More is Never Enough, or Kant’s Numerical Sublime

Ah, the Kantian sublime stands a great craggy edifice, its very mention sends shudders through the soul. Well not so much…however, talking about Kant is always fraught. The very name “Kant” invokes the sublime as one tries to wrap one’s head around his prolific ideas. Thus, to discover relationships on the comic page from the mind of the great Kant, it seems like a good idea to break his ideas into panel-sized pieces.

Published in 1790, Kant’s Critique of Judgment proposes two aspects of the sublime, the numerical sublime and the dynamical sublime. His rigorous mind comes to these two forms from his discussion of aesthetics and they represent for him an attempt to grapple with the sublime. Even though the sublime experience happens in the body, technically the sublime is our experience of what we see, Kant offers a diagnosis of what might trigger an attack of the sublime. I defer to medical, psychological terms because the sublime is a disruptive force that disturbs the human mind and body. The sublime disturbs order, well-being, bienseance in the Enlightenment sense and represents a charged and potentially dangerous experience.

The feeling of the sublime is a feeling of displeasure that arises from the imagination’s inadequacy, in an aesthetic estimation of magnitude, for an estimation by reason, but it is at the same time also a pleasure, aroused by the fact this very judgment of the inadequacy, namely, that even the greatest power of sensibility is inadequate, is (itself) in harmony with rational ideas, insofar as striving toward them is still a law for us.

So for those thrill seekers who love to be disturbed, disrupted and knocked out of complacency by comics, the question is where is it and how can I get more of it. For those who like to gaze at the stars and contemplate the enormity of space, actually you are engaging in both of Kant’s sublimes simultaneously, the dynamical unbounded, immense and the numerical that tries to count the stars and is blown away by the impossibility of the task.

At present, I want to count stars if you will, or more properly consider the improbability and achievement of representation of the numerical sublime in comics.

All that being said, it seems that there are self-evident reasons for artists not to want to draw crowd scenes, but there are some that thrive on the creation of minutiae. Phillipe Druillet for example undertook the task of representing Gustav Flaubert’s Salammbo and the results are stunning.

In this image, the ziggurat panels and small inserts of emblems, add order and assistance to a series of complex, visually stunning images that refuse easy assimilation.

Druillet orders the panels so that the densely articulated depictions of soldiers become patterns. The patterns take on aspects of movement as the viewer struggles to rest his focus on any single aspect of the dense and lushly colored planes. The panels allow us to fall into these impossibly detailed surfaces and while his gesture is conceivably an attempt to contain the sublime, we even add into the landscapes because we resolve the problem of the numerical sublime with an articulation of infinity.

Moebius his contemporary, also works with scale and prolific figures. This overhead spread literally gives the reader a birds eye view of the sprawling action. The detail draws the viewer into the depth of the landscape.

Further, Moebius constructs space in such a way as to open geographies with limitless potentials. At the same time, his vision manages to bring a plausibility to bear that gives a substance to the fearsome scope of his world. This image has a life outside of the panels.

His influence is readily obvious in this piece by Geoff Darrow for film “The Matrix”. The narrative of the film suggests the numerical sublimity of alternate universes or of unleashed and uncontainable technology. Darrow’s image suggests an unnerving numerical sublime.

Darrow’s work is compelling in its detail. Yet, a strange thing occurred when I began to seek the numerical sublime depicted in comics, the examples that I thought I recalled, were not there. Apparently, my imagination had filled in the blanks. I was surprised to find that the imaginary capacity to see a more complex world in one’s imagination is not limited to words and reading, but it seems we are able to do this with visual data as well. We are able to store that imaginary information as though it we had seen it. I’m sure the experience of looking for an image that “one is sure is in the comic but just isn’t there when you look” is a commonly shared event.

I definitely thought there were more figures in this Frank Frazetta image for example, the movement and depth of field left me believing that I had seen more than was actually there.

As it turns out this is incredibly useful to the overworked artists who dread the hyper-multiple. Milton Caniff shares this story about how he dealt with the the demand for the impossible:

The writer comes in sits down, sits at a typewriter and types out this paragraph to direct the artist. The artist comes in and has to draw a man and a woman standing on a windswept hill and 10, 000 Chinese communists coming up with drawn bayonets. Now when you’re the artist and the writer you do the same scene, but you show a fairly close up shot of the hero and heroine, some wind lines and clouds behind with a few leaves going by to show a windswept hill. The man has his arm around the girl, pointing outside the panel saying: “ Look! Here come 10,000 Chinese.” That’s when you’re writing. and drawing. And that’s to make the point.

SABA: You’re making it easier for yourself, is what you’re doing, (laughter).

Caniff: And that’s an exaggeration of the point, that the artist can control it. If he wants to he can draw the 10,000 Chinese soldiers, but usually he finds a way out.

All the same, Caniff takes the challenge:

These roiling compositions are rare, but notwithstanding, their accomplishment stays with the viewer long after they have been seen. It is as if they gather exponentially from the details and the superfluity that they offer.

Artist Tony Salmons offered pithy comments from his perspective in an interview with James Romberger about an artist’s challenges when representing crowds :

Salmons notes three seemingly innocent words often seen in scripts, ‘a crowd gathers.’ Salmons says, ‘A writer scripts or merely plots this line down on paper and goes on to the next scene. I spend an entire day researching, casting, lighting and acting out that crowd. Is it an opium den? SF or Hong Kong? Texas? German beer garden? Rainbow room at 30 Rock? What kind of crowd? If I do it with total commitment the considerations can go way beyond this. And the writer’s contribution is 3 words, ‘A crowd gathers.’ No matter what the story requires, the artist must make it so.

Salmons is clearly up to the task. His ability to work with space and depth, through black spotting and line work shows off his skill in this sublime image. Movement in the figures seems to amplify the effect in the depiction of a multiple figure composition.

James is also able to produce a crowd:

There are artists who it seems are born to create numerical chaos. James’ image was created during the LA riots in 1992. The numerical sublime seems to lend itself to revolutionary statements, both literally and figuratively. Consider how radically Gary Panter’s proliferating, unmoored marks assaulted the parameters of comics.

This type of chaos; of uncontained, irrational imagination stood in direct opposition to the world of corporate comics. Yet Panter was not the first to explore the possibility of overloading the senses to fracture the present from its traditional past. The sixties brought us S. Clay Wilson and other underground artists who filled the page with so many marks in the attempt to literally “blow our minds.”

It is hard to think of Captain Pissgums without his disturbing cohorts, or to image the revolting Ruby without her subversive dykes. Wilson, by the sheer volume of his outrages, insists on a dislocation from the anchors of America’s received concept of civilization in the sixties. More is always more. These images enter our brains and continue to propagate, because the sublime works to replicate itself. The sublime is sublime, it just keeps adding to its own being.

