This time, we’re going to look at a theoretical concept which is not specific to art history: heterotopias, or “other spaces”, described by philosopher Michel Foucault in a talk in the 1960s which was published in the 1980s. He defines heterotopias as “something like counter-sites [...] in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” Foucault then lists six “principles” to further characterise heterotopias:
- Today’s heterotopias are “heterotopias of deviation: those in which individuals whose behavior is deviant in relation to the required mean or norm are placed”;
- “a society, as its history unfolds, can make an existing heterotopia function in a very different fashion”;
- “the heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible”;
- heterotopias are often linked to either the accumulation of time or to ephemeral time;
- “heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable”; and
- heterotopias either “create a space of illusion that exposes every real space, all the sites inside of which human life is partitioned, as still more illusory”, or they are “as well arranged as our [space] is messy”.
These “principles” are not meant to be necessary characteristics of heterotopias, i.e. a space doesn’t need to fulfil all six principles to be regarded as a heterotopia. This rather vague definition means we can apply the term heterotopia to many different spaces. In art history, we mainly deal with two kinds of spaces: real spaces in which art is produced and received, and imaginary spaces conveyed by the content of works of art. For the former, see e.g. Ruth Reiche’s recent blog post (in German) on cinemas and museums as heterotopias. I’m going to look at the latter now, and try to find out what is to be gained when we conceive a space in a comic as a heterotopia.
The sequence I have selected for this purpose is from an episode of the manga classic 子連れ狼 / Kozure Ōkami (Lone Wolf and Cub) by Kazuo Koike and Gōseki Kojima, titled “Pitiful Osue” in the US edition (issue #2 in the First Comics series from 1987). On the first 19 (of 56) pages, we only see the infant Ogami Daigorō, the “cub”, but no trace of his father Ogami Ittō, the “lone wolf”. Then suddenly, starting with p. 20, the page background turns black for five pages. A caption text tells us we’re “elsewhere” now, and we witness Ogami (Ittō) fighting against animal-headed demons amidst swirling fumes. Is this new setting a heterotopia?
The basic definition, a counter-site which represents and inverts real sites, might be applicable: in this hell (Ogami himself uses this term later), the twisting, naked bodies are representations of the people on earth. Ogami seems unchanged at first, but then his sword breaks in the fight – something which probably never happens to him in “real” life – and he doesn’t overcome his enemies. Some of Foucault’s six principles also hold true for this hellish place:
- It is a place for the deviant, not only in a mythological sense (the deviant sinners are condemned to hell), but also in the sense that this scene turns out to be a feverish nightmare of the ill (i.e. unhealthy, thus deviant) Ogami.
- It is a place that has changed its function in history. While in medieval Japan, in which the story is set, hell was imagined as a real place where you could end up after death, the 20th century manga readers would probably regard hell as unreal and recognise this scene as a dream sequence, even before it is revealed as such on p. 25.
- Three places are juxtaposed here: the place where the dead wind in agony, the place where Ogami fights the demons, and the shrine (which turns into a real place in which Ogami sleeps). These places are both separated and connected by the mists of hell. On another level, they exist all in one “real” place: the shrine where Ogami dreams of them, or his imagination.
- It is quite an ephemeral place, as it exists only for as long as Ogami is dreaming. (On the other hand, for those who believe in it, hell is eternal.)
- No matter whether we regard this place as hell or as a dream, both have notoriously specific modes of entering: entrance to hell is usually reserved for the deceased, and a dream can be entered only by one single sleeper.
- As a dream, this place is an illusion. At the same time, as hell, the place of eternal torment, isn’t it more real than the fleeting earthly life? Ogami himself seems unsure about how his nightmare is connected to reality: “Is it a sign that my fever has passed — or that death is near?”, he wonders on p. 26. (The relation between the two spaces gets more complicated on pp. 42-43, when they briefly merge, but that’s another sequence…)
So what do we make of this dream/hell now that we’ve identified it as a heterotopia? Above all other characteristics, heterotopias are radically different from real places, and this “otherness” might be the key to understanding the role of the dream sequence in the story: it marks a harsh change of perspective from Daigorō to his father, who are for once far apart from each other in the beginning of this episode. By shifting from the real world to the heterotopian underworld, the authors emphasise that father and son are “worlds apart”. In the course of the episode, they will have to find each other again, so that the order at the basis of Kozure Ōkami – the companionship of “wolf” and “cub” – is restored.
