|Force Field Fotocomix Vol. 01|
Seth Kushner, 2013
Photocomics are better known as fumetti for whatever reasons; odd in part because fumetti is what Italians call their normal, non photo comics. The format largely started out in the late 1970s, not as original comic productions with photographic illustrations, but by chopping up the images from movies and television shows and arranging them into a comic adaptation. Most of these were pretty bad, and the fad was short lived though there are still occasionally such low-rent comics made usually targeted at younger audiences. But published comics featuring original photography in place of art are more infrequent. Ten years ago Vertigo released two graphic novels photographed by Stephen John Phillips to absolutely no acclaim or impact on the market. Since then, outside of the wild west of the internet, there has been almost no instances of original fumetti released to mass audiences in the United States.
The question arises, why the dearth of fumetti? Is it economic considerations in the cost of production? Comics, after all, can be both the realm of the singular auteur as seen in independent comics, or the work of many hands as often seen in mainstream work. But no matter which way you cut it, longer-form narrative photocomics almost always would require many individuals to pull off, an amount of people and subsequent cost putting the work outside the realm of the auteur and into the hands of those with the resources to execute it. At the very least you need a cast, and the visuals begin to fall under the constraints of film or photography and you may also need costumes, makeup, location rights, post-production and so-on. But major publishers aren't exactly known for their willingness to take chances, and producing an expensive work in a largely untested format is largely outside their established purview. Perhaps there are a lack of creators even wanting to make the things... it's not like there is a legacy of photocomics as a touchstone for a generation of creatives. The things are a bit odd, a novelty in the best of situations, and those who are most likely to make comics are most likely to be culturally or aesthetically influenced by other comics, which are done in hundreds of different styles, all drawn or painted or designed in some fashion rarely involving the direct use of photographs.
Or maybe the medium of photographs in place of illustrations in comics just plain doesn't work.
|From "Hall of Just Us"|
Seth Kushner is an accomplished photographer who's work has appeared all over the place in print for nearly twenty years, and he's really quite good. After releasing his amazing book of photographs of cartoonists, Leaping Tall Buildings, he began working on CulturePop Photocomix, a work that combined photos of his subjects with material from his interviews with them into a kind of series of semi-narrative photo-essays, work he contends is "wholly unique." Maybe I'm being reductive, but these projects really just seem like captioned photograph sets. In any event, Kushner wanted to expand beyond non-fiction studies into a "full fictionalized graphic novel told through a dramatized photocomic," the attempts at which can be found in Force Field Fotocomix.
And as a package, Force Field Fotocomix is a bit of a mess. After a two short fumetti stories, there is a lengthy photo-essay fumetti thing by Kushner about his career and thought process leading up to the volume, followed by two more short pieces. The first story, "Hall of Just Us" by Kushner and Haspiel features various costumed types at a tarot card reader, who argue over the affections of said reader only to be shown up by a shirtless luchador (played by Haspiel). It's not very funny, though I think it's supposed to be. The second story, "Spiders Everywhere!!" is a dialogue-free comedy-horror pastiche by Kushner and Chris Miskiewicz where a woman wakes up to, well, spiders everywhere, and everyone freaking out to spiders everywhere. Fake plastic spiders everywhere. Both stories just seem like unpolished short films made on VHS by friends goofing around at home, things that simply do not appeal beyond those personally familiar with the cast and crew. I'd say these were a waste of time but it only took a minute ("a" as in quantifiably "one") to read.
The lack of professional polish or narrative quality in the two opening pieces is a turn-off, and doesn't even get into the weaknesses of fumetti, though those weaknesses are very much on display. The overacting of the subjects in "Hall of Just Us" and the cheapness of the props in "Spiders Everywhere" are immediately evident. Also noticeable, and I think this is one of fumetti's biggest problems, is the lettering. Lettering is an art all its own, and the lettering in "Hall of Just Us" is quite bad. Bad font first, but more importantly is the jarring way that the lettering and balloons interact with the visuals. There is simply no naturalistic way to get word balloons to mesh with photographs in the same way that it can with illustrations. The way lettering and balloons work are as illustrations of language, and the illustrations of the balloons never, in any instance I have ever seen anywhere, combine well with the reality of the photographs.
|One of the more illustrative pieces, from "The Perfect Woman"|
One might see the weaknesses of the stories having a deleterious effect on my view of fumetti as a medium, but, honestly, fumetti is too weak on its own to work. There's something unnatural about the nature of photographs in a narrative medium. Perhaps fumetti represents a unique corollary to the Uncanny Valley. When you move farther away from representation into literalism, it takes you out of the work. Fumetti, to me, just looks like actors posing with or without photoshop effects and those damned jarring word balloons.
|From A Softer World|
|Art, L to R, by Hickman, Maleev, and Harris|
|Kushner, by Kushner.|
Seth Kushner's Force Field Fotocomix Vol. 01 is in stores now.
For more on A Softer World, check out my review here.