Jack Kirby too played with sex and the sublime, recognizing the sensory, even erotic power of its energy. For him in the image below, the sublime offers as a site of irony, perhaps bizarrely preemptively and philosophically connected to the vision of Wilson:

In Kirby’s vision, the senses demonstrated through a mania of eroticism, threatens the virility of Captain America and thus destabilizes the rationalist face of order to bring out a collapse of social coherence. While the gesture is not one that many feminists would at first relish, it is nonetheless interesting for its alignment of feminine energy with a romantic, revolutionary world. It is a world slipping out of control.

The numerical sublime is exciting and dangerous, precisely because it is uncontainable. It is hard to achieve, yet ultimately desirable as a destination for many comic artists who seek to escape the confines of the panel and the comic pamphlet. Bernie Krigstein discusses a project that he would like to undertake with John Benson in a special 1975 issue of Squa Tront and immediately falls into the abyss of the sublime as his concept multiplies itself into infinity:

BENSON: And you would adapt the entire novel?
KRIGSTEIN: Yes; maybe hundreds of pages, or whatever the number of pages it would run to. But as I look at these sample breakdowns, even then I didn’t do it the way I would do it now. I still didn’t give enough space to the pictures. I would make it even much more pictorial in proportion to the number of words that it has here. I’d expand this passage here, where he’s running desperately; I’d expand it much more. And this one passage here, where the regiment is swinging from its position, could practically be a story in itself.
I’d have broader monumental breathtaking sweeping panoramas of the armies. I’d want to convey the notion of the enormity of it and then the contrast of the microscopic things going on inside of this enormity. And I would expand these sequences in order to elaborate on the microscopic things happening to where they’d have the character of deep stories. And the whole thing would be a connection of many many stories into one huge monumental panorama. These roughs still do not convey my real approach, what I would do right now. But some parts of it I find very satisfactory anyway.
BENSON: Actually, you’d have to excise some portions of the novel so that you could treat other portions fully the way you wanted to.
KRIGSTEIN: Exactly. But on the other hand, while cutting out stuff from one point of view, I would insist on an open-ended expansion from an editorial point of view. It might take 100 pages; or I’d like to have the freedom to take 1,000 pages for the same amount of text. I’d like to have no limit on the amount of space for pictures. But now I’m fantasizing; what I’m saying now is pure fantasy.
That would be a monumental enormous project. It means that every single one of these panels has to be a picture, a real picture, without compromising. I couldn’t rely that much on close-ups, either. I’d make it much more pictorial.

Krigstein never manages to enclose the scope of his discussion or one imagines, of his project. Its ability to continue to grow, exponentially and out of control is self evident in his comments and in his breakdowns for a proposed adaptation of Steven Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. The depiction of these kinds of ideas present problems for the very best:

The lower left hand panel that represents the mass of troops has turned into an abyss of black marks. Chaos occupies the otherwise ordered mind and controlled hand of an experienced and competent artist.

I leave with an image by Hal Foster, who often composed panels with multiple figures and I invite you to consider whether his images are ordered or chaotic. Whether and how the force of the numerical sublime can be made to serve its master, or whether it inevitably escapes free to roam unchecked.

The Eyes Have It: The Sublime & the Precognitive Graze.


For certain of us, the thrill of opening a comic book cannot be overstated. Particularly if the page is crammed with dynamic lines, swirls of motion, color and a plethora of panels. Instantly, our pulses race. Immediately, synapses begin to fire. We are overwhelmed by the scope and variety of the material before us and we savor the moment before our rational, superior divided-self checks the terror of confusion and steps over the direct and unarticulated response to the material to communicate the simultaneously terrifying and exciting instant of speechlessness. We perhaps articulate that moment with “Cool” as we hover between pain and pleasure. We experience the sublime.

Edmund Burke, a clever man, thought at length about the sublime[1] and developed certain theories about how humans take in visual stimuli:

VISION is performed by having a picture, formed by the rays of light which are reflected from the object, painted in one piece, instantaneously, on the retina, or last nervous part of the eye. Or, according to others, there is but one point of any object painted on the eye in such a manner as to be perceived at once; but by moving the eye, we gather up, with great celerity, the several parts of the object, so as to form one uniform piece.

The unknown writer of Bernard Krigstein’s final comics work 87th Precinct thought about this too and produced the following intersecting and bizarrely Saussurean commentary :

But to return to Edmund Burke for the moment, he wants to think about a painting, and more importantly for us, a single object and how its representation would be taken into the eye:

If the former opinion be allowed, it will be considered, that though all the light reflected from a large body should strike the eye in one instant; yet we must suppose that the body itself is formed of a vast number of distinct points, every one of which, or the ray from every one, makes an impression on the retina. So that, though the image of one point should cause but a small tension of this membrane, another and another, and another stroke, must in their progress cause a very great one, until it arrives at last to the highest degree; and the whole capacity of the eye, vibrating in all its parts, must approach near to the nature of what causes pain, and consequently must produce an idea of the sublime.

Today Burke’s ideas on the function of the eye in apprehension seem amusing, but he raises interesting points that touch the optic nerves of many comic book artists and readers.

There is some theoretical talk out “there,” in the sublimity of discourse concerning how the comic page is perceived, but I find that like our eighteenth century predecessors who made admirable attempts to codify or to supply language to visual experiences, there remains a dearth of language available with which to tackle certain experiences. I remain unable to find any language that addresses the moment before we begin the instinctive work of decoding what we see. That it is a form of the sublime I am sure, but this does not give language to the effect. After the first consumption of the page in its entirety comes a focus to determine the form of the page, a first step in the decoding. Yet, it seems there is not diction for these interstitial movements and this will become a greater problem, because it will affect how we understand comics and the relationship of the image to text into the far-foreseeable future. It will limit how we are able to articulate the seminal first moment.

Our inability to express how we see text and image in relation to each other still requires work. I am not suggesting that this necessitates an infinitude of new expressions; we do not need to find a thousand ways to say white, although perhaps the Alaskan Inuit were onto something. (In previous posts, I have shown white panels, and there are many examples from which to choose, whether empty or filled with white.)

In considering this issue, I recalled the use of Flash cards, which became an annoying part of my life when my son was in Pre K, inasmuch as other parents felt free to flash them at random during any conversation. Here, the act of offering an image to symbolize text is described by flash, but the action of the child upon whom this ocular violence was enacted was given no particular name for their reception of the image. So that from early childhood we are left without words to accommodate that primary moment, before assimilation. The next step of what was meant to happen, “learning,” found linguistic form, but again the first step in the process has no particular vocabulary to describe it. One does not hear: “when I thrust my flash card into the range of sight for my child he or she immediately perceived the textual, spatial, object relations to supply language.” It would be silly since it would be out of place, but where it would be helpful in the discourse of comics, when we avail ourselves of the pleasure of the first flash, our response remains unnamed.

Chris Ware’s Lint: a diagnostic of the acquisition of language: in the startled / blank eyes of the infant can we register prelinguistic sublimity?

