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Comic Books and Their Incredible Landscapes

Column door Paul Roncken.

Okay, this may be my favorite subject. In some ways a guilty pleasure because comic books are still for geeks or the illiterate. For those of you who haven’t spent time in really good comic book stores, the examples below will hopefully improve your status anxiety and increase the respect for the work of illustrators and their scriptwriters.

The four examples are all from my personal collection and they have influenced my perception of landscapes and landscape experiences. A comic book is in many ways similar to a visual movie script, without the sound effects and with a montage that is fast, depending on the time that my eyes need to scan the pictures. Sometimes the landscapes only appear as atmospheres and colors or suggestive depth, dramatic emotions and radical change of perspective. Let me guide you through these examples:

Tintin (Kuifje, in Dutch) by Hergé, de zonnetempel, Casterman 1949 (p. 22, 23)

The writer and illustrator Hergé has inspired many to join and discover the diversity of cultures on this planet. On these two pages the time changes from afternoon, to evening, to nightfall (with nightmares) and the following morning. That is incredibly fast for only 26 picture frames! This is shown in a chain of diverse emotions and an almost casual change of color. Changing from walking gestures, a relaxed evening pose, a restful sleep, watchful pose, conflicting nightmare digestion, sudden wake, worried search and finally an unexpected surprise. All this happens to the main characters, while being in a landscape that is mostly desolate, with light traces of civilization. I find this extremely emphatic and realistic, as well as adventurous and heroic. The laps in time make me, as a designer of landscapes, aware of the diverse experiences one can have while hiking, spending a night and waking up.

Philémon by Fred, de simbabbad van batbad, Dargaud 1974 (p. 14, 15)

The surrealist environments and plot provide hallucinatory environments and intellectual jokes. On these two pages Philémon is searching for his friend Bartholomee and has been transported through a portal to another realm where the laws of physics are different. We see him swimming in an ocean and he is just as surprised as the reader that the water is being hoisted onto a roll, because of the work of the tide-changers. This specific scene reminds me of a childlike and innocent apprehension of natural phenomena. These may exist as imagined landscape experiences, although scientifically this has proven to be a failed way of understanding. Landscape experiences are more often than not, defying any objective claim about the truth; they help to believe in the impossible and the implausible. Landscapes can, as is shown by this comic, muster in any grown-up, this childlike notion of imagination and thereby inspire to hope and proceed, even if the planet is decaying.

Bone by Jeff Smith, Eye of the Storm, Cartoon Books Columbus Ohio, 1994 (p. 96, 97)

All in black and white and still full of depth and emotions, Bone has fallen into a strange valley where none of his kind lives. Instead, there are humans like you and me, engaged in a struggle between good and bad, in both dreams and in reality. In this scene Bone and his new friends hide in a mountainous area. It is dark, it is raining and an occasional lightning makes the place inverse with dark and light tones. There is so much physicality in these simple drawings, so much kinetic storytelling that it reminds me of the mere simplicity of powerful (black and white) design. And it reminds me, how well rain and nightfall fit landscape experiences.

John Difool by Moebius and Jodorowsky, The Incal of light, Oog + Blik/Les Humanoides Asocies 1999 (p. 30, 31)

Moebius is definitely my favorite illustrator. His use of color, sharp black outlines, perspective and gore-ness is deeply inspiring. His work especially fits with the Buddhist/Indian/Chili spiritual and technology inspired stories by Jodorowsky. Jodo’s fantasies are about spaces within oneself and extreme biotechnological advancements. Here we see an aristocratic government, warned by a policeman, coming through the servant’s entrance. Next we see the policeman suffer from a biological virus and finally we see the hero (the meta-baron) with the involuntary hero (John Difool) entering. There is anxiety on every page and unbelievable plot changes on every two pages. I cannot imagine how this could become landscape architecture >>> this already is landscape architecture, in a form that is necessary: through comic books. This level of visual storytelling is compelling and potentially life changing.

PR 2017

mei 9, 2017

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