Because art can be cool too.
A line from a "color sonnet", from Graphic Poems.
In any medium, there will always be artists who want to play. Whether it be Christo and his obsession with wrapping stuff, or the crazy sidewalk chalk art of Julian Beever, if there's a medium, there's an artist who will try to push the limits.
And webcomics are no exception. In fact, webcomics are really more of the rule. Since their inception, webcomics have been a medium where artists can come and play, and push the boundaries of what it means to be a "comic". Scott McCloud has been the impetus of some of this work, what with Reinventing Comics, and he's definitely helped spread inventions and ideas by linking to them from his site and constantly talking them up at his conventions and university talks. Heck, as I've said before Scott McCloud is the person who first introduced me to the concept of webcomics, and I owe him incredibly just for that.
So it's always fun to find people who are pushing the envelope, trying new and different things, not so much "alternative comickers" who are encorporating radical art and storytelling styles into comics, but people who are really testing the boundaries of comics and inventing new concepts.
So I'm really fascinated by the work of Derik Badman and Grant Thomas. Now, before people start yelling foul, yes, Grant Thomas is the artist behind Birdsworth and yes, he and I are actually very good friends in real life. But I think he's got some interesting stuff going on here beyond my potential vested interest due to friendship.
Both of these guys run more "traditional" webcomics as addition to their deviations. Badman did a comic called Maroon which in my opinion did an excellent job of capturing the essence of loneliness and is currently working on what appears to be a relationship drama called Things Change. Thomas is working on a quasi-biographical story very similar in feel to Blankets but different in tone called My Life in Records. But it's the experimental stuff they've produced which I want to discuss today.
Basically, what these guys have been trying to do is transform literary forms into comic forms. Badman got things started by first experimenting with comic hiakus. Basically the idea was to convey the feel of a hiaku, which as Badman describes it is "Three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. A season is mentioned as is nature, and some emotion is conveyed indirectly," in comics form. And by using varied panel widths, I think he's done a really good job.
Well, Thomas latched on to this and wondered if it would be possible to transform other literary forms. The results thus far have been the color sonnets, the art show, and NOW (pivotgrams).
The color sonnets, like Badman's hiakus, are an attempt to transform the literary form of the sonnet into comics form, and Thomas has created the purest form of it, using only gradients of color in his panels to convey meaning. I didn't really "get it" at first when looking at the pretty squares, but eventually I realized that each page is actually only a single line in the poem, and then it becomes clear as you see the flow and "rhyming" from line to line. I especially like the twist in line 13, which is typical of English sonnets, and so it's the image I thumbnailed in this post. I'd really like to see either Thomas or someone else develop this form further by using iconic artwork or even full illustrations, but at it stands it's a great proof of concept.
I think in order to understand "the art show", you've got to read NOW first. This will give you an understanding of what a pivotgram is. I'm a big fan of pivotgrams and slip poetry myself (in fact, I once wrote a biography of my life in slip poetry), so I had a hand in inspiring NOW, but I like the direction that Thomas has taken it. After reading NOW, go take a look at the art show. do you see the pivoting? Sometimes it's literal (as in from panel 1 to panel 2) and sometimes it's more iconic (as in from page 1 to page 2), but you can feel the comic pivoting from one point to another. Now, I think this is a technique that has been used by comics before, but creating a comic which enforces a pivot in every panel and still tries to tell a story is pretty neat in my book.
So check them out, and try some experiments of your own! I'd love to see interpretations of how other literary forms such as anagrams, acrostics, and palindromes can be converted into comics. There's a huge world out there to explore.