“Apprehend” might be close to what is required, but still it seems too much tied to the first stage of interpretation of the material. Andrei Molotiu produces some interesting abstract comics that extend that moment of apprehension, since the mind is unable to rest, or find comfort in the ciphers that it makes. There is a suspended moment that recalls the sublime in certain respects. The work at the very least challenges the limits of reception and formal responses to comics. Douglas Wolk [2]writes of the anthology of Abstract Comics compiled by Molotiu that “it’s a fascinating book to stare at, and as with other kinds of abstract art, half the fun is observing your own reactions: anyone who’s used to reading more conventional sorts of comics is likely to reflexively impose narrative on these abstractions, to figure out just what each panel has to do with the next.” Wolk’s observation is helpful as he grapples with the first response and the challenge that abstract comics present. His use of the word “stare” both signals a stalled but receptive state, yet it allows one to return to the way that we experience a page before we enter into its complexities. The moment that presages the “stare,” whether in abstraction or narrative comics does not yet differentiate between the two. We have not had time to seek faces, identify text, or to participate in the experience of the page on any level than that of its visual inter-kinetic.

Andrei Molotiu provides a space in which we can linger on the verge of another mental state of apprehension.

Part 2. Focus on the Eye.
Edmund Burke’s insistence upon the physical response to visual stimuli in the outside world has remained more entrenched than one might suppose, particularly within the realm of cartoonists and artists. Artists whose work relates singularly to representation of objects seen or imagined, frequently draw upon, or just draw images of the eye to connect their characters with their constructed outside world. Perhaps for artists there is a deep-rooted fear in any trauma to the eye, which informs their identity as their livelihood requires that they “look” and “see,” which I understand as separate actions. This is not solely my distinction, it is a Miltonic reference, in that man must look and see his world, the second part, see, meaning comprehend, or internalize the meaning of what man is shown by higher powers. We expose ourselves to the pleasure of the page in anticipation of that experience of catharsis. And here I will diverge from any more highly aesthetic or spiritual understandings of what is happening, to suggest instead that we are animalistic in this pursuit. We act primarily to satisfy the limbic brain; to fulfill the impulse of the deep primitive brain. This brain causes us to pre-cognitively, visually graze for stimulus so that we can trigger the pleasure response. Comics are part of our system of desire. Animators apparently made this link and described the anatomy of the active “graze” that prefigures the “gaze” to hilarious effect. In Tex Avery’s brilliant depiction of the wolf looking at the songstress there is a pause before the wolf gathers the import of what he is seeing. There is a pause before his eyeballs pop out of his head. Sex and comics…well, both are sometimes both painful and pleasurable.


Avery’s wolf scans the female form as some of us do the page; hungrily before we can calm down to think rationally about what we are seeing.

Doselle Young/ Tony Salmons/ Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, Jericho, HeartThrobs :

Out of control: Already consumed in the pleasure of reception.

Elsewhere, the tension of sight and meta-engagements in depictions of eyes as signals of human responses litter the pages of comics with a startling degree of anxiety. Recall my earlier quotation of Burke’s:

So that, though the image of one point should cause but a small tension of this membrane, another and another, and another stroke, must in their progress cause a very great one, until it arrives at last to the highest degree; and the whole capacity of the eye, vibrating in all its parts, must approach near to the nature of what causes pain…

Archie Goodwin/Steve Ditko, Collectors Edition, Creepy #10 famously demonstrates anxiety about the eye’s pain sensitivity .

Al Feldstien/B Krigstein/Marie Severin, You, Murderer, Shock Suspenstories #14 offers a representation of the ineluctable power of the eye and its ability to penetrate the human body and mind and to override our deeper impulses and will.

Hugo Pratt’s Banana Conga allows us to perceive how much of own volition and active consciousness is accessible to us in respect to the gaze.

Perhaps, finally, one must consider the agreement of the reader to the contract between himself and the comic artist; a relationship much desired by the artist who craves the interchange. The many demonstrations of ocular distress in comics perhaps reveal how deeply the artist is aware of the commitment of this particular form of intimacy, or the risk of abandonment. Conversely, for readers there is an agreement to relinquish part of our civilized nature when we agree to look at a comic. The anticipation of pleasure that precedes the viewer’s acquiescence to employ his powerful sensory aperture, the eye, is a self-revelatory act. Every time we open a comic, we stand before it in our savage nakedness. As readers, we too risk disappointment; that the pages might fail to deliver. Let us not forget that in comics we want the words as well as the pictures; we want it all. We want the whole package.

[1] Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry. Part IV. section 9. UK : Oxford University Press, 1990.

[2] Douglas Wolk, New York Times Book Review, Holiday Books edition, December 6, 2009

Sublime Capital, Kirby, Lee, the Worth and the Worthy

Another aspect of this debate, which has become so reductive in its claims of creative primacy, suggests that the idea is the only criteria for original creation. Even if hypothetically Lee originated characters, I would argue that where there is no previous model then the artist creates the image and reifies a concept. If there is no model to work from, then one must create the original figure, which henceforth will become that model. Pushed to a logical limit, one could point to the fact that though Bernini did not originate the myth of Apollo and Daphne, he certainly produced his original sculpture. His rendering of the narrative is creatively unique.

Apollo and Daphne by Bernini

On the other hand, in the consideration of the various statues of “David” created by numerous artists, Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini for example, one might say that these are all “works for hire” and only the divine source of the narrative is significant, with the plot supplied by the church. The church, like any other giant institution or corporation has interests in controlling its mythologies. This labor, artistic or not is at the service of a larger ideology.

Donatello’s David offers a model sheet in 3D.

As Louis Althusser, a psychology-driven sociologist says, “assuming that every social formation arises from a dominant mode of production, I can say that the process of production sets to work the existing productive forces in and under definite relations of production.” I shall return to Althusser momentarily, but for now I wish to affirm that both Kirby and Lee were proud to work within the ideology of American capitalism. In the legal case, neither side stands or challenges American capitalism on ideological grounds overtly, despite a strong undertow of class and labor issues that largely go unspoken. And while I have framed many of the issues within the sphere of artistic production, certainly both Kirby and Lee saw themselves in the business of selling comics. Elsewhere, Althusser helpfully casts light how problems might arise undetected by two men who had not only served in the military as a system of American ideology, but had become a part of the means of production for that ideology.

Ideologies are perceived-accepted–suffered cultural objects, which work fundamentally on men through a process they do not understand. What men express in their ideologies is not their true relation to their conditions of existence, but how they react to their conditions of existence; which presupposes a real relationship and an imaginary relationship.

Kirby perhaps presupposed himself a participant in a post WW2 America that had fought and earned the right to play fair. He imagined that a handshake would suffice as he saw himself a part of an institution that in reality would later belittle his role. Lee working in a family business, saw himself as management rather than worker and this self-elevation transferred to how he interpreted his creative relationship, which gave more import to words, as though they signified his class and its rights and its sanction.