It’s not that I’ve never read a crossover story before, but when I did, it was always after it had been collected into trade paperbacks. This allowed me to make a conscious decision to buy the TPBs. However, it’s quite a different thing when a comic book series you’ve subscribed to becomes part of a crossover. Do you really want to purchase additional comic books, from series you don’t care about, by creators you’re not interested in, just to be able to grasp the story in “your” series? In the past, my answer was no – for instance, I dropped Swamp Thing when the “Rotworld” crossover started.
This time, though, I decided to play along. I had been reading Astonishing X-Men (AXM) for some time (see my review of #48-51 and my previous blog post on #57) when the crossover event X-Termination was announced, spanning the books AXM, Age of Apocalypse, X-Treme X-Men and an eponymous mini-series. Here’s what I think of each issue.
Although not listed as part of X-Termination, the story actually starts in AXM #59.
Authors: Marjorie Liu (writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (artist), Cris Peter (colourist)
Pages: 19 (yes, that’s not a lot of pages for $3.99…)
Website: http://marvel.com/comics/series/744/astonishing_x-men_2004_-_2010 (yes, that’s the correct link to the current series…)
Previously in AXM: after the gay marriage storyline, the book focused on the character Karma and two other, virtually indistinguishable Asian women. I must say I had grown tired of Mike Perkins’s art, when Gabriel Hernandez Walta came to the rescue. Issue #58 was a filler one-shot, but in #59 we’re heading straight towards X-Termination. The X-Men are hunting an alternate universe version of Nightcrawler, who apparently has committed murder, off-panel. Not much happens in this issue, but the nice art makes it a worthwhile, atmospheric read.
The first official “prologue to X-Termination” is Age of Apocalypse #13.
Authors: David Lapham (writer), Renato Arlem & Valentine de Landro (artists), Lee Loughridge (colourist)
Website: http://marvel.com/comics/series/17278/age_of_apocalypse_2012_-_present (for some reason they split the series into two websites, “2011 – present” (#1-12) and “2012 – present” (#13-14))
Most of the story here takes place in an alternate reality – the “Age of Apocalypse” – and is (yet) unconnected to the events in AXM. The aim of this issue, it seems, is to recap the previous events in this series, and maybe even to introduce new readers to this post-apocalyptic setting with all its alternate versions of the X-Men. But I don’t find all these little episodes very enlightening. Then again, most of what happens here is of no importance to the crossover story anyway. It would just have been nice to get to know all the obscure characters which do play a role in X-Termination later. What really repels me, though, is the art: I can only guess that Renato Arlem and Lee Loughridge (I’m not sure what Valentine de Landro’s contribution to this book was) wanted to make the artwork suit the dark and grim atmosphere of the setting, but the result looks just murky at best.
The second prologue, according to an advertisement flyer, is X-Treme X-Men #12, even though it doesn’t say so anywhere in the issue.
Authors: Greg Pak (writer), Andre Araujo (artist), Jessica Kholinne & Gloria Caeli (colourists)
In contrast to Age of Apocalype, X-Treme X-Men is a beauty to behold. André Araújo’s style of drawing is more cartoonish, almost manga-esque, yet in combination with the unobtrusive colouring reminiscent of European comics. Greg Pak tells the story of yet another alternate reality X-Men team, who witness the opening of a transdimensional rift and the arrival of the three supervillains of X-Termination. But he tells that story with lots of humour, it seems. Suffice to say that there are three evil versions of Professor Xavier: “Nazi Xavier”, “Witch King Xavier”, and “the Floating Head”. It’s a pity that X-Treme X-Men was cancelled after X-Termination, as this issue makes me want to read more of this series.
