Monday, August 9, 2010

A Sort of Autobiography: Cool comics ideas still exist

Elsewhere: I reviewed Kathryn and Stuart Immonen's Moving Pictures over at IndiePulp; it's quite good (the book, that is).

A Sort of Autobiography
By Warren Craghead
Download it and make it yourself!

With the onset of digital comics, an infinite number of possible ways to use the medium has erupted, and even the weirdest experiments are now visible for any number of people to experience.  This is great for comics fans, who can now experience the sort of odd idea that creators might not have shared with the world otherwise.  Warren Craghead's A Sort of Autobiography is a fascinating example, using the tools provided by the site to create a series of three-dimensional comic strips, with each in a series of ten cubes representing a moment in his life, separated by decades.  Some of them seem to simply place an image on each side of the cube (with one side of each working as a "title page"), while others wrap images around the surface, and several working to make faces representing Craghead at that cube's age.  It's a neat way to use the medium, if you can call it that.

The first five cubes represent Craghead's life through 2010, starting with 0 years old in 1970 and progressing through the age of 40 at present.  The 1980 cube (10 years old) shows an image of his childish face, with word balloons showing a flurry of imaginative images: superheroes, monsters, etc.  Age 20 in 1990 is more jumbled, as if Craghead was still figuring himself out at that point (as most everyone is), mixing doodles, scrawls of paint, scribbles, and other mixed media; was he figuring out what sort of artist he wanted to be at this point?  2000 (Age 30) is much simpler, showing images that look like they came from various booklets; perhaps at this point, he was more focused on his work, if not necessarily complete.  The present cube, showing him at age 40 in 2010, is a flurry of tiny images, eyeballs moving back and forth all over the surface, driven by ever-present clocks, alternating between work and sleep imagery.  It's as though, at this point in his life, Craghead (the eye/"I"?) feels busy, entrenched in a life of unceasing activity.

And then, as the rest of the comic lurches into an uncertain future, things take an uncertain turn.  The 2020 cube (50 years old) is composed of computer-like imagery, all square, pixel-style lines, with text in operating system "windows" or drop-down menus.  The words "drone" and "smoke" seem prevalent; perhaps Craghead is worried that he will eventually fade away in an increasingly technological world.  The age 60 cube (2030) seems to follow that idea, making him appear as a block of wood with a face, with trash littered all around and faded signs tacked to the surface.  By this point, he seems to expect that he'll be forgotten and ignored.  The 2040 cube (age 70) moves even further, with its imagery taking on an abstract, impenetrable feel, letters that might or might not be words scattered around the diagrams that might be what's left of distorted images of Craghead's face, and age 80 in 2050 seems like an even rougher, more distorted version of the same.  And it all ends ag age 90 in 2060, with an urn resting in a field of blackness, a depressing ending to an increasingly uncertain existence (although, given that somebody cared to cremate and preserve the remains, there's still somebody who cares).

Does the whole thing work as a comic?  Sure, if you want to put the work into interpreting it, not to mention the assembly time, which can make for a fun little craft project.  Craghead seems to have approached the project as a challenge, and I think he succeeded, capturing the different stages of life and their attendant emotional subtext well, along with an uncertain, seemingly pessimistic view of the future, but one that reflects the very real possibility of old age that brings obsolescence and decay.  It ends up being a sweeping, fascinating portrait of a life, and given the talent Craghead shows in assembling it, it hopefully won't end anywhere nearly as negatively as he fears.