Monday, August 22, 2011

Sequential Art Primer Part 3: The Three Modern Masters and the Essential Transcontinental Chain Reaction

Robert Crumb

Jean Giraud/Moebius

Hayao Miyazaki

All three artists contributed to their regional form of ‘sequential art.’ More importantly, their work is linked together in a ‘chain reaction’ of influence that led them to create work in a very similar stylistic language that marks a significant evolution of ‘sequential arts’ aesthetic as a global form. Starting with Rober Crumb’s work in ‘comics’ in the ‘60s, continuing with the 'bande-dessineé' work of Jean Giraud/Moebius’ in the ‘70s, and ending with the 'manga' work of Hayao Miyazaki in the ‘80s.

R. Crumb’s gift as an artist is a quality that many would consider a flaw. Crumb seemed to lack any ability to filter himself in his work. The other gift that Crumb possesses is an inability to stop. As an artist, R. Crumb’s significance was not the result of an objective to become important or to create work that was original or independent, but rather an incredible capacity to bear his soul and be authentic. With such work in “Comics” like “Zap Comix” his cross-contour drawing style and perspective as and artist is evocative, offensive, neurotic, and revealing. He was provocative without being a deliberate “provocateur.”

While I consider George Herriman to be the true innovator of some of Crumb’s linguistics, in the 1960’s, Crumb’s evolution of his cross contour style combined with his boldness of subject makes him an essential figure in the evolution of “Comics,” and “sequential art.’

R. Crumb’s influence can e seen in the evolution of Jean Giraud’s alter ego “Moebius” and his ‘bande desinée’ work of the 1970’s where he expresses aspects of his inner psychology across the surreal fantasy landscape of “Arzach” in an echo of the Crumb style and with a clear sense of newfound liberation. After Crumb, what ideas should sequential art fear expressing? What need is there to strive for perfection in one’s draftsmanship once such a skill becomes as easy for the artist as switching on a light?

Moebius’ “Arzach” uses a fantasy landscape to express the personal in metaphor. The landscape and inhabitants of “Arzach” create an eerily cohesive world, no matter how bizarre, as a direct result of being manifestations of the many facets of Moebius’ psyche that he now feels emboldened to express. The hatching on the hand-lettering, the wonky panel borders and use of circular frames show a new sense of freedom applied to a dreamscape that are echoes of Crumb.

Moebius’ use of metaphor offers accessibility to the audience that Crumb’s more raw and personal explorations deny. Metaphor translates the personal to the universal and allows the audience to access the work on two levels of depth. “Arzach’s” aesthetic is the precursor to Hayao Miyazaki’s move away from the stylistics of Osamu Tezuka, and toward the freeing and more primal cross contour mark-making of Crumb and Moebius with his 1980’s ‘manga’ work “Nausicaä.” Elements of “Arzach” and “Nausicaä” share many similarities in much the same way that “Arzach” shares similarities with R. Crumbs pioneering “Zap Comix.”

The quality that seems to be driving Hayao Miyazaki’s work forward at this point is the contagious feeling of liberation that comes from giving one’s self permission to draw without the concern for your work being free of imperfections and rawness. In “Nausicaä,” Miyazaki’s desire to reconnect with mythology and the natural landscape within the context of a society increasingly seduced by the allure of technology is depicted in a fantasy world that assimilates both.

Familiar elements of architectural style, means of flight, and otherworldly cultures and creatures that appear in “Arzach” can be seen in “Nausicaä” and, more significantly, its illustration technique owes much more to the tradition of 'bande dessinée' than those traditionally associated with 'manga.'