Friday, May 29, 2009

Master of Time!

Between the loss of my laptop's hard drive a few weeks ago, complete with a whack of partially constructed posts on more historical canuck comics stuff, and writing my tail off in an attempt to secure my next gig, posting remains a little... off-schedule.

To say the least.

However, I thought you might enjoy the small piece I wrote for the first ever print issue of Sequential, based on the Canadian Comics and Culture website of the same name. Max Douglas, aka Salgood Sam, printed it up to giveaway to the public attending last month's Toronto Comic Arts Festival. And a damn fine publication it was!

Max also did up crazy artwork for the piece of a warped cartoon mouse (No relation, Disney lawyers) being stretched through an hourglass.

But I don't have a copy of that.

So here's Max's sumptuous cover!


You are about to become a master of time.

I kid you not. A master. Of time.

Comics screw with time, man. And they give you the power to do it too.

That’s right. For a brief, shining moment that lasts as long as you choose, comics allow you to control and manipulate time to enjoy a story on your terms. As you process the comics’ special alchemy of words (or symbols) and art you find your subjective view of time changes from panel to panel and page to page.

Picture it. Comics are the only medium in which you can be subjectively in the past, present and future all at the same time. While borders may separate the actions found within panels, each drawing divided into an individual moment, you still see the whole page or the entire screen. You see the action you’re reading now, you see the action preceding it, and you see what’s coming. And you get to decide to how long it takes to get there, or whether to go there at all. You may stop or even reverse time, flipping ahead or back at will.

Even a single panel cartoon can accomplish this effect. Picture one of many brilliant Gary Larson Far Side panels. Two bears stand over a fallen birdwatcher and thumb through his wallet like a pair of gangbanging thugs. In one image Larson conveys the past (the bears mugging the tourist), captures the present (they look over their booty while gazing around warily for potential witnesses) and invites the viewer into possible futures (any number of ways the bears might use their stolen money and credit cards). These three concurrent facets of time combine to form one complete, hilarious narrative.

A comic artist can try to slow down or speed up time and guide you through a story, but in the end you are the decision-maker. A photograph captures a single moment in time, freezing it for endless study and enjoyment. A film may play tricks with time, but you are always propelled forward through it, following a course laid out for you without deviation. Even when the narrative plays with chronology you are still guided on a predetermined path. But you and a comic must work together.

When people argue about what comics are, more often than not they are actually defending their preferred medium for viewing comics: web comics, monthly magazine-style comics, graphic novels, newspaper strips, etc. Or they may praise their ideal subject matter: muscle-bound superheroes, animated carton animals, fantasy quests or even the twisted obsessions of a favoured, underground cartoonist.

Years ago, Pierre Fournier, a Quebec grandmaster of comics, expressed confusion to me over all the subcategories ascribed to comics in North America. “In Quebec, comics are comics. They are one thing. It doesn’t matter if they are in a book or on the Internet or in a graphic novel.”

Take the time to really look around TCAF today and you cannot help but learn that comics are, indeed, many things. Some are painted, some are drawn, some are hand-stapled and coloured with pencil crayons, others are slick, glossy pieces of high-entertainment, some are even therapy. They all combine elements of the visual and literary arts in an utterly unique form. A million different approaches united by one thing… They make you an all-powerful master of time!

Use your power wisely or frivolously.

But do use it.

Beavers Up!

See? Comics screw with time! From
Bryan Lee O'Malley's contribution to TCAF's
Free Comic Book Day publication this past year.

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