The first official part of X-Termination is X-Termination #1 (of 2).
Authors: David Lapham (writer), Lapham/Liu/Pak (story), David Lopez (penciller), Alvaro Lopez & Allen Martinez (inkers), Andres Mossa (colourist)
Website: http://marvel.com/comics/series/17743/x-termination_2013_-_present (again, the Marvel website lists several links…)
Meanwhile, another portal is opened from the “real” earth to the Age of Apocalypse, where the three X-Men teams meet, plus a fourth party, the aforementioned villainous trio. The art is the weak point of this book again; I find the way Lopez handles anatomies and facial expressions not very convincing.
For the next installment of X-Termination, we return to AXM (#60).
Authors: Marjorie Liu (writer), Lapham/Liu/Pak (story), Matteo Buffagni & Renato Arlem (artists), Christopher Sotomayor & Lee Loughridge (colourists)
What a disappointment: while this issue is written by regular AXM writer Marjorie Liu, the art is not by Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Instead, the first half is drawn by Matteo Buffagni and coloured by Christopher Sotomayor, and the second half is drawn by Renato Arlem and coloured by Lee Loughridge. Buffagni and Sotomayor seem to go for a 90s vibe, with unnervingly bright colours. Arlem’s and Loughridge’s art is just as off-putting as in Age of Apocalypse #13. Story-wise, it’s mainly fighty-fighty here.
X-Termination continues in Age of Apocalypse #14.
Authors: David Lapham (writer), Lapham/Liu/Pak (story), Andre Araujo & Renato Arlem (artists), Cris Peter & Lee Loughridge (colourist)
Again there are two art teams in this comic book, but this time there is a system to the shifts: there’s beautiful art by André Araújo and Cris Peter in the “real world” scenes, and ugly art by Renato Arlem and Lee Loughridge in the “Age of Apocalypse” scenes. The fighting against the alien villains continues.
X-Termination part four is told in X-Treme X-Men #13.
Authors: Greg Pak (writer), Lapham/Liu/Pak (story), Guillermo Mogorron & Raul Valdes (artists), Ed Tadeo, Carlos Cuevas, Don Ho and Walden Wong (inkers), Lee Loughridge (colourists)
More artists are introduced, while the story continues to leave me cold (despite referencing the Dark Phoenix saga). Mogorron’s and Valdes’s respective art styles are simplifying and cartoonish, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but here it just looks sloppy.
The penultimate X-Termination installment is AXM #61.
Authors: Marjorie Liu (writer), Lapham/Liu/Pak (story), Renato Arlem, Klebs deMoura, Matteo Buffagni, Raul Valdes, and Carlos Cuevas (artists), Lee Loughridge & Christopher Sotomayor with Andres Mossa (colourists)
Visually it gets even more confusing with not only two but three art teams in one issue, none of which I’m particularly fond of. Which is a shame, because the story finally seems to go somewhere, when the alternate universe version of Jean Grey is threatened to be corrupted by the power of the “Apocalypse Seed”.
The crossover story concludes in X-Termination #2.
Authors: David Lapham (writer), Lapham/Liu/Pak (story), David Lopez, Guillermo Mogorron, Raul Valdes, and Matteo Lolli (pencillers), Don Ho, Lorenzo Ruggiero, Carlos Cuevas, and Allen Martinez (inkers), Andres Mossa (colourist)
Again there are just too many artists, some of which have produced here what might be among the worst art I’ve ever seen in a Marvel comic. The conclusion of the story doesn’t feel very epic, even though the three page epilogue adds a nice touch.
Overall, the X-Termination crossover feels like a waste of $ 27.92 and an unwelcome interruption of AXM, which in fact continues with #62 to be a strong series, well written and well drawn (by Hernandez Walta again). The only positive outcome for me was to discover André Araújo‘s art, of which I hope to see more in the future. Still, my personal reservations against crossover events have been confirmed, and I can’t help wondering why such marketing tricks, more often than not, achieve to boost the sales of all tie-in issues. Then again, the commercial success of X-Termination seems to have been moderate – after all, this isn’t exactly Marvel’s big summer event.
Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○ (only due to AXM #59 and X-Treme X-Men #12 raising the average)
In his essay “Perspective as Symbolic Form” (“Die Perspektive als ‘symbolische Form’”, 1927), Erwin Panofsky dispels the myth that artists didn’t know anything about perspectival construction before the Renaissance. He shows that the Ancient Greeks and Romans just employed a different system than the vanishing point system we are used to today, and neither can be said to be more “correct” than the other. For Panofsky, the transition from the old to the new system was a paradigm shift. As long as a perspectival paradigm is upheld, artists will construct their pictures in that system. Once a paradigm shift occurs, there is no turning back to the old system – artists don’t choose between different systems.
If we follow Panofsky so far, one question remains: is the vanishing point system still the uncontested paradigm today, or has another shift occurred in the last 85 years? Let’s look at a random comic book to see how perspective is handled there. It’s been a while since I last reviewed Astonishing X-Men, and I’m going to properly review the current issues in a later post, but for today I pick issue #57 from December 2012 (cover dated February 2013). With this issue, Gabriel Hernandez Walta took over as the regular artist from Mike Perkins. It is a harsh transition, as their art styles are so different: none of the lines in Hernandez Walta’s art are exactly straight; they are all slighty irregular and seem nervous, vibrant and sketchy. And yet, see how he constructs perspective in the first panel on the second page:
If we trace the lines indicated by rows of windows or sidewalk seams (traced in red by myself here), which would be parallel to each other in real three-dimensional space, they converge in a single vanishing point when Hernandez Walta projects them onto the two-dimensional space of his panel. Furthermore, this vanishing point is at the same location in the picture as the head of the character Warbird, the protagonist of this story.
This comic book is full of such obtrusively constructed vanishing point perspectives, often including floor tiles or other grid patterns that help to convey a feeling of depth. However, this is not the only perspectival system employed by Hernandez Walta. In several panels, he switches to isometric projection. For instance, in the third panel on p. 3:
Parallel lines formed by the furniture in the depicted room (assuming the furniture is meant to be rectangular and arranged in parallel) stay parallel in the projection – they never converge even if we extend them beyond the panel borders.
Overall, the predominant perspectival construction system in Astonishing X-Men #57 is still the vanishing point system. But maybe Hernandez Walta’s little isometric deviations are a sign that the vanishing point paradigm isn’t quite as uncontested nowadays as it used to be.
Welcome to the second installment of what might become a series of blogposts on classical theories in art history and their relation to comics. Twenty years after Franz Wickhoff’s Wiener Genesis, Heinrich Wölfflin published his seminal book Principles of Art History (Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe, München 1915), in which he introduced five pairs of terms with which the formal differences between Renaissance and Baroque style can be described.
Let’s focus on one of these pairs, plane and recession (“Fläche und Tiefe”), which achieved additional notoriety through the excerpt reprinted in the textbook Methoden-Reader Kunstgeschichte. According to Wölfflin, Renaissance painting is characterised by planar composition in layers parallel to the picture surface, whereas in Baroque painting, the depth of the pictorial space is emphasised. In order to find other whether these different modes of composition can be found in comics, I’ll now turn to two more or less randomly selected examples from titles I had been reading lately.
Page 7 of chapter 26 (in volume 6) of Tsutomu Nihei’s シドニアの騎士 / Shidonia no Kishi (Knights of Sidonia) consists of four panels, each of them an example of planar composition. In the first panel (in “Japanese” reading direction from right to left), the space ship crew members are arranged in a row nearly parallel to the picture surface, which only slightly recedes to the right. Panels 2 and 3 show computer screens, the first one being tilted sideways but still, again, parallel to the picture surface (the English lettering is somewhat misleading). Finally, in the last panel of the page, the figure is almost exactly frontally orientated towards the picture surface, while the background is largely undefined.
