, edited by Andrei Molotiu, an art historian as well as one of the best-known contemporary abstract-comic creators, is the first collection devoted to this budding genre. It gathers the best abstract comics so far created, including early experiments in the form by cartoonists primarily known for other types of comics, such as Gary Panter, Patrick McDonnell, or Lewis Trondheim, and pieces by little-known pioneers such as Benoit Joly, Bill Boichel and Jeff Zenick, as well as by recent creators who have devoted a good part of their output to perfecting the form, such as Ibn al Rabin, Billy Mavreas, Mark Staff Brandl, and many others. It also features first attempts, commissioned specifically for this anthology, by well-known cartoonists such as James Kochalka, J.R. Williams and Warren Craghead. Comprehensive in scope, Abstract Comics gathers work not only from North America, but also from France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, showing the rise in popularity of the genre to be a true international phenomenon. In the process, the anthology highlights the wide variety of approaches taken to the combination of abstraction and sequential art — approaches resulting in work that is not only graphically bold, but also often proves to be surprisingly humorous or emotionally disturbing. Complete list of contributors (in order of appearance): R. Crumb, Victor Moscoso, Spyros Horemis, Jeff Zenick, Bill Shut, Patrick McDonnell, Mark Badger, Benoit Joly, Bill Boichel, Gary Panter, Damien Jay, Ibn al Rabin, Lewis Trondheim, Andy Bleck, Mark Staff Brandl, Andrei Molotiu, Anders Pearson, Derik Badman, Grant Thomas, Casey Camp, Henrik Rehr, James Kochalka, John Hankiewicz, Mike Getsiv, J.R. Williams, Blaise Larmee, Warren Craghead III, Janusz Jaworski, Richard Hahn, Geoff Grogan, Panayiotis Terzis, Mark Gonyea, Greg Shaw, Alexey Sokolin, Jason Overby, Bruno Schaub, Draw, Jason T. Miles, Elijah Brubaker, Noah Berlatsky, Tim Gaze, troylloyd, Billy Mavreas. Nominated for a 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award (Best Anthology).


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Abstract comics? Don't all comics tell stories? How can a comic be abstract? Well, as it happens, beginning with the experiments of Saul Steinberg, through some of the more psychedelic creations of R. Crumb and Victor Moscoso, and with increasing frequency in recent years, cartoonists and other artists have played with the possibility of comics whose panels contain little Abstract comics? Don't all comics tell stories? How can a comic be abstract? Well, as it happens, beginning with the experiments of Saul Steinberg, through some of the more psychedelic creations of R. Crumb and Victor Moscoso, and with increasing frequency in recent years, cartoonists and other artists have played with the possibility of comics whose panels contain little to no representational imagery, and which tell no stories other than those that result from the transformation and interaction of shapes across the layout of a comic page. Reduced to the most basic elements of comics — the panel grid, brushstrokes, and sometimes colors — abstract comics highlight the formal mechanisms that underlie all comics, such as the graphic dynamism that leads the eye (and the mind) from panel to panel or the aesthetically rich interplay between sequentiality and page layout. Abstract Comics, edited by Andrei Molotiu, an art historian as well as one of the best-known contemporary abstract-comic creators, is the first collection devoted to this budding genre. It gathers the best abstract comics so far created, including early experiments in the form by cartoonists primarily known for other types of comics, such as Gary Panter, Patrick McDonnell, or Lewis Trondheim, and pieces by little-known pioneers such as Benoit Joly, Bill Boichel and Jeff Zenick, as well as by recent creators who have devoted a good part of their output to perfecting the form, such as Ibn al Rabin, Billy Mavreas, Mark Staff Brandl, and many others. It also features first attempts, commissioned specifically for this anthology, by well-known cartoonists such as James Kochalka, J.R. Williams and Warren Craghead. Comprehensive in scope, Abstract Comics gathers work not only from North America, but also from France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, showing the rise in popularity of the genre to be a true international phenomenon. In the process, the anthology highlights the wide variety of approaches taken to the combination of abstraction and sequential art — approaches resulting in work that is not only graphically bold, but also often proves to be surprisingly humorous or emotionally disturbing. Complete list of contributors (in order of appearance): R. Crumb, Victor Moscoso, Spyros Horemis, Jeff Zenick, Bill Shut, Patrick McDonnell, Mark Badger, Benoit Joly, Bill Boichel, Gary Panter, Damien Jay, Ibn al Rabin, Lewis Trondheim, Andy Bleck, Mark Staff Brandl, Andrei Molotiu, Anders Pearson, Derik Badman, Grant Thomas, Casey Camp, Henrik Rehr, James Kochalka, John Hankiewicz, Mike Getsiv, J.R. Williams, Blaise Larmee, Warren Craghead III, Janusz Jaworski, Richard Hahn, Geoff Grogan, Panayiotis Terzis, Mark Gonyea, Greg Shaw, Alexey Sokolin, Jason Overby, Bruno Schaub, Draw, Jason T. Miles, Elijah Brubaker, Noah Berlatsky, Tim Gaze, troylloyd, Billy Mavreas. Nominated for a 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award (Best Anthology).

