Friday, November 8, 2019

NY missive no 164 - Watchmen, New Kid, and the promise of a blank comic strip

It was only on reading Watchmen (after C’s patient encouragement over the years) that I realized something fundamentally wonderful about graphic novels. They are a profound example of constraints breeding creativity. Within each of the boxes, what do you choose to show, what do you not show? When do you zoom in, when do you zoom out? That's similar to a novelists’ choices between revelation and omission but more visceral given it’s visual as well as verbal. Controlling the reader/watcher’s experience, but then only so much of course, because the reader/watcher might capture what you intended, only some of it, or something altogether different. Close and distant, like any relationship.

I was reminded of this again yesterday when I drew out the square and rectangle shapes for a comic strip that JNH had to complete as a homework assignment. I thought about whether to use three, two or one boxes in each of the four rows on the yellow page, and wasn’t sure how exactly I arrived at those decisions, drawing them first in pencil, and then going over the lines with a thick black sharpie. A page of potential. Even more intriguing than a blank page. I’m looking forward to seeing what JNH comes up with, but this being an assignment no doubt it will be less spontaneous than what he sketches in his big red notebook. Recently, that has involved annotated diagrams of the risks associated with the various parts of a school bus - including the puking potential of sitting at the front, in the middle or at the back - and mascots for invented American Football teams, like the Miami Sunburns, Tennessee Towers, and Buffalo Spears.

Another recent graphic novel encounter was New Kid, by Jerry Craft (here's a video of Craft talking about it; what a great surname for a graphic novelist by the way).

JNH plucked it off a shelf in a bookstore. He read it twice, then C read it, then I read it aloud to CMH with JNH listening too. It tells/shows the story of Jordan Banks as he straddles two worlds, between his home in Washington Heights (where C grew up), and a private middle school in Riverdale in the Bronx, where he’s one of the few kids of color, and one of the few on financial aid. He navigates these tensions with curiosity, humor, and by capturing them within the squares and rectangles of his own comic strips.