Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1739- Joey Comeau and Emily Horne: Anatomy of Melancholy

After reading a Gumby comic recently, I went off to explore the world of photocomics. I came across a list of such comics to start with, but I was put off somewhat by a couple of sentences in the intro to the article that seemed to suggest photocopies were easier, lazier, or required less talent:

A creative option for people who can't draw (or who just want to 'draw' with a camera?) the Photo Comic involves taking pictures of things — either posed inanimate objects, or actual people — and making a comic out of them. [...] Arguably, Photocomics can be done cheaper and with less time consumption

 To me, however, I don't think this needs to be the case and perhaps should only be said of lesser quality photocomics. Certainly there's room for careful, purposeful photography and accompanying text.

Which brings me to Joey Comeau and Emily Horne's Anatomy of Melancholy: The Best of A Softer World. Apparently A Softer World was an internet sensation a few years back, unbeknownst to me. Each strip consists of three photo images with text of typically wry or dark humour.

The strips really challenge the definition of a comic. I've referred to Scott McCloud's definition of a comic many times on this blog ("juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer") and while the definition has its share of critics, it nonetheless provides a good conversation starter. 

At first glance, Emily Horne's A Softer World photos seem to fit the definition. Upon reflection though, I'm not entirely sure that they do. Where they run into trouble is the "deliberate sequence" rule. In most cases here it's like she simply took a single photo and cut it into thirds. Is that a sequence? In other cases, a photo is zoomed in slightly. Again, is this really sequential? In Understanding Comics, McCloud also gets into great discussion about the importance of gutters. The space between panels usually has huge implications: how much time has passed, what happened in the unseen time, and so on. The gutters in A Softer World are fake. There is no time passing whatsoever. Perhaps these thoughts led me to also not appreciating the photography itself. Maybe at the time they first appeared they appeared novel and artistic. From a 2018 perspective they look like run-of-the mill Instagram photos.

Then there's the text by Joey Comeau. It's never meant to be dialogue but merely a caption to the image. On rare occasions it's funny or insightful, but most often it's just mildly amusing thoughts. Again, A Softer World had a huge following so clearly my lack of enthusiasm is a personal and minority opinion. Unfortunately I felt it confirmed the critique of photocomics I shared at the beginning of the post.

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