30 review for Abstract Comics: The Anthology

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fredrik Strömberg

    This book is exactly what the title indicates, that is if not the end-all, then at least the first and so far only major book on the subject of comics that can be deemed as abstract. Content: The book contains a preface with a well-written but far too short essay on the subject of abstract comics, as well as a historical overview of the precursors to the abstract comics, mostly from the fine art's world, with many if somewhat small illustrations. The majority of the book is then an anthology with This book is exactly what the title indicates, that is if not the end-all, then at least the first and so far only major book on the subject of comics that can be deemed as abstract. Content: The book contains a preface with a well-written but far too short essay on the subject of abstract comics, as well as a historical overview of the precursors to the abstract comics, mostly from the fine art's world, with many if somewhat small illustrations. The majority of the book is then an anthology with abstract comics. Art: Comics can, according to the author, be abstract in two ways: either in that they do not tell a coherent, understandable story (what Scott McCloud called non-sequitur), or in that they contain non-figurative art (art that would have ended up in the upper corner of McCloud's Big Triangle). This, and the anthology format, of course invites a wide range of styles, from traditional cartoony art, through by now just as traditional abstract fine art styles, to everything from what resembles simple pen scribbles to strict, clearly computer generated geometrical images. Critique: This is a very interesting book, and a welcome addition to any serious comics library as it is, as far as I know, the very first to tackle this specific subject. The introduction is good, though as I stated earlier far too short for this interesting and challenging subject. I perceive a problem in the historical overview, though, as it includes what the author deems as precursors to abstract comics, where the difference seems to be that the artist responsible have seen themselves as fine artists, in contrast to the ones represented in the book. This is, I think, a somewhat arbitrary way of dealing with the subject, and I can’t help thinking that something could be an abstract comic irrespective of the creator’s intent or preferred description of his or her profession (there is, by the way a total of 0 female artists represented in this book...). The choice seems to have come about as the author want’s the whole genre, and his book, to start with a canonized short comic by Robert Crumb from 1967/1968. The comics themselves vary from pure form experiments, which interest me less, to comics where you can sense an idea behind it all. Generally, the established comics artist, like the earlier mentioned Crumb, James Kochalka, Lewis Trondheim, Patrick McDonnell and so on, have made the contributions that interests me the most. It's like when you look at a cartoony character and you can tell whether the artist who drew it knows how to draw realistically and knows how a body actually works, or if he or she just learnt by copying a style. Here, it's the artists that are proficient in telling stories with their comics, that excel in not telling stories. I read a similarly singular and important book a few weeks ago, Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels, and faulted it (in a way, read my whole review) for not including even a mention of the world famous Swedish comic strip from the first half of the 20th century Adamson by Oscar Jacobsson. Here I could do the same thing, as Molotiu claims to have included most abstract comics in existence in his anthology, or at least all of any merit. Well, in Sweden (I again refer to the comics culture of my home country, as this is were I know more than most) we have the works of artist and Professor Rolf H. Reimers, who published his first abstract graphic novel already in 1972 (which makes it almost as old as the earliest included in this book) and who published his latest book length abstract comic in 2012. But that would be stretching it a bit, as most Swedes, even most Swedish comics fans do not know who Reimers is... I realise I haven't reviewed Reimer's new book Se (See) here, so that'l be the next book I take down from the book shelf. Despite all the above, this is a valuable contribution to the ever growing accumulation of information about the art form we choose to call comics,a and a book i heartily recommend.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I think the book was published too early. If the book is published just now (2015), it would have been a stronger work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    I think this could be more accurately titled, "Abstract Art by Comic Artists," but that might just be quibbling. Art's cool. The stories are somewhat less accessible (I kid, I kid).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Panoramaisland

