I have been working on a new web comic, called Blind to Blue that I hope to post each Friday starting this week. It will be a “poetry comic,” a term that I have been wrestling with for a while. Last night, however, I realized that I never defined to others what I mean when I use that term. Being a blog of “poetry comics for velociraptor enthusiasts” I haven’t really delivered much on either. That ends now
I used to call the work “graphic poetry,” this borrowed from “graphic novel,” a term coined to appreciate comics that dealt with large themes and complex stories. Very good branding, it immediately communicated to the world at large that there weren’t just comic strips out there but also narrative sequential art with literary merit. However, “graphic poetry” felt presumptuous and lofty. Poetry already suffered from a history of elitism and exclusivity (thanks Ezra Pound), which, I feel, makes it daunting to the average reader.
Comics aren’t daunting to anyone, Calvin and Hobbes are still the best friends you never had. The combination should play on the strength of both mediums making “graphic” too inaccessible. Plus, “graphic comics” evokes the image of “concrete poetry,” which includes those poems about Christmas trees, shaped like Christmas trees, your first grade teacher made your write.
“Comic poetry” was less intimidating but easy to confuse with poems that intend to be funny, like limericks or Andrew Dice Clay. So no, that wasn’t going to work.
When I became aware of Bianca Stone, I saw that she called her work “poetry comics.” Here poetry becomes the adjective qualifying the noun of comics. An improvement in a number of ways. Instead of trying to assert that the work is, irreducibly, poetry—which in my own case is debatable—it presents that they are comics that are poetically informed.
The moniker of “poetry comics” also helps to express that these are not poetic comics particularly but comics employing the techniques and craft elements of poetry. This is a helpful distinction as there are a number of comic-artists that make very poetic work without the intention of creating poetry comics. The work of Eleanor Davis or Rebecca Clements very often can feel like poetry in comics and it is, the small genre distinction being in approach only. A poetry comic is, to its creator, similar to a form of poetry not unlike a sonnet, haiku or pantoum. This seems like a strange argument but I feel that, at least in my case, it is true. Panels work very similar to line breaks, a topic I’ll discuss later.
The constraint based writing group the OuLiPo have a term for writers who engaged in constraint writing before the formation of the OuLiPo or without the knowledge of group. They affectionately call them “anticipatory plagiarists,” and are highly regarded and appreciated. This is a term fitting for those comic-artists whose work is very poetic, Lynda Barry, and the aforementioned, but is made without the approach of any poetry craft.
The number of self-identified poetry-comic artists is small. I mentioned Bianca Stone above, she both creates work and curates an online series of poetry comic work on THEthe Poetry. The newest entry is the art of Sommer Browning and the writing of Noah Eli Gordon.
This has become a long post. In future posts I will discuss my thoughts on the language of iconography and image, and why I feel they fit into poetry so well. At some point I will also try to explore the different kinds of comic poetry out there.
Are you a comic-poet? Let me know. I’d like to chat and hear your thoughts.