Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Deep Inside the Earth

I'll start with the customary "how did this ever see print in a large newspaper without a long history and audience in comics?!" Now that the interrobang is out of the way, this is a comic made under peculiar circumstances. To not go too far into it, at the time my sense of priorities was somewhat unreal, I wasn't seeing the meaning in a lot of things, generally perspective was skewed. I took my time with it and I made certain it worked like I wanted it to work. It breaks various narrative rules to the point where it might be a bit unreadable as a comic, but at the time I didn't care about that. There is a case to be made about interesting art being created when the artist has a disregard for common wisdom about how his art form of choice works, but that goes only as far as you as a reader finds this particular comic to be interesting. Frankly I'd be surprised that people would see this and feel any impulse to read it.

There is a common concept in comics that if the words overpower the images, the reader skips text or skips page. The vice versa doesn't apply as such, but if a page has no text or very little text, most readers read it VERY FAST, which is a good communicational tool for the aware comic artist. Generally more than 30 words per panel (given a print size of about a4 or smaller and a regular typeface size) is a good limit, and if possible, that text should be broken up in favourable places in the panel, not infodumped on the top or whatever. This comic breaks this rule in a big way, ripping word from image at the seams, making this less a comic and more "prose with some pictures behind it". Or is it "pretty pictures with some inconsequential text on top"? In any case, I was aware of this and chose this particular harsh juxtaposition to serve this story when I made this in 2006. I do this a couple more times in the future in these series, with variable degrees of effect.

There were artistic concerns here. The whole page is mostly drawn with a pentel inkpen, I generally avoided my usual 0.1 marker scribbling. I didn't want the images to look packed with detail. In the visual arts there is a distinction between 'detail' and 'visual information'. The difference is that detail may carry information but it also may not, and just be there to pack up the image, to inspire awe to the viewer... the "oh wow, look how many little lines!" effect. I do this occasionally because awe is a useful tool for a comic artist if they can pull it off. But here I wanted the information to be there, but not so much detail. The trees read as trees, sand reads as sand, rock reads as rock. There isn't anything "playful" about this, it's a very unappealing page by design, artistically. There are no elaborate cloud patterns, no cute little creatures amongst the rocks and grass, nothing distinctively alive and relatable. The effect I was going for - and I really hope it comes through - is not of 'nature as the natural state of man' but a nature that is alien, distant and which has irrevocably sworn off the human. This theme of discontent is the one that is echoed in the text. What would you feel if you were to leave civilization behind only to find nature rejecting you harshly, not letting you in? You thought you were a natural being but you are spoiled by your years as a human being. The breeze doesn't seem soothing after a month sleeping on the ground, the trees do not mellow you with their shade but are forever there, quiet and together, against the one who absconded from his own. We think we are alone amongst the crowd but there are other, far more fundamental types of loneliness.

I often entertain fantasies of leaving, going somewhere far away and leaving everything behind, everybody forgetting my name and who I was. I don't know how common this is. These moods hit me most when I am unhappy, which is reasonable if you think about it. This comic was made during a bout of sadness, and in a way it simulated my impulse to leave and go far away. It simulated it and it also simulated its probable outcome of marginalization, of alienation even in the animal state a natura. Is a sad man less sad when he is running away into some cheap primordial fantasy of vast plains and trees and nothingness? It is pitiful that one would choose to return to his human ways just to retain some semblance of sanity through communication and expression, even more pitiful that he would have nowhere to send his messages. Pitiful, and unambiguously human.

The human state of self-awareness is inherently pathological. There are ways a living mechanism can break and become evolutionary deadwood. They are the exact same ways through which a living mechanism lucks out on a new characteristic that advances it in the food-chain. Genetic mutation is an 'error' in this way, the results of this 'error' are painted as favorable or unfavorable strictly in the practical terms of whether the mutated creature seems to survive better or worse. Self-awareness for the human is an evolutionary variation that was in this sense, excellent in keeping humans alive and in control and thriving. However there exist pathologies that are special to the thinking, feeling being that are completely alien to your cat, or even more, to a cockroach. These pathologies will brand us evolutionary deadwood. These are existential concerns, or to say, they emerge from the human ability to discern between itself and its environment and to plot a theoretical end to his life by comparing to outward death. Your cat doesn't know it will die, nor does it know it is governed by chemical impulses nor does it really "know" anything, because it is not self-aware. Your computer doesn't "know" anything either in the exact same way. Every day we breed small, inward deaths inside us through the knowledge of the outward death, through comparison and contrast with otherness. Fantasy and reality in constant, brutal friction. The same tools that enable us to overcome are the ones that destroy us. This self-awareness creates an illusion that somehow the conscious, that small part of a very complicated, interfacing mechanism that is a human being, is 'in control', is holding the metaphysical rudder of the being and makes free choices, unaffected by each and every fiber of its mechanism. Pathology. This comic is yet another examination of this pathology in action. For what is more broken than the machine that has been given the ability to say 'I am broken'?



fifi said...

"For what is more broken than the machine that has been given the ability to say 'I am broken'?"

