MATT SENECA: So is it that cartoonists need to come at comics with a new mindset...?
BLAISE LARMEE: Cartoonists need to be willing to abandon comics.
MATT: Comics history? Or the formal devices that have characterized comics until now? They might be the same thing...
BLAISE: Yeah, the whole orientation toward preconditions, foundations, and building a sovereign medium. There’s too much fear of translation. Film, especially, is seen as a threat.
M: You talked earlier about comics as a general way of conceptualizing sequenced images. In that case can you turn the tables and conceptualize films as comics?
B: Film is its own thing, obviously. I sometimes feel like I’m in a movie whereas I never feel like I’m in a comic. Although I’ve been in comics. That is interesting. For me comics is a more abstract or virtual text, whereas film is integrated into my immediate perception of “reality.”
M: Well film is reality in a lot of ways, moments of real time that actually occurred, just reproduced for viewing at a later date. Or at least it has been in the past. Now with computer effects bringing most films closer and closer to animation, which is just comics at 24 frames a second, do you think that gap is closing at all?
B: I don’t think computer effects will do anything. The Netflix model makes movies more a part of disposable culture, though. And more navigable/disruptible. Still, the formal differences are vast.
M: That’s interesting, because I see comics as being on the opposite trajectory, into hardcover books and archive editions, trying to position itself as far away from the disposable as possible. Do you see it that way? I guess webcomics confuse the issue...
B: Yeah, I guess both mediums are responding to their economic environments.
M: So anyway... you were saying that basically comics has yet to develop defining characteristics beyond basic formal ones?
B: I feel like formal preconditions are one and the same with this whole notion of comics-as-medium. This is the mentality that must be transcended.
M: Are “mediums” something that exist for you? Like is painting a medium?
B: Yeah, and comics can be read as a medium. But this reading was retroactively constructed, and in a time when the established mediums were being deconstructed to the point that it was almost boring.
M: Right, comics used to just be considered a backward subset of literature.
B: Yeah? I don’t know.
M: Sure, that’s why people get pissed when you call it a “genre”. Do you see it as more something that developed out of the visual arts?
B: I don’t know how it started. I think more out of newspapers. And animation. But I’m talking about underground comics and Art Spiegelman and Scott McCloud.
M: That was the road to “medium”, yeah.
B: Scott McCloud was so modernist … he wanted this new beginning divorced from the past, the liberation of form from content. That’s why it feels like comics was invented in 1993. That book became the form.
M: Do you think comics needs more texts like McCloud’s books to develop as a medium? Is that the kind of self-critical work you’re saying it lacks?
B: McCloud’s book is the medium. All developments undertaken for the medium add on to the narrative of “the medium” he created.
M: Hmm, have you ever read Eisner’s textbooks? Sequential Art, Graphic Storytelling? McCloud was riffing heavy on those....
B: The theme of McCloud’s book was the blank slate, the new beginning. He figures Eisner into his history (and credits him as inspiration) but the history is so revisionist that Eisner is in effect created by McCloud.
M: Lolz. My main problem with reading McCloud is that those books are completely lacking in poetic capacity, which is something I think a lot of other comics are pretty good at delivering. Can the self-reflexive and the poetic be combined?
B: Self-reflexivity is built-in to the format. The book literally flexes in on itself. The modernism of McCloud is extremely seductive. The promise of the future, the potential, the threshold. The Obama campaign. Now upon reflection we see how this infinite vision was also completely singular and authored. The hand drawn empty vessel.
M: So any promise of a blank slate delivered via comics is a false one, basically. Dude, you should read Grant Morrison’s Animal Man comics, that’s the one thing I can think of that comes close to McCloud, but it’s all superheroey and "fucking crazy, man!". Are you saying that comics, being this hand-made, meticulous thing, can’t avoid having some aspect of the poetic to them?
B: The poetic is useful as a means of opacity and privacy - keeping the author’s intentions somewhat in the dark. On the other hand I think a lot of critics are drawn to the poetic because it creates a pool of text that they can find their own way through and then present these trips as criticism.
M: Exactly, without opacity built into works the critic is useless.
B: Critics love to try to see through the text to the author. Or rather, to construct their own image of the author, using the text as a sort of puzzle.
M: Well, it is a lot of fun, even though you have to confront the fact that you're on some total bullshit at some point. So do you think comics should put the author on display more frequently? How do you feel about “autobio” comics, where the author is examining something else (not the form)?
B: I really feel something other than the form should be examined. Modern artists focused on the form in order to free themselves from powerful institutions - the church, the state, the public. The only institution in comics, really, is comics itself. “What is art” was a useful question because it was kind of a synecdoche for “what is church/state/public/etc”. “What is comics” is only relevant for comics fans, and I think we see this question mostly in contexts where the modern art narrative is nostalgized and re-staged in a seemingly virgin medium.
M: This is where a strong working knowledge of comics history seems essential to me, but you’ve talked about not being so interested in that. How can we build upon narratives we’re unfamiliar with?
B: That’s a really good question. My answer would be focusing on trajectory - movement itself - rather than specific origins of departure.
M: Chain of influence is an idea that has a ton of currency in comics, but right now more and more interesting new cartoonists seem to come at the medium from a unique place. Everybody used to just start out as copyists and work their way into an individual voice, now the journey is figuring out craft. You haven’t been shy about declaring CF to be a big influence on your work -- are there any others (besides McCloud) who hold as big a sway?
B: I don’t identify as a reader of comics.
M: Do you not read any, or just not a lot? or is it more about the connotations that identifying as a comics reader holds?
B: I meant it more as the sort of identity statement that’s acceptable these days.
M: Right, the one that also makes you a partisan of “comics culture”. What about that culture don’t you want to engage with?
B: I guess the reader - or consumer - orientation.