In comics, men of words hire men of images. The historical system of patronage is codified by capitalism and is supported by critics who use words and instinctively “read” comic text as though it is merely supported by images that stand in for verbal metaphors. In the arena of commercial art, class ties to and debases visual literacy and text reigns supreme. (Comics are annexed from Art History, which might disrupt labor relations by elevating the artist in relation to the writer. This would threaten an instiutionalized ideology in which the journeyman artist is kept in his imaginary place.)

Terry Eagleton expresses another intersecting perspective that helps illuminate how the comics industry positioned itself in a self-perpetuating Western capitalist society:

‘Mass’ culture is not the inevitable product of ‘industrial’ society, but the offspring of a particular form of industrialism which organizes production for profit rather than for use, which concerns itself with what will sell rather than with what is valuable.

Kirby and Lee became engaged in a culture that conflated their cultural output with their commercial product. Their value as artists was secondary to their commercial potential. This is a trap that concerns all work in the arts and in scholarly fields as the pressure to deliver a “product” can easily obscure the “value” of one’s work. Kirby and Lee worked within let us say, “popular” culture and there were undoubtedly certain sacrifices to deadlines. However it would be difficult to imagine that either worked deliberately below his potential “in the definite relations of production” of their industry and society.

Longinus on Where Words Count, Stan Lee as a Prince of Rhetoric.

I had intended with the second in my series about the sublime and comics to return to the (fragmented) work of Longinus to help elucidate the relationship between Kirby and Lee. Longinus, a Greek teacher of rhetoric or a literary critic who lived in the 1st or 3rd century AD, wrote a treatise “On the Sublime,” which discusses language in relation to the production of the sublime. His observations, which are delivered in the form of a letter, in fact represent the underpinnings of a textbook of advice for the writer and probably speechgiver, on the creation of sublime text, though much of this latter advice is lost. His interest is in identifying and delineating the elements of writing that operates in the presence and construction of sublime language and pointing out the pitfalls that can derail the would-be rhetorician. He offers:

The Sublime leads the listeners not to persuasion, but to ecstasy: for what is wonderful always goes together with a sense of dismay, and prevails over what is only convincing or delightful, since persuasion, as a rule, is within everyone’s grasp: whereas, the Sublime, giving to speech an invincible power and [an invincible] strength, rises above every listener.

Longinus further says the sublime rhetoric of the speech-writer resides in “great thoughts, strong emotions, certain figures of thought and speech, noble diction, and dignified word arrangement,” which might also begin to expose possibilities in the interactions between words and ideas in comics. All of these elements one would hope to discover in the pages of a heroic narrative of the superhero comics, but might be particularly explicit in a production such as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s “Thor.”

When I presented the Kirby /Lee “Thor” page in my previous discussion of the sublime, I did not address how the notes in the outside borders written in Jack Kirby’s hand might inform the final text/speech in the finished word balloons written by Stan Lee. Here on face value, it appears as though the initial “ideas” and their visual rendition come from Kirby, but are reconfigured by Lee. Lee’s diction transforms Kirby’s side notations with amplified language and words that are of a suitable weight to match the visual narrative and content. This is achieved as he uses repetition and emphasis to create a heightened language that inspires and moves the reader. Thor and his cohorts never articulate outside of their quasi-archaic parlance.

For the reader, the strange tone and historicity add weight to the narrative. This language is that of great men doing great things. Most of us as youth ( although I except that somewhere there are probably religious groups who still use the “thee” and “thou” of second person singular ) only experience this type of highly wrought diction in the formal realm of “literature,” as in Will Shakespeare and John Donne, or in the script of the Bible. Lee’s écriture, the grammar of which delightfully and frequently deviates from recorded “English” & its real variants is meant to be understood as a heroic language and it is Lee’s generosity of style that allows the reader to formulate this language internally in his or her own linguistic terms. In other words, one is able to participate imaginatively in the construction of the characters’ syntax and diction. Further, the reader is able to engage and even deploy the system of language, to think without fear of error within the construct of Lee’s linguistics. The effect would be comical beyond its acceptable level of dramatic kitsch if the entire comic were to be spoken in Kirby’s New York slang circa the Bowery Boys. As the language is transformed by Lee it is able to support its authority within the ideological tenor of received historicity.

All the same can one say that Lee is dangerously close to the ridiculous, but that as children this giant nuance escapes us? Perhaps his flexible English reinforces an independent American ideology and the desire to escape from the vestiges of British ligusitic tyranny, or to become a “noble” American writer.










In the border notes in Kirby’s recognizable hand, “Thor says – I’ve heard tales of it – well—let em come,” written clearly in the American mid-century vernacular. This is transformed by the rhetorical skills of Lee who gives: “The Enchanter from the mystic realm of Ringssrjord!…It has long been prophesied that they would one day strike at the very core of Life itself where Asgard doth hold reign!” Issues of class manifest themselves in the “superior,” declarative language of the Gods. The vernacular of Kirby’s voice must be corrected to reflect that of the upper class heroes.

Both men recognize their own class in relation to the content. Kirby, who remained proud of his heritage as the son of a Lower East Side immigrant, does not write his text in “Thor-speak” but uses his working class action voice to express his ideas. This forces questions about how class operated between the men. Implicitly, art is produced in a strangely abased position in the social hierarchy of production. Art appears to be the tool of the intuitive, untamed mind, while writing evidences intellectual precision and authority. Logocentrism is bound to class structures and it seems Thor-speak claims the authority of the noble class and that its writer represents a conduit to this class with its values of duty and honor. Remember as Longinus says: “The great speech maker speaks great thoughts.”

In his essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Althusser suggests capitalist society reproduces the relations of production in such a way that this reproduction and the relations derived from it are obscured. Capitalist exploitation hides its presence from direct sight, but the ideology of capitalism, which is imaginary, interpellates us in such a way that we recognize our place in that ideology and accept the rightness of it. This occurs through a series of erroneous recognitions and assumptions that follow a fallacious logic… It must be so because it must be so, right is right and so forth. Althusser’s explanation of this process runs: Ideology calls out to (or hails, interpellates) individuals. A (metaphorical) illustration of this: Ideology says, “hey, Joe” and Joe responds, “Yes?” In doing this, Joe recognizes himself via ideology, situates himself in the position it tells him he is in. Since he knows he is, in fact, Joe, just like Ideology says he is, ideology seems natural and obvious, not ideological.

Kirby scripts Stan Lee’s dialogue as Funky Flashman with Scott Free in Mister Miracle 5, November 1971.

In the panels above, Funky Flashman tries to manage Scott Free, who suggests that they collaborate on a mutual enterprise. Flashman internalizes and operates within the ideological system, even as he toys with transgressing boundaries which he would like to assault through language. Further, he uses words as a device of control, he does not recognize his own position within the ideology. Flashman describes how his words elicit emotion and comprehends this advantage as one of power. He ironically recognizes himself as a subject and self-imposes through pleasure and duty his own imaginary inherited desire to work. “Oh I feel it the terrible, self-fulfilling call to work!! The song in my blood that says “Work Funky!!! Work and be productive!”

