Every last bit of human expression, be it verbal, written, or otherwise drawn or handcrafted, is a story in the telling. From what we say to what we do there is an inherent tale in every breath and every last stroke of the brush, pen, pencil, or other type of stylus, a symphony of words, sounds, and images that are meant to convey meaning regarding one subject or another in regards to what the creator of said work is attempting to convey. Whether or not that meaning is taken in the same context as it meant is always up for debate, but the mere act of creating such a tale is what makes the attempt worthy of the humanity that creates it. Comics are an expression of humanity that displays similarity through dissimilarity, a pleasant contradiction that explains the human condition.
Apart from other artistic expressions, comics offer a view into the artistic world of humanity that is very rarely real, and is steeped in fantasy of the type which lends itself to the imaginings and ideals that others feel the need to believe in. Comics offer a relief from the real world despite their very real world issues. Whether they are sequential art or juxtaposed pictorials in deliberate sequences they are first and foremost a reflection of human society and how humanity as a species chooses to live and to interact with one another. Whether reality or fantasy, comics depict a lifestyle and manner in which the artist feels that society should reflect and draw upon.
The very construct of the comic is that it is a linear and sequential, timed in accordance to how humanity, the artist first and foremost, believes life should progress. It has a start, a body, and an ending that may or may not be open-ended and offers more developmental growth and differentiation as it progresses along its proscribed storyline. From start to finish the average comic is a work of fantasy and idealism, but it is an art form in which the creator allows the reality around them to reflect in what is drawn and written, a stark depiction of their beliefs and ideals that is presented to the general public for review. Many would denounce the overall importance of the comic as it is generally seen as a fantasy, an idle notion to be set into the minds of people who make time for such luxuries as a comic can provide, but it is not just this that makes a comic important. Comics are not only a means by which to view the ideals and thoughts of others, but a reflection of the world as it is, could be, and has been in the past.
In my own definition, comics are a “perception of life by imagery”, meaning that no matter the fantastical nature of the comic, or even the true intent of the story, there are aspects throughout every piece of comic ever written in which the author/artist has embedded a piece of their own life experience as seen through their eyes. Every piece of art has a hint of the artist within it, from the Mona Lisa to the more contemporary art of the present day, and comics are yet another expression of an artist seeking to show others how they view the world, be it ideally, fantastically, or otherwise. There are reasons that villains, heroes, and others are depicted as they are, why one line is bolder than another, why eyes are so large in one comic and smaller in another, and why the story of each comic is so vastly different.
In the popular Manga series “Akira” the setting introduced to the reader is a futuristic world in which the scheming and overall corruption is reminiscent of the current world but to such a degree that revolution is imminent. This world hinges upon whoever can control the young boy and namesake of the series, Akira. So powerful is this young man that his very existence has been kept a secret as he has been held in cryogenic sleep for three decades prior to his release on account of how ultimately destructive he can be. When he awakens the race is on to see who can control him, and who can sway him to their cause.
This type of comic is quite common as it hinges upon the ethical qualities of humanity. How does one gauge good and evil? How do we know what our actions will ultimately cause or prevent? Akira is a good example of the fantastical comic in which the fate of the world, or humanity, or both, are decided by the morals and ethics by which we are raised and taught to believe in throughout our lives. The basis of this comic is humanity and all it entails, while it builds up and up using fantasy to create a world and situations in which both moral and ethical decisions are seen to affect the main character and the world around him. Despite the severity of the created world and all it entails, Akira is no different from the rest of humanity in that he must make the right choices not only for himself, but for the world in which he lives (Otomo, 1982). That is where humanity comes in, and where the artist and writer begin to show the level of morality by which they live versus what they desire.
Comics are an outlet as much as they are an indication of how the artist/writer feels. In this they differentiate from other works of art in that they are fluid, filled with ever-changing attitudes concerning humanity and its many issues. The comic strip is a medium by which humanity allows itself to vent the many frustrations through satire, drama, and a rich fantasy world in which the ramifications for mistakes and disasters are not quite as severe.
In the world of the comic when a character performs an immoral act, or is seen to change in ways that are not favorable to others, there is no true downfall to come, only another angle to the story that the writer/artist can use in order to guide the comic in another direction. While it shows humanity at its best and worst according to belief and desire, the comic is also a tale, an imaginative manner in which to tell a tale that can go an infinite number of ways, exceeding expectation or undermining it as the writer/author sees fit. What happens in a comic is not always what the reader expects, and that too is the process of humanity, the unpredictability of our nature put to pen and paper.
This is shown in the comic “Persepolis”, the story of Marjane Satrapi. The graphic novel is an autobiography of Satrapi’s life growing up and is a rather horrific rendition of a life spent away from home, persecuted at times, and made to feel uncomfortable and even out of sorts at times (Satrapi, 2000). Though it is a look into a life that many could not hope to relate to, Persepolis is still in its own way a rendition of a tale that has been put to a medium that might be more palatable to most, as it omits some of the worst moments that might have otherwise happened in this woman’s life. It is a means of venting, of showing her readers the life she has lived, and in doing so follows suit with the description mentioned earlier in this essay. The human condition and all it entails is highlighted to the extreme in Persepolis, and in doing so Satrapi has displayed a life that otherwise might have been too horrific for some to witness. As a graphic novel, which is still a comic by another name, Persepolis is an ideal display of humanity and many of its quirks.
While many would see the comic as satirical, vapid, and even low art, it is in a sense the most accurate art form left, as it combines not only the depiction of the human condition, but also the speech through which humanity conveys understanding between its many cultures.
Otomo, Katsuhiro. Akira. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1982. Print.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.