Friday, March 6, 2009

Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?

Percival Everett’s “The Appropriation of Cultures” was featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts the other night—great story. I just feel a little guilty about the fact that I haven’t actually read it. Audio books always struck me as a rather facile means of exposing oneself to written works. It’s like ice cream for dinner: sure, you’ll fill up, but have you really gotten any valuable nourishment from the consumption?

But, my, that genre’s popular. At the conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs [AWP] a couple years ago, a representative from Random House cited the dismal statistics indicating the number of people who read creative works of any sort (lyrics on CD sleeves counted), and stated unequivocally that audio books were the future of the publishing industry. The Missouri Review will soon be published in the form of audiobooks, and the blog for Indiana Review features audio clips of authors reading their poetry and prose. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we’re be able to listen to Ph.D. dissertations on CD, mixed in with Pharcyde instrumentals at our nearest university coffee bar.

Admittedly, I’m not particularly concerned about the literary publishing industry; as long as publishing's tied to tenure, books will continue to be cranked out, one way or another, regardless of whether anyone’s reading them. Literature’s increased visibility on the web, though, does interest me, especially in terms of how its digital evolution draws distinctions between that genre and comics.

Literary writing is distinctly aural, and may perhaps become increasing so as books make the transition to podcasts. At their best, literary works have the power to arrest us with an aptness of expression, creating a situation where we virtually read through and into the words. The narrative voice droning on inside our heads bites its lip for a few moments and the words, in their resonance, evoke a profound silence.

Conversely, at comics's best, works are able to orchestrate images and words in a manner that simulates music: the watery cacophony of a torrential downpour in one panel coming alive in our senses, undergirded by the steady beat of boots on asphalt in another panel, punctuated by gunshots in another, the images by this point all but smudged out by heavy white streaks of illustrated rain. (See Frank Miller’s Sin City, chapter eight, for the above example.)

I recently came across a conversation about the internet’s potential to “enhance” comics; the prospect of transforming illustrated narratives into animations seems to be the gist of these assertions. But just as audio books stand to compromise the written word’s potential to achieve silence and, some might argue, to impress themselves fully upon the mind, animations set an invariable tempo to the music comics creates, compromising the personal “orchestration” of the reading experience.

Resistance to these proposed changes is part of the reason Cake and Potatoes is so low-tech visually—that and reusing images was the best I could do with a Blogger account and a limited amount of free time. :-) Regardless, hopefully the comic's music doesn’t get lost in the HTML.

A new comic is below!


Vanessa said...

Have you heard that rumor that they're going to make a film version of Percival Everett's Erasure? I mean, how?

macon d said...

Yup. With Angela Bassett at the helm.

Jackson Brown said...

Hmm, yeah ... the "meta" considerations of how to handle the _My Pafology_ story seem like they'd be a bit unwieldy for a first-time director.

I mean, how do you contextualize a blatantly racist novel-within-a-novel-within-a-film in a way that captures and mediates the nuanced intermingling of "legitimate" humor, "racist" humor, "ironic" humor, and "the humor of the culturally illiterate readership upon whom the irony is lost" humor without effacing the pathos of the whole situation in all the ensuing laughter?

… Good luck with that one, Angela. :-)