Kirby as the writer of this text, lampoons the writer, a thinly-veiled depiction of Lee, and frames Flashman as an effete, decadent. But his mockery does not release either from the cycle of production. Althusser states that free will is essential for this continual state of self-delusion (false consciousness) to persist. The subject must feel that he is free to act as he chooses, but his self recognition within the social structure ensures that he will continue to be productive and remain within an ideology that he believes he has created and sanctioned. As we read comics we are identifying ourselves as within an ideology. Whether as adult readers we see comics as escapist “lower” literature, a developing underserved art form, or we read them as kids and adults who internalize their ideological positions, we recognize a cultural production when we look at and read a comic and as such we have agreed to become part of the Ideological State Apparatus.

Althusser suggest that capitalism is held in place by Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA), the Law and State. As in Marx, Althusser posits that a superstructure of political and legal repressive systems stands on an economic infrastructure with repressive state edifices (RSA) supported in turn by Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs). ISAs are found in the educational system, the religious system, the family, the cultural systems of literature, the arts, sports. While the RSA controls by force, the ISA functions through promises and seduction. Althusser suggests that education is the dominant ISA, because school teaches “know-how” wrapped in the ideology of the ruling class which enbles the subject to adhere to their role in class society. Althusser further notes that children are given into the hands of institutions of education to be indoctrinated for years, from pre-k -til…well some of us never leave.

Without making this a full blown discussion of Althusser, one can draw from his position the idea that a subject freely submits to subjugation through ISAs. The Flashman and Scott Free passage points to the irony of the belief in “work” creative or otherwise, yet simultaneously recognizes the value of work as inherently worthy. Scott Free promotes a silent acceptance of the workingman’s role, while the entitled Flashman proclaims about the difficulties of creative work.

As readers of this passage we willingly accept the need to fulfill our role as workers, even as we privilege class and even as we admire the nobility of the work ethic. Intriguingly, as readers we willingly identify with Scott Free, the self-recognized “actual” worker and accept an appellation that sets us within the mythologization of honorable worker. The comic book here is an ISA, by which we willingly reinforce statifications of class and labor, which directly maps on to how we prioritize text over image. The debate that surrounds Kirby and Lee slips past any consideraton of equality of medium into issues of class and artistic stratifications.

Colonel Corkin’s Sublime Call to Capitalism.

Elsewhere the rhetorical power of comics literally moves from the page into the Congress as the wartime Terry and the Pirates’ Colonel Corkin speaks to his young charge a speech of such sublimity that it moves the reader who cannot help but respond to the noble sentiments expressed. This at least is the opinion of the Hon. Carl Hinshaw of California, who addressed the House of Representatives on Monday. October 18, 1943. Here the comic is celebrated as a vehicle of ideological repression. Hinshaw s remarks follow thus:

Mr. Speaker, I have long been addicted to scanning the so called comic strips that appear in our daily and Sunday papers. I have followed the careers of the characters, such as Uncle Walt and Skeezix, Little Orphan Annie, Sgt. Stony Craig, and others for many, many years. Among these characters the most interesting and exciting of them all are Terry and Flip Corkin. On yesterday, Sunday, October 17, Milton Caniff, the artist, presented one of the finest and most noble of sentiments in the lecture which he caused Col. Flip Corkin to deliver to the newly commissioned young flyer, Terry. It is deserving of immortality and in order that it shall not be lost completely, I present it wishing only that the splendid cartoons in color might also be reprinted here. The dialog follows:

Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates moves from ISA to RSA.

“On April 3, 1989, on the first anniversary of Caniff’s death, the Air Force officially discharged Steve Canyon from the service and presented his United States Air Force discharge certificate, service record, flight record, personnel file, and this shadowbox featuring Canyon’s service medals to the Caniff Collection at The Ohio State University.”

Originally, before the Kirby /Marvel result, I had intended to offer this passage about “Terry and the Pirates” as evidence of the power of the sublime as a political tool and to discuss the slippery parameters of cultural institutions and government bodies. I wanted to interrogate how diction in comics elevates or otherwise shapes response and meaning. In the end, the colonization of the Colonel Corkin speech by a government representative suggests that elevated diction is recouped by the ruling class, even in the ambigous guise of applause. Rhetoric, especially sublime rhetoric is a commodity like any other; it is a currency in the capital of the state and its many means of self-reproduction. For the moment, the comic image is undergoing the same recoupment as its rhetorical counterpart. Its value and its final place in American ideology will continue to be down played until its full financial worth can be ascertained. The constantly evolving new medium of technology and the fiscal world of “not as yet ripe for deals to be sealed” offers a climate of uncertainty for those who would capitalize the image.

Kirby ‘s work cannot be valued: the market is not ready.


Getting Over the Hump: Sexing the Sublime.

The sublime is slippery. Theorists of the sublime all agree at least on the “wow” of it, but can never decide where it resides, let alone come to agreement on the “what” of it. Jack Kirby for example offers plenty of “wow,” but at times as in Captain Victory’s “Fighting Foetus” there is confusion over the “what” of it. Moebius, likewise, later discussed here, gives “wow,” but opens doors for inquiry into the “what” of his work, as narratives such as The Incal bring one into proximity with transcendent images. In the following series, I propose to look into the sublime. No, I will not be climbing any mountains, visiting an ashram, or performing Cartesian gymnastics, but I will be examining the many theories of the sublime and looking at a variety of comics where I hope to find the WOW of it all. Moreover, I will peer into the theoretical abyss between images and words to seek answers to some of the questions that arise between the elder theorizations of the sublime and the most recent.

The Sublime, writ large, is frequently compared with the Beautiful, whose sound effect might be OOOh. More recently, since the post-modern secularization of the sublime, scholars like Caroline Walker Bynum attempt to slide Wonder into the mix so that the AAAh of the stained glass window and medieval religiosity can surreptitiously and seductively make an aesthetic entrance to recall the forgotten awe of the Gothic, which rightly belongs to the sublime. Nor can one forget that the “ridiculous” is often brought into proximity with the sublime as if it were obviously at the other end of an aesthetic spectrum. Since I cannot attribute a patently obvious sound effect invoked by “ridiculous,” it probably means that it deserves additional attention. Especially because it is self-evident that the ridiculous can be found in comics, though unannounced by any “Blargh” or the like.

But before we go further into the WOW, OOOh and AAAh of aesthetics, allow me to give the 50 floor elevator definition of the sublime and its problems.

