from Abstract Comics: The Anthology
Edited by Andrei Molotiu

Fantagraphic Books, 2009

An excerpt from Andrei Molotiu's Introduction to Abstract Comics: The Anthology

Of course, abstract comics can be defined as sequential art consisting exclusively of abstract imagery, and indeed most of the pieces in this volume fit that definition squarely. But the definition also needs to be expanded somewhat, so as also to include those comics that may contain some representational elements, as long as those elements do not cohere into a narrative or even into a unified narrative space; such a definition closely parallels that of “abstract film,” and also has the great virtue of allowing us to file in the category under discussion R. Crumb’s “Abstract Expressionist Ultra Super Modernistic Comics” from 1967 (published in Zap no. 1, and the first piece in this anthology), which not only is the first piece to bring together, at the beginning and end of its title, the words “abstract” and “comics,” but which also, as the briefest of glances can tell us, is one of the crown jewels of the genre.

What does not fit under this definition are comics that tell straightforward stories in captions and speech balloons while abstracting their imagery either into vaguely human shapes, or even into triangles and squares. In such cases, the images are not different in kind, but only in degree, from the cartoony simplification of Carl Barks’ ducks, say. Thus, the use of “abstract” here is specific to the medium of comics, and only partly overlaps with the way it is used in other fine arts. While in painting it applies to the lack of represented objects in favor of an emphasis on form, we can say that in comics it additionally applies to the lack of a narrative excuse to string panels together, in favor of an increased emphasis on the formal elements of comics that, even in the absence of a (verbal) story, can create a feeling of sequential drive, the sheer rhythm of narrative or the rise and fall of a story arc. As this book attempts to be the first to chronicle, over the better part of the last century and with increasing frequency in recent years cartoonists and other artists have played with the possibility of sequential art whose panels contain little to no representational imagery, or that tells no stories other than those resulting from the transformation and interaction of shapes across the layout of a comic page.

A selection of contributions to Abstract Comics: The Anthology

BIll Shut, "Scared Art"

James Kochalka, untitled

Janusz Jaworski, untitled

Jason Overby, from "Apophenia"

Jeff Zenick, from "Because"

Mike Getsiv, from "Shapes"

Warren Craghead III, from "Un Caligramme"