Ethics, technology and popular culture: picture novels

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The history of popular culture is the history of the forms in which it has been produced. And the history of such patterns is inseparable from the strategies of the Western industrial-commercial complex to transform in turn our leisure into consumption. Creators and reviewers should be aware of this reality at all times. Our activities are used time and time again to promote it. external manipulation or according to its own interests.

In the words of Jean Dubuffet, “culture has taken hold of the spirit world, and has also enjoyed its saints, its priests and its prophets”. Pop culture and its analysis have truly become the religion of our time. They serve as symbolic constructions, thanks to which the system that is beyond us acquires meaning and superiority, even when we play at denying it. Martha Wolfenstein and Gilles Lipovetsky have written extensively on the “ethical fun” of pop, which legitimizes the most diverse political discourses.

Printed images from the novel ‘Book of Hours’ (2010), a tribute to the victims of 9/11 by one of the novel’s most notable practitioners (and thinkers), George Walker.

In this sense, novels without images or words have been one of the most consistent expressions of the cultural industry since the beginning of the 20th century. They are usually narrative artifacts created using the woodcut technique: the matrix of each image that would make up the book is manually engraved on a wooden board, said to be inked with the board, and finally, a sheet of paper is pressed. against the surface of the plate, where the sculpted relief is imprinted.

But novels in pictures or without words are by no means the first example of a hyena. Originating in China, this printing technique based on wooden reliefs enjoyed its greatest popularity in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, as confirmed by religious texts. the art of dying (1415-1450) and the works of Albrecht Dürer. Little by little, and despite the sophistication of the system promoted by craftsmen such as Michael Wolgemut and Thomas Bewick, wood engraving lost momentum before the rise of printing, engraving and lithography. And, if it regained its momentum at the end of the 19th century, it was in minority artistic fields and in reaction to the perceived processes of alienation and objectification that the mechanical reproduction of texts and images brought into culture. massive.

'The Widow (II)', woodcut by Cathay Kollwitz

‘The Widow (II)’, a lumberjack by Keith Kollwitz from his Battle Cycle (1918–23).

The painter Paul Gauguin is among those who believe that the practice of xylography restores to art primitive and abstract qualities shattered by the hegemony of tastes forged in the public space by the blows of trends. Gauguin’s romantic nostalgia for the technologies of the past – in which he is characterized by a commitment to purity, brilliance and materiality, which the techniques of his time lack – fueled the 21st century debate over the superiority of the printed paradigm. on digital. . explicitly reveals. First, analog special effects on computer graphics or manual craftsmanship rather than creativity supported by software, hardware and even artificial intelligence.

In any case, xylography has since attached itself to the margins of capitalism, adding to it a strong social conscience: one defends oneself against the recent exposure From Posada to Isotype, from Kollwitz to Catlet The portrait of Keith Kollwitz, feminist and socialist painter who, after devoting his talents to engraving and lithography, also seduces in his third graphic cycle, Guera (1918-1923), for Woodcut to express with crude expressionist characteristics the grief of the death of his youngest son, Peter, drafted into the German army during World War I.

Kollwitz pioneered a new concept of woodblock printing that recognized the teachings of old medieval and Renaissance masters, but substituted religious motifs for naturalism in its depiction of class inequality. We are at one of those important historical moments when, in the words of Soviet art critic Anatoly Lunacharsky, “an underprivileged class seeks to find a political form for its concerns and when it emerges it is characterized by depth and through the storm, marrow and turmoil.” The woodcuts play this role well.

Images include a tribute to Frans Maseril’s novels in “City of Stones”, the first volume of Jason Lutz’s graphic novel “Berlin” (1996-2018).

However, a final step is to prevent the woodcuts from being a set of images associated with a social or sacred plot and the graphic novel written by José Manuel Trabado, without the intention of developing a sequential prequel narrative. This step was taken by the Belgian artist Frans Maseril. a man’s passion (1918), updated in 25 images of the martyrdom of Christ through the adventures of a young man who becomes aware of the injustices surrounding him and leads a workers’ revolt with tragic consequences.

Anti-war activist, Maseril had already tried his luck as a combative illustrator for publications with xylography tomorrow You pills, created by himself in association with the anarchist Claude Le Magit. One man’s passion goes far, and not just because of his narrative breath. Maseril condenses his short story without dialogue or supporting text – which facilitates its understanding across language or educational barriers – and also with extreme contrasts between black and white and indebted to expressionism, emphatic, eloquent but don’t play with precious traits. prevalent at that time.