For the early Western aestheticians the sublime was that which produced fear, awe and pleasure, in roughly that order. Concepts of the sublime appear in the first century academic treatises of Dionysus Longinus, who thinks about its oratory uses and writes how to create a sublime response in the hearer through rhetorical ravishment or even aural rape. His sublime finds expression in sights of grandeur, heroic deeds and the uncontainable idea of the infinite. Longinus believes that power is the essence of the sublime style, as it literally moves or transports its hearers, and he offers among many examples a rare reference to the Hebrew scriptures, Genesis 1:3, “And God said, Let there be light; and there was light.” Word and the power of the word are unified. Along the way in the seventeenth century, Thomas Burnet and Despereaux Boileau rediscover him and write about the sublime in apocalyptic terms of divine power and grandeur. The rationalists of the Enlightenment reframe the discourse to help theorize and classify the various categories of aesthetics (how they would have loved Chris Ware).

For the eighteenth century theorists, the sublime is of interest as a parallel to beauty, in that it gives pleasure, but arises out of the appreciation of the fearful forms of nature. After visits to the Alps, John Dennis and Joseph Addison talk about the way the terror of nature becomes agreeable. The vastness of awe-inspiring vistas of mountains connects emphatically to the experience and synthesis of ideas as to what constitutes the sublime. Addison comprehends the sublime as a primarily visual affect and not one of language. It is seen “out there.” It is objects that possess the qualities of the sublime; vastness and unimaginable scale, and not the man who merely responds to the stimuli. Inspired by their start, Edmund Burke notes the conflicting emotions of fear and attraction, and of the resultant pain taking a pleasurable form before the awe of the mountains. A ground shift occurs when Edmund Burke brings the sublime into the body through the eye. For him when terror is mitigated by distance, the human mind intervenes to supply language to what is seen and one is able to articulate the grandeur of nature, for example. He realized that the experience was an epiphany-of-self that could be transmitted through language and rhetoric and that it allowed for the expression of individuality in the personal experience of the sublime. However, his idea that the sublime was somehow a tension resulting from eye strain left him open to criticism, while his empirical approach held its ground.

When Immanuel Kant approaches the topic in the “Critique of Judgment,” his ordered mind delineates two forms of the sublime, the mathematical and the dynamical. In Kant’s sublime the unbounded and the limitless overwhelm the senses to such a degree that one is unable to grasp the scope of the experience. The human form is used as a measure against the scale of the object before it and when the imagination is blocked and at its limit, it starts to stall. Gilles Deleuze later identifies this moment as the “bend.” The mind is unable to find its ground and in the face of the unbounded or limitless, it then checks itself and the supersensible rallies to supply language that finally allows for pleasure to take place in the body, as one is now able to integrate the experience. Here, one must recall that the sublime does not happen outside of the individual; it is not in the external world. It occurs in the mind of the person for whom a set of stimuli are made apparent and which are unbounded in their scope so that they are at first impossible to grasp. Kant sees the sublime as a struggle as between the evidence of the senses, or the empirical domain as against reason and the supersensible mind. More significantly, the sublime is no longer “out there” in the grandeur of external creation. Now, it is internal as man’s mental mastery of his fears and his recognition of self in relation to the unbounded sublime introduce ideas of will and autonomy into the equation. For Kant, beauty has boundaries and form, while the sublime is formless and unbounded. Another of Kant’s criteria in the sublime experience is of a far less esoteric nature: one can only experience the sublime from a physically safe position.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe follows on this path into the unbounded poetic mists of the transcendent imagination, as Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling stages a tragic sublime of dialectic problems as a catharsis for his audience. Schelling influences Samuel Coleridge, who in turn influences the British corpus of poets. Coleridge’s partner William Wordsworth manages to think through his own spectacular version of the sublime as he concludes that the sublime is within his imagination and memory and not up the mountain at the Simplon Pass or on Mount Snowden. Coleridge, a sublimist extraordinaire, in addition to theorizing a symbolic sublime, nails down an arguably loose Kantian point in the last half of this commentary:

I meet, I find the Beautiful-but I give, contribute, or rather attribute the Sublime. No object of Sense is sublime in itself: but only so far as I make it a symbol of some Idea. The circle is a beautiful figure in itself; it becomes sublime, when I contemplate eternity under that figure. The Beautiful is the perfection of, the Sublime the suspension, of comparing Power. Nothing not shapely …can be called beautiful: nothing that has a shape can be called Sublime except by metaphor.

(Coleridge 1995:597)

Excited sidebar: we can look forward to thinking about panel borders through both the Kantian and Coleridgean ideas of definition and metaphors and all of this in terms of the bounded and unbounded.

Rushing forward to point to the modernist and post-modern arena of the sublime, one finds Derrida’s quasi-transcendental concepts of divided order and chaos, Lyotard’s notion of the sublime as an instant that denies the mundanities of time and sensibility, and Barnett Newman’s spatial interrogation of the divine found in the illimitless meditation of the zip.

The end for now is with Peter de Bolla, Jacques Lacan (the thing), and Slavoj Žižek. De Bolla works with language, drawing from Foucault and Derrida to suggest that everything is the “text.” For him, ideas of the impossible and possible and the extension of the infinite become immanent in thought, rather than transcendent as the Sublime is relieved of its Judeo–Christian concepts of the divine. Žižek is interested in the “lack” discovered as the desire for the sublime creates an ironic vacancy, as the search for “things” beyond mortal control slap us in the face and alert us to our ridiculousness.

In short, there is an unbounded divergence of ideas that proliferate like the mathematical sublime, which attempt to deal with the anxieties of our world both physical and metaphysical through a portal of aesthetics.

The same might be said of comics. Although at times they border on a Žižekian ridiculous as the superheroes, and yes, Superman heads this group, reach beyond our limits into other dimensions, while the question is always what does it mean to be human? Clearly, comics engage the question of what constitutes humanity directly and indirectly. Often, super abilities and zoomorphic transmutations stretch the notion of human to sublime limits.

The Problem of the Gendered Sublime.

Humanity comprises of numerous genders, I hazard there are some yet unidentified. But the Beautiful typically is gendered as feminine, while the male is housed in the unbounded terror and awe of the Sublime. Only when women become unruly, or become the mythological “hag” is the (deformed) female forced into a sublime figuration. The attribution of feminine characteristics as an aesthetic quality comes through the heritage of Greek aestheticians, who conflate beauty with truth. Together, these attributes are represented in the forms of symmetry, proportion, and harmony. Later, for Burke, these perfections of balance become unimportant. According to him, the qualities that comprise beauty include lightness, mildness, clearness, smoothness, gracefulness and gradual variation, and beautiful objects may be delicate and small. Burke writing at the age of nineteen concludes:

THE passion which belongs to generation, merely as such, is lust only; this is evident in brutes, whose passions are more unmixed, and which pursue their purposes more directly than ours. The only distinction they observe with regard to their mates, is that of sex. It is true, that they stick severally to their own species in preference to all others…The object therefore of this mixed passion which we call love, is the beauty of the sex. Men are carried to the sex in general, as it is the sex, and by the common law of nature; but they are attached to particulars by personal beauty. I call beauty a social quality; for where women and men, and not only they, but when other animals give us a sense of joy and pleasure in beholding them, (and there are many that do so) they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and affection towards their persons; we like to have them near us, and we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them, unless we should have strong reasons to the contrary. But to what end, in many cases, this was designed, I am unable to discover; for I see no greater reason for a connection . Sect. X: Of Beauty.

