Abstract comics are what is described in the books introduction as:
"sequential art whose panels contain little to no representational imagery, or that tells no stories other than those resulting from the transformation and interaction of shapes across a comics page."Some of these works are unmistakeably comics, such as this excerpt from R. Crumb:
and James Kochalka's contribution:
And just so you don't think I'm basing my definition of comics solely on what can be interpreted as the "traditional" panel style here's an excerpt from Bill Shut, which I would also argue is a comic:
But what about this page from Patrick McDonnell:
or this one from Billy Mavreas:
Are these comics? Yes, I know that choosing one page from a group can be considered a little dubious-- especially when this 208 page book is taken as a whole-- but I specifically chose these pages because to me they illustrated most what I consider "un-comics-like" about some of the works.
Scott McCloud defines comics in his now classic Understanding Comics as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence intended to convey information and/or provide an aesthetic response in the viewer." Now, even if we expand McCloud's definition to include one-panel comics or those with implied sequence would these examples fit that definition? (Note: while it's true many of McCloud's assumptions on this subject require a bit of expansion I personally feel his basic definition here is correct, and suits this analysis well.) I'd say that many of the sequences aren't very deliberate, nor even implied; almost none of them convey any information; and as far as an aesthetic response-- ok, there's that, but couldn't this be said about a great painting? There doesn't seem to be any defining characteristic that makes some of this work "comics". There isn't anything wrong with abstract style in the medium; one might argue, though, that abstraction is the exact reason a definition such as McCloud's needs to be put into place.
I don't believe in suppressing artistic expression; art, in general, should adhere to its own rules. Abstraction, however, seems to reject any sort of standardization whatsoever, and while this is acceptable from a purely artistic standpoint one must remember that comics are also a literary medium. As Douglas Wolk says in Reading Comics, we're-- well, we're reading comics:
"That's the process: holding them in our hands, turning their pages, getting stories from them as we burrow from one end to the other."While Wolk admits to this being a slightly unfair comparison-comics are certainly less verbal than prose- he doesn't out-and-out dismiss it (nor should he; it's an important distinction.) So how abstract can the comics form really get?After all, when reading there needs to be a certain linear quality, something we can follow along with-- or else what are we interpreting?
This, of course, creates limitations. Many artists claim their work is art simply because they say it is; that art is subjective and its classification must be treated as such. Is this, then, an explanation that can be applied to comics, or is comics more like, say, cubism: a distinctly defined style within the limitless category of "art"? Is there an answer to the "is this comics" question, or is that not even the point?