Reading a 1939 essay Soetsu Yanagi arguing
This got me thinking about ever present comic/bd concern of rhythm. Are comics Art or Design? Of course these are not exclusive categories, but some of the cartoonists I most admire seem to successfully synthesize artistic concern with overall coherency and visual communication that can only be thought of as a kind of feat of design–as if, standing back and blurring your eyes, the thing has a kind of underlying aspect of balance and logic reminiscent of the cutting swagger of classic poster designers like Abram Games.
Of course, as Will Isiner himself pointed out, the page itself constitutes a sort of meta panel. The open facing pages of a physical comic book might as easily be thought of as two panels besides each other. Just as the rhythm, energy flow and balance of a single panel ought to command the comic artist-writer’s neurotic attention, so then, also, does the whole page command attention as a compound object of many panels with its own balance and flow. We might also consider that high-level viewing of a comic is at the point where one can no longer make out the details, or necessarily understand what is going on at all. This is the point where a comic page dissolves into rhythm, into pattern.
Yanagi remarks in a kind of couplet in his 1950? Essay on the Japanese Perspective, that
“A pattern that is not a pattern is a true pattern.
Create patterns until they are no longer patterns.
The true pattern is a patternless pattern”
He had in mind the hand brushed glaze of a Hakeme pottery, and any thing which seems to emerge not from exacting contrivance so much as from working with a material. But what about the pattern that emerges in working with the material of a subject, a story, and sequence?
Soetsu Yanagi’s suggestion that Japanese woodblock prints ought to be considered handy-craft rather then Art in the fine art sense stems from a number of points including their reliance on mechanical reproduction and limitations, but also, intriguing, on their excellence residing not in the depiction of their subject but in becoming a pattern
I have admired the Japanese (as well as Chinese) tradition of woodblock printing for seeming to play with the kind clean lines and flat sensibility I find equally appealing in much Bande Dessinee,
Yanagi has additional things in mind too–of course the Japanese are famous for the sense of pattern exhibited across numerous artforms and craft practices, but in another essay on pattern, Yanagi goes further in drawing out that family crest of bamboo leaves constitutes a pattern it is some how more true then a realistic depiction of its subject by distilling the essence of a natural thing. The word I reach for, which Yanagi does not, is the iconcity of a thing. In more recent thinking, this iconicity is thought by cartoon theorists like Scot Mccloud Ivan Brunetti to be the very essence of cartooning as a practice- the ability to effectively substitute a kind of short-hand for reality.
The fully circle in this musing, is that In pondering the roots the distincting franco-belgian ligne clear graphic sensibility, I have had my suspicion that it actually took some of its cues from the japanese woodblock prints that started to flood into france in the 19th century. The connection seems most clear in the amazing distillation of Ukiyoe sensibility into the french idiom in Henri Riviere, a kind of french Hiroshige who presages the delicate flat colour tones of someone like Vitiorio Giardino or some of the work of Francois Schuiten.
It goes without saying that the Japanese seem to have a more-a-less unbroken history of cartooning and graphic storytelling going back centuries
Maybe we’re all just drawing Uki Yo Ee