In contrast, .hack//黄昏の腕輪伝説 / Tasogare no udewa densetsu (.hack//Legend of the Twilight) by Rei Izumi and Tatsuya Hamazaki employs quite a different style, for instance in the first three panels on page 2 of chapter 7 (in volume 2). In the first panel, the ground is tilted towards us, so that we look down on the wolf at an angle, which allows us to perceive the wolf and the space in which it is placed as three-dimensional. In the second panel, the four characters are arranged in three tiers, receding from left to right so that we are pulled into the depth of the pictorial space. Likewise, in the third panel, we look onto and over the wolf’s head and follow its gaze towards the character Mireiyu, thus experiencing once more a pull diagonally into the picture.
What do the differences between those two examples tell us? I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Nihei’s personal style is planar, while Izumi generally favours recession. In fact, even within these two volumes, both compositional modes can be found. What we can see, though, is that plane and recession fulfil different tasks: planar compositions are useful to convey information to the reader, whereas recession puts the reader into the midst of interactions between characters. I still think Wölfflin’s principles are useful for stylistic analyses of comics, but the samples would have to be much larger.
Franz Wickhoff’s 1895 text Die Wiener Genesis (also known as Römische Kunst, available in English at archive.org) is best remembered for two things: on the one hand, Wickhoff recognised the value of ancient Roman art at a time when it was still regarded as a poor man’s Greek art. On the other hand, he proposed a theory of three methods of pictorial narration:
- the isolating method: each scene of a story is depicted in its own image, clearly separated from the others.
- the continuous method: different scenes of a story share the same background, so that the image of one scene continues into the next one.
- the complementary method: all scenes of a story are depicted in one single image.
Obviously, comics with their panel borders usually use the isolating method to tell their stories. There have been attempts by comic scholars to use all three of Wickhoff’s narrative methods in definitions and classifications of comics, e.g. by Eckart Sackmann in 2006 (in German). What I’m more interested in, though, is if we can find examples of continuous and/or complementary narration in comics that predominantly use isolating narration.
To test this, I picked up a comic that I happened to be reading (not a scholarly sampling method, mind you), the French edition of J. P. Nishi’s パリ 愛してるぜ~ / Paris aishiteruze (À Nous Deux, Paris! in French). And sure enough, there are plenty of examples of continuous narration on the first couple of pages already. Consider, for instance, an image on the third page (p. 5 in the Philippe Picquier edition): the same figure is depicted twice in a telephone booth, standing up and kneeling. The effect of this use of continuous narration is to emphasise the suddenness of the young man’s diarrhea attack – in one moment he’s still able to stand, in the next moment he isn’t anymore, but the time between these two moments is too short even for a panel transition.
This kind of continuous narration is fairly common in humorous comics, but I have yet to find an example of the complementary method in comics. I can imagine that certain kinds of short episodes within a story, such as dreams, or events narrated by a character, lend themselves to the complementary method.
- There are now over 200 stencil graffiti (i.e. pictures + metadata) documented on the website – 203 to be precise. For the record, no. 200 is a heart near the Max Planck Institute.
- This piece is also part of a larger, multi-medial series advocating organ donation. It consists of several stencil graffiti showing hearts and lungs (nos. 182 – 185, 199 – 200, plus more instances of these motifs on Sedanstraße which I haven’t photographed yet), a spray-painted slogan (which you can see on the picture of no. 185), and stencilled paste-ups (pictured here but not included on the website).
- There is another three-coloured piece now, “Lausbuben” (nos. 188 – 190, though no. 190 is only two-coloured). I guess it refers to a sprayer crew of the same name. (The first three-coloured piece in Mittelwiehre, at least since I started the website, would be no. 174 with three different shades of grey.)
- I’ve discovered two more instances (nos. 192 – 193) of the “Mikey Wilson” piece (no. 168), and on these newly found graffiti the words “I HATE NAZIS” are legible. I hadn’t been able to discern the writing on no. 168 before, so the anti-fascist connotation had escaped me completely.
I hope to get round to updating the website more frequently in the future, and I also have some exciting changes to the data structure in mind - more about that in a later post.