    I was hoping that some of these shorts (I was about to write "short stories," but "stories" would seem to need, you know, -things- and -people- in them) could provide a visceral new experience, if not "beautiful" or engaging in the way that more traditional comics can be then at least a whole new punch in the gut, akin to listening to experimental noise or drone music. A couple managed to excite me - most notably R. Crumb's "Abstract Expressionist Ultra Super Modernistic Comics," which I had rea I was hoping that some of these shorts (I was about to write "short stories," but "stories" would seem to need, you know, -things- and -people- in them) could provide a visceral new experience, if not "beautiful" or engaging in the way that more traditional comics can be then at least a whole new punch in the gut, akin to listening to experimental noise or drone music. A couple managed to excite me - most notably R. Crumb's "Abstract Expressionist Ultra Super Modernistic Comics," which I had read previously and already treasured. The core of that piece, though, is a joke on the supposedly highbrow modernist art that Crumb detested. He succeeds at the joke so brilliantly by creating a parody of highbrow modernism much more immediately engaging and better-crafted than most actual modernist art, and yet still appreciable as a masterful and vibrant piece of absurdist abstraction in its own right. As a final zing, the piece parodies both the sly allusions to and extremely indirect evocations of sexuality that pervade various corners of Modernism, while simultaneously making fun of the sexual self-parody in his own work (and perhaps even engaging in said self-parody). Of course, much of the rest of the material is actually something quite the inverse of Crumb's work - instead of being a complex, fun and zingy parody of conceptual and visual artistic abstraction in comics form, it simply takes that sort of work and introduces, straight-faced, into a sequential format. This means that the bulk of the book suffers from the exact same characteristics that Crumb was satirizing: the great difficulty with which most viewers relate to the work (effectively asking the reader to make most of the communicative effort), the requirement of substantial theoretical knowledge for some of the work to be appreciated at all, the frequent seemingly intentional aversion to communicating any human emotion whatsoever, and accompanying all of that, the assumption that such work must by nature be highly dense and sophisticated, and that a viewer who gets nothing out of it must be dense, uneducated, a simpleton. I am not about to condemn an entire genre of art; I am a firm believer in the maxim that all genres and forms should be considered at least theoretically capable of producing great work, that one should make a solid effort to approach a work on its own terms, that no form or genre can be proven bad because all of the work in that area has by definition not been produced yet. The new evidence is always coming out. I also understand that different brains loaded with different experiences, ideas, etc. appreciate different qualities in creative works, and that is a good thing - that's how the various genres and forms got established in the first place. I love me some Andy Goldsworthy, and I find a few of Richard Serra and Pat Steir's works very striking. However, my brain just isn't configured in the right way to find the majority of super-abstract and non-figurative highbrow art, or the majority of concept art, satisfying on a visceral level. This is not for lack of exposure; I have been to plenty of exhibits, looked at plenty of books, taken classes. I live blocks away from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). I'll tell you how I do appreciate many of these comics, though: as wonderful technical exercises, explorations of closure, rhythm, layout, movement, color, the nature of the panel, the nature of line, and the evocation of representational forms that may not actually be there. As a comics artist, I find many of these ideas exciting, and would like to use them myself. However, in the completely abstract form in which they are presented, many of these wonderful formalist ideas become simple diagrams, losing much of their impact. I will mine this book for formal ideas, and for that it should prove valuable. However, most audiences are not comics artists (or connoisseurs), and given that even I have trouble engaging in them as anything other than formal exercises or emotionless idea-grams, I can't give Abstract Comics more than three stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    Abstract Comics was mentioned in an online intro to comics class that I took a couple months back.  I love anything that pushes boundaries and takes unique spins on art so I knew this book would be interesting for me to read. And I did really enjoy this short collection. It's a total of 208 pages, with comics from many different artists.  Some of the styles were more abstract than others, and some I could easily follow a story of sorts. I admit, I liked it better when I could follow somewhat of a Abstract Comics was mentioned in an online intro to comics class that I took a couple months back.  I love anything that pushes boundaries and takes unique spins on art so I knew this book would be interesting for me to read. And I did really enjoy this short collection. It's a total of 208 pages, with comics from many different artists.  Some of the styles were more abstract than others, and some I could easily follow a story of sorts. I admit, I liked it better when I could follow somewhat of a story instead of just looking at abstract art.    I think this was a really good book for me to read, I say read but there were hardly any words at all, because it opened my mind up to all that the comic genre can hold.  It gave me ideas for how comics can work, how panels and color schemes can work and much more. In the end I gave this book 4 stars, and if you're interested in comics I would definitely tell you to give it a try! 