The result is a function of the elementary power, not exempt from rhetorical aspects, which correctly captures age awareness At the time, the economical format and price devised by publisher Kurt Wolff produced a surprising effect in Germany, and later paved the way for productions in the same style as Maseril itself – from my book of hours (1919) One town (1925) passing thought (1920) You dreams (1921) – and by distinguished students from various countries, including Max Ernst, Milt Gross, Giacomo Petri, Erich Glass, Lawrence Hyde, Otto Knukel and the Czech illustrator and painter Helena Bochozakova-Ditrichova. My childhood (1929), a wordless autobiographical novel by Bochořáková-Dittrichová, is considered the first by an artist and, today, also the first graphic novel by a female author.

What happens so that this circumstantial rise of the novel in pictures gives way to oblivion after the Second World War? In the 1930s, the format still favored the presence of the American Lind Ward, perhaps the most famous author of picture novels since Frans Maseril. His leftist ideology and the devastation of the Great Depression inspired Ward to write a cycle of six wordless novels, largely influenced by the expressive pursuits of silent film, including manual of the gods (1929), wild sanctuary (1932) U vertigo (1937).

But his books were not reduced, as is customary in the format, to ending as an exercise in social condemnation with visionary and symbolic aspects. Ward also vividly describes how the accelerating pace of capitalism undermines critical ideas and erodes one technology after another, and the cultural expressions associated with them. Those who remain become anti-minority refugees, with no real possibility of influencing the public sector.

'Me Infancia' (1929), by Helena Bochoacova-Ditrichova

‘Me Infancia’ (1929), by Helena Bochosakova-Ditrichova.

Was more optimistic at Maseril islandhe believed that communication media And mass culture can be the transmission belt for the renewal of subversive discourses despite the intervention of capital. On the other hand, for Lind Ward, “you have to choose between arriving at something on your own terms or addressing the many subjects of production and reception formulas in which your voice ends up”. Ward was right, given the circumstances that lead to the aforementioned downgrade to the novel in the pictures. Silent cinema is giving way to sound cinema and, in recent years, the expressive potential of the word has fascinated more than the image. The avant-garde appropriated the press as the ideal tool for their exquisite corpses and made typography a graphic element. The Nazi-branded Frans Maseril graphic novels escalate, and the crazed officers in the United States do the same after World War II with Lind Ward. Culture Main stream He dominated the public sector through film, radio, print, television, and pop music, and employed techniques that were more sophisticated and mechanistic than counterculture woodcuts, such as the offset printing and photocopiers…

More importantly, in the opinion of essayist Jennifer Camp, that artists like Maseril, Ward or Giacomo Petri “made, created and lived in a harmonious whole, they did not feel alienated from the identity of the most proletarian humble, manual worker.” “. Something that, as we know, the society of evolution and spectacle shunned us by a mirage. Multiverse comics have also traditionally been a medium for this blindness, and the truth is that pictorial fiction is not associated with the development during the first half of the 20th century of comics as a medium.

Lind Ward's print for 'God's Man' (1929)

Lind Ward’s print for ‘God’s Man’ (1929).

Lind Ward, without going any further, will admit to Art Spiegelman in the last years of his life that his work was never publicized by popular comics because he was not aware of it; famous titles like brave prince I discovered it as an adult. For this reason, mid-1970s recreations of the novel in pictures by scholars like Martin Cohen and authors interested in the lineage of the vignette like Will Eisner, Scott McCloud, and Spiegelman took another route: without trying. Connecting romance words to one of the most legitimate forms of comics: the graphic novel. For contemporary sensibility, the first will be the original or missing link of the second.

There are already many texts that have analyzed this link. As far as we are concerned, we would like to conclude to start: to recall the dangers of having gratitude towards a cultural expression in which we encapsulate a reality that concerns and affects us as appropriation. where the original merchandise matters less than our reputation to participate in its qualities. What does the graphic novel really have to do, and more so as it has been understood in recent years, with the described features of the novel in pictures or without words? The spirit of the graphic novel, its modes of production and publication, its attachment to reality and to the disadvantaged, the meaning of its language, its disagreement with the cultural ecosystem, are assimilated to novels in images beyond the fact that the two formats “look alike”. look like”. Huh”? The debate is served.

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