This is an essay I wrote for the project Sonic Comic. Co-edited with Beth Dawson and Chris Cudby, Sonic Comic is a collection of single works that are both comics and sounds; a celebration of musicians who make comics and comic artists who are musicians.
I have always found the idea of people who make comics but don’t make music a bit weird. Yeh, this is to do with the polymath company I kept during my formative years but also I think it’s about the kind of comics I value.
Sometimes (like today) I go all binary and decide there are really only two types of comics. Those with panels framing bits of the world; and those where the panels are like windows into the person making the comic. These second kind are the ones I mostly love.
World-framing comics I see as concerned with representing aspects of the world; making sense within the world; and being available to the world. They feature generally accessible storytelling; a relaying of things that ‘happen’ (real or imaginary) via established narrative devices and conventions like characters, settings, logical linear plots, and a proficient drawn-things-that-look-like-real-things illustration style. They are (or aspire to be) published, widely available in the market, and are understood and admired by many.
The comics that are windows into their makers do not work like this. Rather than the circumstances and rules of the world, they reflect the circumstances and rules of the individual involved. So instead of ‘narratives’ you get comics that prioritise stuff like feelings, foibles, moments, musings, memories, manifestos, jokes, fantasies or dreams; and these are shared in ways that are not necessarily sensible, defying for example, notions of character and consistency or cause and effect-type plots. The drawing is less concerned with recreating the look of things and more with getting something out of the artist’s head. It might therefore be ugly or bewildering or indulgent or compulsive or silly and it’s always idiosyncratic. These comics can be hard to get hold of, often existing in small (even singular) editions. Sometimes more people don’t like them than do.
It seems it is this second kind of comic-maker who is more likely also to make music and this makes perfect sense to me. If there’s stuff you want or need to get out of yourself why wouldn’t you use multiple channels? And channels that offer different opportunities for expression - marks, images, stillness and/or written words via comics; and sounds, volume, movement through time and/or uttered words (said or sung) via music.
I love comics that are windows into their makers but I love it more when these comics are part of an oeuvre that contains music as well. I also love Sonic Comic, this collection of single works that encompass both media; a bunch of personal universes made tangible.
The experience of ingesting Sonic Comic is acute. It manifests in my imagination as a street but instead of houses there are the giant heads of the contributors, each with a comic panel window where the nose should be and a stereo speaker instead of a mouth. I walk past all tiny, and as I do I peer in to see the comic, and the audio blasts.(1) It is sensory and enveloping and when the song finishes I move along the figmental footpath to the next head, and then the next and then the next. There are peaks and valleys and the journey feels overwhelming, nutty, a bit furtive, a bit alarming, entertaining, and completely awesome.
Thank you Sonic Comic contributors for opening up your heads to us. I hope everyone enjoys peering in them as much as I do.
(1) It does get really weird and meta when I get to my own Sonic Comic and imagine peering inside my own imaginary giant head.