  6. 5 out of 5

    Full Stop

    http://www.full-stop.net/2011/02/16/r... Review by Tim Platt Abstraction of form is a given in comics. Clouds are thoughts, sticks are people, and capes are cool. In his seminal Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud has a theory: “by de-emphasizing the appearance of the physical world in favor of the idea of form, the cartoon places itself in the world of concepts”. To McCloud, this makes “comics“ a form of language. “Words,” he says, “are the ultimate abstraction”. Simple or stylized images best en http://www.full-stop.net/2011/02/16/r... Review by Tim Platt Abstraction of form is a given in comics. Clouds are thoughts, sticks are people, and capes are cool. In his seminal Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud has a theory: “by de-emphasizing the appearance of the physical world in favor of the idea of form, the cartoon places itself in the world of concepts”. To McCloud, this makes “comics“ a form of language. “Words,” he says, “are the ultimate abstraction”. Simple or stylized images best encourage the reader to read the comic from panel to panel rather than just viewing the page as a whole. Abstraction facilitates the reading of sequential images. Abstract Comics, edited by Andrei Molotiu and published by Fantagraphics, chronicles the attempts of a number of cartoonists to experiment with the form. Each comic exercises a self-imposed “lack of a narrative excuse to string panels together, in favor of an increased emphasis on the formal elements of comics that, even in the absence of a (verbal) story, can create a feeling of sequential drive, the sheer rhythm of narrative or the rise and fall of a story arc”. Some showcase a complicated movement of color and texture while others use simple shapes to tell a story. Some overwhelm with intricate visual non-sequiturs while others play with blank panels. Though each artist takes a different direction, the pieces end up breaking down into two categories: they either motivate the reader to follow the logic of the panels sequentially or function as static images influenced by the visual vocabulary of comics. Read more here: http://www.full-stop.net/2011/02/16/r...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Parka

    (More pictures at parkablogs.com) After a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, I realised I'm not a big fan of abstract art. Getting Abstract Comics confirms the fact that I'm not a big fan of abstract art. This book has a very nice textured cover. The comics here resemble IQ quizzes that test the ability to recognise patterns. But they are more difficult here — insanely difficult — as they replace simple geometric shapes with abstract comic lines, colours and collage. Solving them will (More pictures at parkablogs.com) After a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, I realised I'm not a big fan of abstract art. Getting Abstract Comics confirms the fact that I'm not a big fan of abstract art. This book has a very nice textured cover. The comics here resemble IQ quizzes that test the ability to recognise patterns. But they are more difficult here — insanely difficult — as they replace simple geometric shapes with abstract comic lines, colours and collage. Solving them will no doubt provide tremendous pleasure but there are no answers given, of course. I've no luck distilling any meaning from most — only had one or two "Eureka!" moments. If you can appreciate abstract art, this book might be for you. If not, stay away. This art form probably appeals to those who already appreciate in the first place.

  8. 4 out of 5

    rr

    Oh, oh, oh, I like this book! It's a great anthology of comics that work in not-necessarily-representational and not-necessarily-narrative ways. It pushes readers to consider how much representation & how much narrative momentum they import into what they read and see.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Allie

    I sort of want to rate this higher, but I just didn't respond to it that well. There were a few comics I really enjoyed, but I think abstract art is generally harder to relate to. It was also just difficult to see comics in such an obtuse way.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Wayne

    This almost got one star from me. I just don't appreciate abstract art. Never have. For the price of this expensive hardcover, I need more. I finished looking at it in less than half an hour and was pretty unsatisfied. There are much better anthologies out there.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jane Elizabeth

    Surprising, visually exciting, and mostly over my head; I want to revisit this book after I have spent a lot more time actually creating my own comics, and can appreciate it more fully.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    This book forces one to consider comics as art objects. It is fascinating to see how wordless, abstract narrative is sustained in some places and completely absent in others.

  13. 5 out of 5

    BL834

    Yep. Those are abstract drawings on paper. That's all I have to say about that.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dane Martin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Balso

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lacy

  17. 5 out of 5

    jacob guedalia

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alan

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chloe A-L

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nathaniel

  21. 5 out of 5

    saman

  22. 4 out of 5

    Janice Lee

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark Connery

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Drake

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hyde

  26. 4 out of 5

    C

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gustavo

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Bakhit

  29. 5 out of 5

    lucy black

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

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