Poetry and Comics don’t need each other to communicate, and yet Poetry Comics have been around for a while. The New York School Poets, Joe Brainard in particular, created comics which used poetic text, and the idea seems to have grown from there.
In the eighties an American writer and educator called Dave Morice published a book called Poetry Comics, reigniting interest in this intriguing area. Today there is a journal in New York called Ink Brick which is dedicated entirely to Poetry Comics, and Sidekick Books will shortly be publishing Over the Line: An Introduction to Poetry Comics here in the UK. I edited the book along with artist Tom Humberstone, and have been running ongoing Poetry Comics workshops for several years now (which is where the images accompanying this piece come from). There’s definitely something in the poetry comics air…
Both forms, in one way or another, revolve around the line. The poetic line guides the reader through the poem, shows them where to breathe, what to focus on, and how to build the poem in their head. The comics line guides the reader through the sequential art on the page as a whole, and often the most skilled artists are those who are able to communicate more with less, drawing on the powerful resonance of the icon to do so.
In poems, every word has its job to do, and we dislike it when words seem extraneous or out of place. Drawing the two mediums together means thinking about what poetry and comics each do best, and how they might work best together.
Comics communicate through sequential art. You need to read the images in sequence in order for them to give up their meaning. One panel might start with a bear standing in a forest. If the next panel shows the bear sitting down, we can deduce that the action of the bear sitting has happened between the two panels. The reader is obliged to fill in the gaps with their imagination, and is able to control how much time they spend doing so. The reading experience can become more and more complex, depending on what leaps the artist asks the reader to make between panels. The temptation is to think of something so visual as offering a passive reading experience (“Look! I can see all of it!”), whereas in fact the reader actively must participate in creating the work in their heads. The text and the images don’t need to repeat each other and, in fact, more interesting things can happen when they don’t.
Poems communicate through language and the placement of language – for example lineation and structure, syntax, rhythm, rhyme, repetition, imagery… Individual words build on each other and combine in our heads to create something musical and meaningful. There is no one way to make a poem work. Even with more abstract works, the brain cannot help but make connections between two words when they are placed next to each other. (e.g. Button. Elephant.) (e.g. Toupee. Aubergine.) Creating works that combine sequential art with poetry texts can offer the reader a dynamic experience. The reading process is an act of interpretation rather than perception.
There was an exhibition of Poetry Comics at the Saison Poetry Library recently, which you can learn about here. There will be an exhibition of brand new work at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden in September and October, and this one-day Poetry School workshop ties in with the opening of that exhibition and the launch of the new book Over the Line: An Introduction to Poetry Comics. Come along for a full introduction to this intriguing hybrid artform, and start to create your own works (all levels of art and poetry welcome!).