Kant and Burke both “relegate” the beautiful to a feminine position, which until recently remained unchallenged. The affect of beauty is less powerful than that of the sublime in this understanding. Kant’s rational runs thus:

Finer feeling, which we now wish to consider, is chiefly of two kinds: the feeling of the sublime and that of the beautiful. The stirring of each is pleasant, but in different ways. The sight of a mountain whose snow-covered peak rises above the clouds, the description of a raging storm, or Milton’s portrayal of the infernal kingdom, arouse enjoyment but with horror; on the other hand, the sight of flower-strewn meadows, valleys with winding brooks and covered with grazing flocks, the description of Elysium, or Homer’s portrayal of the girdle of Venus, also occasion a pleasant sensation but one that is joyous and smiling. In order that the former impression could occur to us in due strength, we must have a feeling of the sublime, and, in order to enjoy the latter well, a feeling of the beautiful. Tall oaks and lonely shadows in a sacred grove are sublime; flower beds, low hedges and trees trimmed in hedges are beautiful. Night is sublime, day is beautiful; the sea is sublime, the land is beautiful; man is sublime, woman is beautiful; …The sublime moves, the beautiful charms. The mien of a man who is undergoing the full feeling of the sublime is earnest, sometimes rigid and astonished. On the other hand the lively sensation of the beautiful proclaims itself through shining cheerfulness in the eyes, through smiling features, and often through audible mirth… Deep loneliness is sublime, but in a way that stirs terror. Hence great far-reaching solitudes, like the colossal Komul Desert in Tartary, have always given us occasion for peopling them with fearsome spirits, goblins, and ghouls. (46-7).

Even as women claim their aesthetic autonomy, the gendering of space, objects and even mood seem to escape any strenuous reappraisal.

Moebius, whose body of work has at its heart the question of the human condition, works with gendered landscapes to locate the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, understood respectively as literatures of order and chaos, which almost counterintuitively represent Beauty and Harmony as female forms, while the male is the infinite, unbounded Sublime (I set aside “order” as in “law and” for the moment). In “Dust,” a recent book of the “Lieutenant Blueberry” series, which is largely situated in a masculine narrative of the Old West, Moebius sites a picnic in a bucolic landscape where women are present.

In the image women sit with men shortly after a funeral and discuss issues of mortality. The setting ties to the transformative presence of the female in the archetypically male Wild West. The civilizing presence of the female is signaled by the taming of nature as a gently flowing river points to a path forward into a beautiful future. It is a progressive vision as the female (Beautiful) figures interact with the male (Sublime) cowboys to modify the wild landscape. One might say that the image of the picnic as an institution is as American as apple pie and there are thousands of comics, strips and one-liners on the topic to bear this out. Their existence might lead one to conclude that the beautiful landscape is inherent in the social experience of the picnic and that there is no other suitable locale. However, the reason the picnic in the feminized landscape draws so many humorous and romantic attacks, is precisely because the picnic is a site of erotic anxiety, with fears of regulation and constraint supported by the gendered landscape. The picnic occurs in a female terrain with the aesthetic of beauty as its marker. The transformation of the sublime through the aegis of beauty represents an emasculation of sorts as the wild and free domain is brought into abeyance by the tame and ordered.

Compare this image with the early nineteenth century painting The Cornfield by John Constable and one sees a similarly controlled vision of nature.

Although for Constable the image points to the anxiety of change and of nature threatened by progress. The narrative of the picture finds its currency in the political tensions between the land open and free, and the land bounded and restricted with enclosures. Moebius with his version of a late nineteenth century American picnic image mirrors similar anxieties. He references stresses between town and country where cattlemen distrust the town’s people and the backdrop to the period is the ongoing sheep and cattle land usage debate. What is less evident is the strange connection between domesticated land usage and the female as a constraining figure.

In contrast, in “The Ballade” in Arzach and Other Fantasy Stories, when the male (human) presence enters the female domain, Moebius sets as a backdrop a strong mountainous ridge behind an unbounded field of yellow savannah grasses. The huge scale of the space is indicated by the unending horizontal plane.

In the final image of the sequence, the dead female faun’s presence is replaced by a male presence made visible and supported in the sublime landscape. We never see the soldiers up close, but Moebius uses a gendered landscape to support a political juxtaposing of male and female energies. He insinuates the male in the terror of the advance. We as readers are able to experience a Kantian sublimity, since we are safely able to observe the scene from outside of the images. As the tanks roll forward having killed the female faun, the (Pooh) boy and his animal, pleasure taken in nature and poetry is obliterated by military progress and this sublime experience additionally codifies our assumptions of gender.

The text in the narrative only gives that the advancing troupes are human; one never sees or hears their gender.

In the image of the picnic, the unseen forces of capitalism assume a bourgeois guise. This is not Manet’s unrepentant le dejeuner sur l’herbe, but the domestication of an aesthetic that ties the female to false consciousness and consumerism. My point here is not to linger over these instances, but to alert the reader to the unspoken gendering manifest in aesthetic choices brought forward in any examination of image or text through the lens of the sublime.

Indeed, one might find this tension of constraint and repression repeated as a response to panel borders and the contained image in many comics. It can appear in direct representation, as Seymour in Sammy Harkham’s Crickets #3 escapes from the domestic space only to find himself societally constrained by the landscape of backyard walls or one finds the imagination of Jack Kirby fighting the repressive impulse of the panel border as his images dissolve and reform in unbounded expression.

In this series of images, the viewer is invited to peer into boundless, hazy depth that frees him from the two-dimension surface and allows him to enter into the deep space of Kirby’s imaginary realms. The Enchanter’s face emerges, or coalesces from a formless space beyond the security of the formal space of the interior, outside the window, only to inexplicably enter the domestic space. While the reader enjoys the pleasure of the sublime, Thor responds by hurling his hammer into the abyss, which is also out of the panel, though literally abutting the panel border, which suggests that Thor is not as functional in this oddly informal domestic space.

As I said earlier, to operate within the confines of two genders seems to me to be intellectually stifling and erroneous, but for the moment I will remain within this rather binary opposition. Though Kirby messes this up as he births Paranex the Fighting Foetus, a story which causes many to wonder (not AAAH wonder) about Kirby’s sanity at the time of its creation. To me it is an inspired act, in which we see the sublime alternately gendered as female as a maternal source, or wait…was that more of a classical gesture, where the Gods spring fully formed from their father? All of this offers fertile grounds (or absence of them) from which to think about the pressing issues of Jack Kirby’s works of sublimity and to test his sanity or transcendence. In a sense it points to the central thesis here—the Sublime is a useful tool to interrogate a medium that engages multiple texts with multiple images in numerous panels, in unlimited configurations, in spreads, pin-ups and grid pages.

