Mining the Linefield
In our effort to define comix and to locate our own behaviors within it, we need to turn from drama and poetry, or ideas and images, and turn to the marks that we make when we’re drawing, or those personal xxx we bring when we are acting, directing, filming, etc. These marks that are infused with narrative intent and poetic power, while evincing and evoking the human efforts behind them, I call the “linefield.” You can’t really talk about one without the other two.
“Linefield” is a word I have been looking for for 20 years. It’s not what aggravatingly has been called “the art.” What has traditionally been called “the art” by most people is a simple word to define: we call it style, or drawing. It often combines the ability of the artist to convey our concrete world into 2-dimensional representations, with a sense of exaggeration or emphasis that distorts for a psychological and emotional effect.
The linefield is much closer to what people should mean when they look at the visual landscape of a narrative work. It’s the drawings of the character and character of the drawings and also the reading and navigating experience. It’s the soul of the creator poking through to the material world like spring buds and weeds through a sidewalk. Shards of the creator’s intention and confusion (because who isn’t confused just being alive?) making it’s way to wall, papyrus, cloth, paper, screen.
These marks enhance the drama because the act of drawing is made up of decision-making, searching and struggle. They enhance the poetic as they restrains, they’re economical. These almost unquantifiable evidences in our work create and reflect the linefield.
In the case of a word used to describe an emotional and subterranean action you are involved in, you are perhaps better off not being able to entirely nail it down, and possibly this word can’t be precisely defined either. Like a sufi chasing Allah, we chase after our ideas and images through ritualized devotions- work, attention and practice- and never really find them. Not whole anyway, not the way we would like.
BUT WHY DO CREATE ART AT ALL? WHY WHY WHY?
Because our senses are wrong and our perceptions are limited. We need art to refocus what we see, and allow us to create other pathways to experience our world. The linefield is that new pathway. It is visual record of a creative experience incorporating elements of drama, poetry, mark-making, dance, acting, imagining, crying, celebrating and just about every verb a human is capable of. You can use the word for any visual art form, but in our medium, comix, and for the sake of this exploration, we’ll define it using the first three: mark-making, dramatic action and poetic reflection.
In the best comix, the linefield is a powerful new manifestation into the ordinary world. Gary Panter has one of the most powerful linefields you will see. In his best work, you are united with Jimbo-spirit, walking his denuded landscape, navigating the hatches and lines of his apocalyptic, commercial, anti-commercial, historical limbos. The linefield in Jim Woodring’s comix shimmer and constantly spin off into new characters and visions. E.C. Segar’s Popeye comix did something similar; sweat, desire and ferocity spinning and shaking off from the linefield into weird compact myths about giant birds and witches, injustice and hamburgers. Those stories and myths happen in our brains. The linefield connects artist with reader. The connection is new to them both.
My first book, Hutch Owen’s Working Hard, got a lot of decent reviews. I was suprised when reviewers would mention details that were in my head, but never came through well in the book’s linefield. One detail, in particular stands out: that the character had a history of being called a “street-pole pissant.” I did nothing to really dramatize, poeticize or visualize this. I merely had a character mention it in the dialogue as in a superficial outline.I didn’t make it believable, but a reviewer caught it and liked it enough to mention in his encapsulation of the plot. I was lucky, because something else was charming him and other readers into believing my world as my ideas and images failed to unite in the linefield. That book couldn’t have survived if it didn’t charm readers enough to convince them to give a little as they read. I suppose my linefield was full of poetic charm that I wasn’t in control of.
Similarly, my colleague Josh Bayer hasn’t always controlled his linefield well but boy, does he have one. Lack of control may sometimes be a strength sometimes. Above in the first panel, you can see Bayer search for the drawing, searching for the reflective and dramatic meaning of the image even as he manifests it. What is that bush or creature to the woman’s right? It feels like a manifestation of the main character’s bizarre obsession.In the second panel, the eyes of the main character only become visible after you’ve read through most of the dialogue. He only starts to clarify his own thoughts as he verbalizes himself. The eyes become visible, the wall behind him crawling with darkness, he becomes heavy and solid as the woman’s words work through him. Meanwhile the woman in front, empty, disappearing, shadowy, distant, possibly objectified as the dialogue unfolds around them, the intent of the male character manifesting, pushing her to the edge of the panel, the intent of Bayer himself understood only as he draws.
Jessica Abel, Joann Sfar, Paul Pope, Harvey Kurtzman are all creators with powerful linefields. They have bodies of work where their drawings are so tied into what drives the artist(s) their creative process, that you can’t possible separate “art” from “story.” Dupey-Berberian. Jack Kirby. Walt Kelly. Harold Grey.
Writers from William Faulkner to Ray Bradbury are illuminated through theirs. They use typewriters, presses and typesetting machines, but have a linefield all the same: drama, emotion, marks and language.
BusbyBerkeley’s was constantly in motion.