Comics as Poetry, Poetry as Comics

August 29, 2009 at 4:50 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Culturally, at least, serious-minded comic artists have much in common with traditional poets.  You could describe each in the same way: an underappreciated author who spends years working on a thin volume to be published by a barely surviving independent press for a small, cultlike audience.   “Comix poetics” by Andrew D. Arnold, World Literature Today, March -April 2007, p. 15.

When does a piece of comic art become a poem or a poem become a piece of comic art until you can no longer see the edges of each of them?

Dave Morice, as he says in a poem, once started a novel called Frankenstein vs. the New York Yankees.   He’s finished books about poetry comics, including How To Make Poetry Comics, which invites its readers to examine a series of ink blots and write down the first thing that comes to mind. 


 “When you’ve done this with all six panels,” Morice says, “write a poem of ten or more lines and include all six phrases.”

Morice has adapted Shakespeare with comic art and shows how the Bard’s words are not only relevant to our times, the accompanying images make a nice calendar, too.

He isn’t the only one who finds the poetry and comic art go well together.  They’re like hot fudge and ice cream, minus the calories and stain on your shirt.

Poetry Foundation invited several graphic novelists to interpret poems from the Foundation’s archives.   Read and see the results here.

Poetry in comics need not come from only from the canon.  Comics from Krazy Kat to Pogo to Peanutsbear witness.  Look at the lyrical, idiomatic quality in Krazy Kat’s speech: “Lil’ Dollin, his nobil soul showed me the erra of my way–sniff, is all I could do wit’ a spring flowa”. 

The cartoonist Sethsaid, “When I was studying Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips. It seemed so clear that his four-panel setup was just like reading a haiku; it had a specific rhythm to how he set up the panels and the dialogue. Three beats: doot doot doot— followed by an infinitesimal pause, and then the final beat: doot.”

Hutch Owen at Cartooning Like You Mean It admits he’s “been obsessing about ‘comics as poetry’ for about 15 years.  Read his essay, Comics as Poetry, Part I, here.   Read Part II here.

gary_sullivan02aEarlier this year, Milwaukee’s Woodland Pattern bookstore presented an exhibit of original art from the first three issues of Gary Sullivan’s comic book series, Elsewhere.   Sullivan serialized his strip, Reverend Gary’s Church of Fun’ in the late 1980s.  A decade later, he offered his poetry comic, The New Life, in Rain Taxi.   His 24-page book, Elsewhere #1, catalogs words and images seen while he was on his honeymoon in Japan in 2004.   Musician John Zorn once wrote, “The Japanese have a really great way of using and mixing up the English language.  The Japanese often borrow and mirror other people’s cultures, that’s what so great about the place.  They make a crazy mix out of it all.”    Who knows what the following means (from Elsewhere #1) but its delicious on the page, as well as on the tongue:

Grab a wave, homy/Chime, see me/Bra the down/Wanco Sing-A-Ling Ding Dog.

biancas_picBianca Stone keeps a blog on poetry comics, offering her own art and poetry and introduces her readers to others working in the world of words and art.

Matt Madden’s been working on a series of comics based on the poetry form, the pantoum.  (The Mother Goosed book features a pantoum and comic art by Jeffrey Johannes, by the way.)   Madden has co-produced (with Jessica Abel) a course in comic-making called Drawing Words & Writing Pictures.  Highly recommended.

More on this subject in future posts.  Until then, “Grab a wave, homy/Chime, see me/Bra the down/Wanco Sing-A-Ling Ding Dog.” (from Gary Sullivan, Elsewhere #1)

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