Thursday, 13 September 2012

Seeing Sound #7: Fighting & Freezing Balloons

A french fan of BD & Comics, I've only discovered Cerebus last year, and I have been utterly moved by the scale, the art and the incredible talent of Sim as a writer: each dialog, each accentuation and accent, conveys in an incredible way the orality of it all... it draws sound into panels, and the lettering that serves it is, for me, the most modern and effective form of calligraphy I've ever seen. 
Cerebus #226 (January 1998)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
In Rick's Story, considering his lust for sweet neighbour Joanne, Cerebus' thoughts actually engage in a fist-fight, morphing into boxing gloves, translating what it is to experience a true dilemma by the almost three-dimensional speech balloons go at each other with real violence, with vicious jabs and hooks, finishing by a devastating uppercut.

Fist-fight are emblematic of comics, cut into snapshots conveying speed, impact, intention, but here it becomes both an inner drama and a truly comical layout, as a balloon actually cracks a bone, as an idea "deflates".

The inner monologues of Cerebus always struck me as real piece of literature but in a theatrical way: it's the circus and theater of the mind, and typography with it scaling of the letters, its bolds, its crossed and underlined words expresses in an almost transparent way what could only be written down with a lot of  stage directions in a script or a theater play. It shows the movement and the intonations of a living voice.

Quite comically, the written language has long had this reputation of being cold, because it cannot convey irony the way a human voice could, just by the sound of it: in Cerebus, the speech balloons are warm and living: vivid. Where else do you ever get a shot of that ?
Cerebus #261 (December 2000)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Another example, that I actually show to people to introduce them to Cerebus, is from Going Home, I think, when Jaka's answer is so cold the words actually freezes over Cerebus head. Can you picture it, the panel almost challenges the reader to think, that tone? That ice over Cerebus' head and nose shows how it feels when someone answer a single word that hits you like a bucket of cold water, and in this comic form, it's all one, the feeling, the pun, the metaphor: that's why it's such a powerful experiment of the medium. 

There, it's not as concise at it should be, but I've been an avid reader of A Moment of Cerebus and I wanted to answer your call for suggestions. I'm happy to be part of this new generation of newcomers (I'm 24) that jumped right into the Kickstarter because I want to support a new edition of this Work, because the digital reading of comics and novels is part of my life. 

For me it all began with a friend transferring High Society on my usb-Key, with this you're-gonna-like-this face that is the true vector of sharing culture, and now I'm proud of the phonebooks that stand next to those big, ambitious and challenging volumes, where you know you're in for a trip, such as House of Leaves.

There is a future for Cerebus, and I believe there is a future for Dave Sim if the digital version of High Society really delivers, which I know it will despite the setbacks & catastrophes. Having read Reaction To "The End?" on your blog, I also believe new editions of the saga in slimer TPBs could improve its visibility for the new generation of readers, I know From Hell's thickness delayed for years my entry into it. The digital does get rid of this phonebook effect, but with so much to gain: details, grain, zooming and all the extras Sim seem to have in his notebooks. That's rich, that's depth.

So, to More Moments of Cerebus, and to the unexpected paths Sim's reinvention will take.

Do you have a favourite example of Dave Sim's innovative lettering in Cerebus that you'd like to see featured here on A Moment Of Cerebus? Send in your selection (the issue and page number will do), together with a brief explanation of its appeal/impact on you, to: momentofcerebus [at] gmail [dot] com


Margaret said...

I do love that example of the one word that chills one to the core so much it freezes on the panel. Great example!

Gabe McCann said...

House of Leaves was the last time I ever actually felt that scared feeling of your spine shivering while I was reading it. It also make great use of typography and having to swivel the book around physically whilst reading to achieved some of its' effects

Tony Dunlop said...

Really enjoying the comments from Mr. Assayag...but what is "BD?" All I can think of is the Doonesbury character, but I bet that's wrong.

GabeMcCann said...

In Belgium and France (where comics are called BD, short for "bande dessinée")

GabeMcCann said...

See also

The phrase bandes dessinées is derived from the original description of the art form as "drawn strips". The term contains no indication of subject matter, unlike the American terms "comics" and "funnies", which imply a humorous art form.