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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

JOCKEYING FOR JUXTAPOSITION

At the conclusion of INTERESTING FLEISCHER QUOTE I said:

"at present I'm trying more to work around to a response to Curt Purcell's thoughts on crossovers." 

While I so meditated, Curt removed his crossover-essays from GROOVY AGE OF HORROR, so I can't respond to them.  I can, however, respond to one of the sources he invoked: Scott McCloud's use of panel-to-panel transitions in the medium of comic books, as seen in UNDERSTANDING COMICS.  I'm less concerned here with panel-t-panel transition itself, as McCloud is, than with the practice of juxtaposing images and concepts within a narrative, since this practice is vital to the understanding of crossovers.

In UC, McCloud identifies six types of transition, most of which depended on some direct association between the images denoted in each of the two panel-examples.  The one exception to this proposition-- which Curt mentioned at one point in his essay-- was a type of juxtaposition which McCloud termed "the non-sequitur, which offers no logical relationship between panels whatsoever."    Here's one example he used:


McCloud then poses the question: "Is it possible for any sequence of panels to be totally unrelated to each other?"  He answers in the negative:

“No matter how dissimilar one image may be to another, there is a kind of alchemy at work in the space between panels which can help us find meaning or resonance in even the most jarring combinations.”

In Jungian terms, this form of "alchemy" would be one that could be expressed through the technique of *amplification," defined thusly in the online "Glossary of Jungian terms:"

Amplification: using imagery to create a meaningful context around a symbol needing examination. Also known as elaboration of the symbol. In subjective amplification, a dreamer, for example, uses active imagination to associate to a dream symbol in order to grasp it better. In objective amplification, the analyst collects themes from mythology, alchemy, religion, and other sources to illuminate, or amplify, archetypal symbols produced in dreams or fantasy.


Assuming that one sees the above images naively-- that is, not as examples of a visual/narrative theory but expecting that some "logical relationship" exists between the disparate images for some communicative purpose-- the reader must "amplify" what the images mean in order to figure out why the author thus juxatposted them.  For instance, to a given reader the implied triumph of a politician who resembles Richard Nixon might be read as the triumph of a repressive force.  In contrast, the panel showing a piece of abstract art might be amplified to mean freedom from repression, in that abstract art originated as an attempt to deviate from the emphasis on representationalism in the world of canonical art.  Further, if a comics-narrative started with these above images and then continued to build on it with other non-sequitur images, the reader (assuming that he made the above correlation) would then attempt to build on that narrative by forming amplified associations of whatever "meaning or resonance" he detected in subsequent images.

Now, in this situation the reader would have to draw on his own subconscious associations in order to make sense of the randomly-juxtposed images (as well as words, if any were used).  However, this is not how most narratives proceed.

Most narratives, both in canonical or non-canonical art, manipulate the "meaning and resonance" of words and images much more deliberately, along the lines of McCloud's first five examples of panel-to-panel transition.  Further, in a whole work of art-- be it comics, prose, or music-- one is not limited only to horizontal transitions.  Anthropologist Edmund Leach writes:

"So it is Levi-Strauss' bold proposition that the algebra of the brain can be represented as a rectangular matrix of at least two (but perhaps several) dimensions which can be read up and down or side to side like the words of a crossword puzzle."-- Leach, CLAUDE LEVI-STRAUSS, p. 55.  

In most narratives, there is no need to evoke the subconscious to interpret the logical relationships: one can simply go "side to side" at all times, paying little attention to the vertical (or, as Levi-Strauss calls it, the "harmonic") relationship.  Take this crossover as an example of juxtaposing not images but whole comic-character mythologies:



The first encounter of Batman and Judge Dredd, if one wanted to classify it roughly along the lines of McCloud-ian transitions, might be called "aspect-to-aspect."  Even if a reader knows little or nothing about the mythologies of the two characters, the story by Grant and Wagner is explicit about making clear each hero's nature, particularly in terms of one aspect: relationship to the law.  An online review sums it up nicely: "The Ultimate Law Enforcer vs. the Ultimate Vigilante!" Dredd recognizes no aspect of law enforcement save following the rules and convicting perpetrators; Batman incarnates the idea, as others before me have stated, that the law does not work and that a passionate yet judicious vigilantism is needed. 

This opposition, in addition to providing the anticipated conflict of the two characters in this crossover, makes clear what resonance each character should possess in order to remain relatively consistent for the sake of the story.  But clearly there are no "subconscious" themes that require amplification here.  The juxaposition by the authors has been conscious all the way, and by and large the readers' appreciation of the authors' skill in making a meaningful juxtaposition is conscious as well.

On the whole, any kind of crossover-- of characters, universes, or what have you-- generally requires the author to give heavy thought to what qualities distinguish the respective focal presences who are being crossed over.  In other words, any theory that stresses the function of the subconscious and/or amplification with respect to the nature of crossovers would seem to be gilding the lily.  When dealing with full narratives (as opposed to panel transitions) one is more likely to get examples of Scott McCloud's alchemy in stories dealing with but one focal presence-- Batman in his early, somewhat delirious solo adventures, for example.
In the above essay, I wrote:

Now, given that I favor Jungian amplification over Freudian reductiveness, I think that all these European, Asian or Gothic-horror exoticisms *mean* something beyond just Bob Kane and Bill Finger copying every pulp device they could find. Clearly the creators thought there was some advantage of emphasizing so much exotica, or readers would have seen more tales in the DICK TRACY-like mold.
Given all my anti-Marx rants here, I would hope that any readers would know that said "meaning" has nothing to do with the usual Marxist blather.  Contrary to Frederic Jameson, examined here, the unconscious/subconscious cannot be reduced to mere political figurations.  McCloud's idea of "alchemy" is far more apposite, but the alchemy of the subconscious seems to flower best when the reader is merely wondering about how to interpret the juxtapositions within one mythos, rather than trying to forage his way through two or more at the same time.

More on crossovers in a follow-up essay, though maybe not before the New Year...


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