Thirdspace is a theory developed by American geographer Edward Soja that transcends ideas of duality to create a new, expanded space for human life in which the real and the imagined are fused. In the world of comics—where space is traditionally confined to a series of panels, holding moments in time, which are distributed across the page using white margins as dividers—the possibility of jumping between real and imagined (or internal) space has long inspired existential comic artists and writers to use line, color, text, and image to disrupt space. But now, with Soja’s concept of “thirding” and the expanded space rebooting the boundaries of the time-space continuum, comics have embarked on a spatial revolution, escaping the printed page, skipping through dimensions and mediums, fracturing chronological sequences, and even hijacking the academic essay. They have the power to fundamentally alter the way we read space and time, and recast how we visualize ourselves in the now.
“All men have limits. They learn what they are and learn not to exceed them. I ignore mine.”
—Batman, from “Knightfall” (1993–94)
An alien crashes through a window into a nightclub, shoots at a group of cockroach-human hybrids, walks over to the decks and changes the record, shoots again, contemplates his soiled shoes, and makes an acrobatic exit. This is a sequence in Young Avengers (2013), a recent Marvel comics relaunched by the duo Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, who have been lauded as rewriting the rules of comic time and space. Here, the entire scene is crafted onto a single-page isometric diagram with numerical “links” to close-up action frames—essentially combining a time-map analysis with real-time snapshots of events. In other scenes, the heroes—a group of teenage interdimensional adventurers traveling through gender-switched and apocalyptic worlds, among others—rebel against the comic book form itself, breaking out of the paneled borders.
Gillen explains, “For me it’s not just going to another dimension and exploring it thoroughly, it’s using a dimension to create a sense of wonder.”
J/W ANDERSON, A/W 13/14 WOMENSWEAR
Halfway into a collection that showcased his sculptural cutting with simple solid color, Jonathan Anderson hit the reset button with an injection of cartoon prints. It was a two-outfit sucker punch that broke up the show’s sequence of looks as effectively as it broke up his elongated silhouettes. Vanishing as abruptly as it had arrived, it felt almost as if the boy-racer tableau of mechanics and muscle cars had been imagined. The designer explains why:
“I was inspired to use the comic print this season because I liked the wrongness and the sudden movement and shock of it. It was like a full stop or comma in the collection, to jar an overall trip. The scene depicted in the cartoon is based on the idea of liquefying life. Rather than a personal love or obsession with muscle cars and racing, it explores the concept of the opposites of myself.”
Events that never materialized can be as legendary as those that did. In sci-fi movie lore there are two great examples: the abandoned Alien 3 concepts, including a script by author William Gibson and filmmaker Vincent Ward’s plans for a wooden planet; and the ill-fated adaptation of Dune by director Alejandro Jodorowsky. A new documentary by Frank Pavich, titled Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), explores why the project failed (casting Salvador Dalí, who demanded $100,000 per hour to play the Emperor, didn’t help), but it also highlights the amazing work done in preproduction by the team employed to recreate Frank Herbert’s space saga, which included the French cartoonist Jean Giraud, also known as Moebius. Using animation to bring his storyboards to life, and set against a macabre landscape by illustrator H.R. Giger, it celebrates the ability of comic artists to fold time and influences, in this case blending colorful 1970s high camp with the bone-strewn feudality of Arakis.
DEATH BY DESIGN
In the showdown of Batman vs. Koolhaas, where would you lay your bets?
Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor, creators of Batman: Death by Design (2012), hijack contemporary “star architects” by writing them into the 1930s cityscapes of the original Batman series and making them stand trial for their future crimes to the city. One such architect is a Dutch master builder Kem Roomhaus (it’s no stretch to realize the reference to Rem Koolhaas here), who sets out to destroy the retro-futurism of the Batman cityscape with his new school of thought, “Maxi-minimalism” (again, a not-so-subtle poke at Koolhaas’s opus S, M, L, XL).
In a comic projection of fate, a recent article on the SciFi-cation of architecture by Luis Miguel Lus-Arana, from the Harvard School of Design, raises the question of whether Koolhaas’s Porto concert hall, Casa Da Música, was cloned from Jodorowsky’s very-far-future Metabarons comic series.
TRANS TERRA: TOWARDS A CARTOON PHILOSOPHY
2013 has been a monumental year for comics theory, with Thierry Groensteen’s Comics and Narration, Barbara Postema’s Narrative Structure in Comics, Hannah Miodrag’s Comics and Language, the collection From Comic Strips to Graphic Novels, and Aaron Meskin’s The Visual Language, which will come out at the end of the year. And then there’s Trans Terra. Where the above authors discuss comics by writing about them, Tom Kaczynski presents a philosophical tract in the form of a comic strip—interesting because the essay is a genre that comics very rarely tackle. Kaczynski uses cartoons to visualize concepts about utopia and to discuss the problems and puzzles raised by comics themselves. He describes Trans Terra as “a mutant memoir that melds comics, politics, and philosophy and unearths improbable connections between thinkers as disparate as Ignatious Donnelly, Alvin Toffler, Rem Koolhaas, and Slavoj Žižek.”
Trans Terra was released on October 15, 2013, by Uncivilized Books
RAF SIMONS, A/W 13/14 MENSWEAR
Humans tend to think of time as a straight line in order for the concept to work, but for a cartoon or comic strip character it can follow a far less simple trajectory. In the illustrated world time and space can be bent to suit the story, and death, especially in the Looney Tunes universe, is merely a temporary setback. The indomitable nature of these 2D immortals is something Raf Simons has used to drive his latest collection. “I was interested in certain cartoon figures with a certain kind of psychology,” he told i-D after the show. “I don’t know why. Roadrunner, Pepe Le Pew—they try to be very strong masculine figures, but it can go very wrong or they can be clumsy or they can lose.” Invincible yet flawed? If it wasn’t for the fact he never puts a foot wrong, it almost works as an analogy for the designer himself.
Raf Simons has a whole section here already, but when talking about the relevance of illustrator Donguri Kyouwakoku it’s worth mentioning that Simons, as well as being influenced by Merrie Melodies, used manga comics as the inspiration for his catwalk models’ hair this season. There’s more to manga than great grooming of course, and Kyouwakoku’s work highlights how powerful Japanese comic art can be. Just like recycling fashion from previous decades, reviving retro art forms—like 1980s manga—can often feel weighted down by irony and nostalgia. Here, on the other hand, it feels more like a time slip than a comeback, even though the artist was only born in 1990. Taken out of the context of traditional strips or books, each image tells its own story using familiar cultural themes. But it’s the attention lavished on fashion, betraying Kyouwakoku as a fan, which makes his work so exciting.
SCRIPTED READING: THE FUTURE OF COMICS?
In this last section it is worth mentioning the digital comic platform comiXology, whose “guided view” navigates readers through the comic strip using a scripted code. The mention is not so much because of what comiXology currently is, but because it seems to point towards the future of comics. If digital comic creators are no longer restricted by the physicality of paper—the combination of text and image in comic panels intended for a single, directed stream of reading—and if a script can guide readers through the narrative, then stories could be designed in complex shapes that allow jumps in time and interconnections that were previously impossible. This is a direction being explored by Charles Arsène-Henry, a lecturer at the Architectural Association who teaches a course called “Shapes of Fiction.” The traditional Z-path of the comic strip seems to heading towards ever-greater spatial complexity.
Ben Perdue & Cher Potter contribute regularly to 032c with “Near Future Codex,” a report on science fiction and trend forecasting.