The machine that says 'I'm fine' whereas broken, surely.
It is happier, but faulty.
Also, not useful, when you accept objective values -- which you have to, unless you want ideas to die, like to protagonist of the comic.

The first and last panels are great to watch. But although the middle one appears simply as 'background' missing the 'object', maybe - for the same reason - it serves the comic's idea the best.

Helm said...

Hello, fifi. Very interesting comment, thank you.

We are all fundamentally faulty in that we percieve ourselves to be faulty is the point. Were we not able to understand that we exist, we would be (less) faulty. It is in the self-reference that the system breaks. I have been instructed by smarter men to not bring up Godel and the incompleteness theorem in these cases because it is a gross misapplication, but I cannot contain myself!

Also I do not understand your comment about objective values, would you like to expound on it?

I agree with you on the middle panel. It wasn't intentional for it to be missing something. It was strangely, the only of the three I used photo reference for.

pan pan said...

funny coincidence: when i went on to read the page "yearning the seeds..." kicked in.
reading this, while i didn't quite got the purpose of someone writting to someone else, got it me in a mood of solitude.
then i went on to read your analysis. yes, the nature, as illustrated here, is that kind of nature that you wanna leave yourself in, not to skew off of your daily needs and problems, but the one that will embrace you in its glory, leaving you anaware if this is for your good or for your bad.
also, that thing about the repeated word both in written and aural form made me get in context a little more. it s been about a year, that i got to know this is a basic meditation exercise.
about the whole story, it isn't something special but it manages not to insist on itself in such a way, that leaves you with a releaf after you 've read it. i 'll come back when i have my thoughts more settled.

gold said...

Ah, fifi is me, Glodmnu. It was just a "blogger's nick" I chose when leaving comment somewhere and forgot it's turned on.

I'm quite tired, as today my mother went to hospital and I had to arrange everything to be most comfortable for her, so, I can't write too much.

I'm not sure it's self-reference we're talking about. See, doesn't language/modes of thinking come from the outside world, our experience? We go ahead, so we see the future as "ahead of us", etc. Language was born in community and is relevant only as a tool of community. Thus, when trying to analyse ourselves, we use the "eyes of the outside", we try to perceive us as an "outside object". The self-analysis isn't a masturbatory perpetuum mobile! (wow, I love this expression! Sometimes I admire myself.) It's not a motor fuelling itself. You hear about a greedy person and start to perceive greed in yourself.

As for my earlier entry, the machine saying "I'm fine" whereas broken is less useful, because it is wrong. There's nothing more to it :-) That meaning, perceiving a fault is better than self-indulgence. In theory and in my hoping brain it should lead to change/progress, or - at least - omitting errors.
Unless it ends in paralysis.

The protagonist of your comic is admirable. I was thinking of a short story in which a person loathes humanity so much he/she decides to change into a completely different being, but, of course, if the person suceeded, I wouldn't be able to write about it.

Helm said...

I sincerely hope all goes well with your mother.

I appreciate the humor in an estimable male Polish writer being 'fifi' on blogger.

No, language doesn't come from the outside world, from experience. I suggest the book 'The Language Instinct' by scientist and thinker Steven Pinker (he also has awesome hair!) on that one. If HS also appears in this comment space she may tell us more having read the whole thing for her studies.

Also I do suggest "The Mindscape of Alan Moore" (a short film) on the "we go ahead, so we see the future ahead of us". It may not always have been like that, and how much better it would be if we stopped differentiating between past, present and future. Ach, big discussion there. Watch the documentary, it's fun! Moore also has awesome hair!

When we analyse ourselves from the faux point of an 'outside person', that is just a projection of our superego, I think. It's not 'outside' at all. It's just us, BETTER. It's deeply pathologic.

Wrong, right! Who can tell what is wrong and what is right! There are useful wrongs and useless rights. A machine looking at itself and creating a fault is paralyzed, as you say. If it were not to search for truth, it would be useful.

As for admiring the protagonist of the comic, well I guess they should at least be admired for getting off their ass and doing something about their discontent even if it didn't pan out as expected. Unlike the writer of the comic that just spectrally experienced these things while sitting in his bedroom, drawing :)

HS said...

This kind of comic, with the distinctive helmtalk always makes me wonder about the creator. I feel as if I can gaze the distant and bitter ends of his, which is almost transcendental. Windham Hell would make a great soundtrack for this one. :)

So, "The Language Instinct" is one of the most fascinating books I've encountered. In a well-refined manner, bound to satisfy the analytical mind, it proves that the language structures are within us and that our brain is programmed to easily attain a language when exposed to the appropriate stimuli. Thinking modes do not come from the outside world. Language is a tool for translating what is already inside of us, thus thinking precedes language and not the opposite. Anyhow, when you're isolated for a long time and words lose their communicative function, I guess that you tend to think in a non verbal, primordial way or if you do think verbally the meaning of the words is gradually altered and they receive a strictly personal one (something like this must have happened to the protagonist here).

And Helm, isn't the obsession with pathology pathological itself? ^_^

Helm said...

No it most certainly isn't!!!


Conceit Arturo said...

This is my favorite comic of yours Helm. Fitting that you didnt care for proper form here....