The compound image page in Chris Ware’s “The Smartest Kid on Earth,” also speaks to the anxiety of formal space in relation to gender. He multiplies the possible forms and panels and unifies the individual in domestic space as the proliferating dialectic of the smallest panels alerts the reader to the seemingly boundless possibilities for repression in relations between men and women.

Ware perhaps gives us a version of Frederic Jameson’s postmodern sublime:

…a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely the whole world system of present-day multinational capitalism…in terms of that enormous and threatening, yet only dimly perceivable, other reality of economic and social institutions” (79, 80 Jameson cited in Redfield).

In the use of the window as a meta-panel within a panel, Ware, like Kirby, plays with the unbounded and bounded and raises interesting points about space implicated in gender. Ware energizes the problems of memory in respect to gender relations as the male protagonist lingers in his room, unwilling to engage the world. Ware’s ongoing resistance to the limitation of the panel forces an mathematical sublime of a Kantian order.

While Sammy Harkham offers us an inescapable domestic narrative of the female as repressive force, both for himself and his partner, Kirby gives us a sublime which invades the domestic space. In our consideration of the landscape as gendered and with respect to the anxieties of the contained as emblematic of authority, Kirby’s narrative rebels against the domestic space to destroy and overpower its constraints. For Moebius, the use of organic panel borders instead of the ruled lines of his work as Jean Giraud raises questions about gendered spaces that confront Kant’s idea of form as an attribute of beauty and the potential endlessness of panels without corners. I’ll leave this point for Coleridgean meditation and to contemplate what other genders and sexualities we might find in the pages of comic books.

Further, just as for marginalized or constrained viewers, an issue of not seeing oneself reflected in characters poses problems, the representation of an environment that either excludes or represses their presence is equally troubling. The problems of self-recognition in a gendered landscape are demonstrated intuitively by transgendered Vaughn Bodé in his book “Erotica Vol. 1.” Bodé negotiates his sense of ill-ease in the a world of gender-assigned geography though the aegis of his sexually and violently driven characters. In Bodé’s world, lizard men constantly strive to master unfriendly sublime, though softened landscapes. They are either accompanied by, or riding females who precisely meet the round and smooth Burkean criteria of beauty, while they confront the challenges of the alien landscape. The backgrounds are soft, the words are hard. The lizard and the female are almost invariably twinned in conflicts of desire and denial.

Elsewhere, a theme in Bodé’s work is to make the female form stand in for the landscape and this points to his personal dichotomy with respect to self and his attempts to establish parameters of gender, either within himself or in the external world.

For Bodé, despite a constant verbiage of erotic innuendo and stated desire, the images remain in a constant state of tension in an unyielding landscape of denial. One might infer from these images that the transgendered individual is not accommodated in the masculine sublime or the female realm of beauty. If we continue to gender landscapes, given that this gendering carries offensive political implications, then why not inclusive Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender landscapes? Landlocked, out at sea, up a mountain, whichever it is, we are historically caught up in this western system of aesthetic values and its signs. As I type this, round and smooth in my chair, I am not Kantian smiling and bright, however I will share an ironic laugh at the ridiculous place where we find ourselves, and reflect upon the sublimity of the Fighting Foetus.


Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry.Oxford, New York: Oxford Press, 1998.

Boileau-Despréaux, Nicolas. Oeuvres de Boileau-Despréaux, d’après l’édition de 1729. Coulommiers: Paul Brodard, 1905.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgment. Trans. J. H. Bernard. New York: Prometheus Books, 2000.

Kristeva, Julia. “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection”. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.

Longinus, Dionysus. “On Sublimity.” Classical Literary Criticism,‘. Eds, D.A. Russell & M. Winterbottom. Oxford, New York: Oxford Press, 1989.

Newman, Barnett. “The Sublime Is Now.” Tiger’s Eye 1.6 (1948): 51-3.

Redfield, Marc W. “Pynchon’s Postmodern Sublime.” PMLA, Vol. 104, 2. March: 1989. p. 152. Print

Shaw, Philip. The Sublime. London & New York: Routledge, 2006.

Smith, Daniel W. “Excerpt.” Francis Bacon The Logic of Sensation. Trans and with an introduction by Daniel W. Smith, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. 1-12.

Walker Bynum, Caroline. “Presidential Address,Wonder.” American Historical Review February. 1997: 1-26.Print.

Wordsworth, William. The Prelude [1799-1805, as printed in The Complete Poetical Works. London: Macmillan and Co., 1888]. Bartleby. July 1999. Sept 2003.

Thor pencils courtesy of Rand Hoppe, Jack Kirby Museum.

Aquatic Shrouds, Erasures, Bill Viola and Limits in Video.

The traffic moved swiftly on the West Side Highway past the busy shipping lanes of the Hudson River on a bright day in November 2009. The memory of commerce and trade once dependent on the port traffic, hangs on in the refurbished warehouses and lofts, which now house the Chelsea Galleries and remind one of New York’s vital history. The Bill Viola exhibition “Bodies of Light” on display at the James Cohan Gallery in the heart of the Chelsea gallery district included a collection of works from different periods during the previous eight years. I went to the exhibition on a recommendation from a professor friend, charged to evaluate the exhibition in the light of the critical acclaim that Viola enjoys. Much of what is written about his work is positive and Viola is often interviewed with the caveat that his work is assumed to be worthy of his postscriptive comments. The wide range of works presented offered an opportunity to view his recent corpus and perhaps gather insights about the reasons for Viola’s favorable notices from the art world, the public and even religious intuitions. I entered the gallery unfamiliar with his work, but not unfamiliar with the realm of the Chelsea galleries, or so I thought. I offer here my thoughts and experiences as I recorded them subsequent to that first visit when I stepped into the gallery from the cold brightness of a winter day.

Continue reading Aquatic Shrouds, Erasures, Bill Viola and Limits in Video.

An Interview with me and James Romberger by Grace Bello at Publishers Weekly about upcoming rerelease of 7 Miles A Second

Romberger & Van Cook by Romberger Art / Color Van CookThis article came out today in Publishers Weekly.  It will appear in both the hard copy and the online copy.
It discusses the process and publication of the re-release of Seven Miles a Second, a collaborative effort to realize David Wojnarowicz’ graphic memoir. As the article points out, much time has passed since we began this work. It is great to see “Seven Miles a Second” come out in the way that it was intended. For that we thank the great team at Fantagraphics who let us have it our way.

 Remembering David : A Graphic Tribute: James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook

New photos for Publishers Weekly Interview.

Took some pictures with James Romberger today for an interview with Publishers Weekly.  So glad to be bring Seven Miles a Second back into the public view. With James Romberger and David Wojnarowicz’s work  to promote, (and my color) it’s always something to be excited about.  The new version looks great. It is finally done as conceived, the scale, color and printing are all just right. I believe the story remains relevant and important. It is coming out on the Fantagraphics Imprint and they have been great about letting us have things the way we wanted them to look.

Artist – Writer