Someone needs to Digg or Technocrati or whatever this. I'll go 'round up the gang at Metachat.

Storytellers try to reach into the imaginations of their listeners/readers and create basically-visual things with basically-verbal stimuli.

Comic-book artists try to reach into the imaginations of their listeners/readers and show the L/R what the artists are creating inside their own heads.

Comics are much more interactive that word-only books. The reader will think "Yes, that's what I thought they'd look like!" or "No, that drawing isn't right at all, THIS is how that character/place looks!" Either way, it's very hard to be indifferent.

It's much more mutually interactive. Much more a "done with" than a "done to."

On a more frivolous note, the sky is blue so as to provide better contrast for rainbows, how far is up is "halfway", and cats keep us safe by eating monsters-under-the-bed (dogs are for monsters-in-closets).

The reader will think "Yes, that's what I thought they'd look like!" or "No, that drawing isn't right at all, THIS is how that character/place looks!"

I don't do that at all with comics. At least assuming one artist, or at least a consistent style, the way it's drawn on the page is what it looks like.
The reaction you describe here is only something I get when I first read a prose description, and afterwards see a visual interpretation, be it illustration or movie or comic adaptation.

More people should know of this.
I need to link with someone...

Marvelous. I metaposted about this in my CC/creative/techie blog.

That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

I've just finished reading Maus, an extremly powerful comic. So I've been thinking about this for a while. And I think it has something do do with the fact that it's one thing to read about autrocities, or wonders, another to see them there on the page; and to share, even even periphially that image is a powerful thing. That's one reason why comics affect people so much, it takes the image out of the imagination (a powerful place but an individual one) and places it in the public realm. Thus the grief, or wonder, of the image is shared. And humans are after all a social animal.

That is a fantastic sculpture.

Roz Kaveney's recent book on comics spends three solid pages early on comparing comics and opera - one of the points of both from the creators side is that both allow the viewer to see the inner monologue of multiple characters in the story and not lose narrative momentum, something film, for example, is at best really hard to manage. The rest of that bit was also pretty decent.

In 1975 in a tv special called something like It's 25 Years, Charlie Brown, Carl Reiner said to Charles Schulz, "Picasso said the greatest artist is the one who can draw a bull in three lines. You give us life in three lines." That's the best definition I know of the power of comics.

I bet he started drawing figures by copying Superman pages. A lot of folsk start like that. Art and Story. One of these days I'll get off my ass.


Cool story, thanks for sharing.

Thanks so much for posting about this. I'm weepy now, but it's a good thing.


Please consider that your hamster with funny hat makes people laugh, smile, wonder what's next and enjoy imagining what came before. It's that discussion on art that "just is" vs "art that tells a story or makes you imagine what the story might be".

Comics both tell a story and leave you wondering about the bits not narrated. They are accessible vaguely inexpensive and vignettes of the cosmos.

Saying "they are just" diminishes the enjoyment that is generated by your creations. Those also serve...

Well, you know we're all nuts about your artwork. But I swear, this post demonstrates perfectly why I will happily read every word you write. (And no, I don't have any theories about why it works either.)

You know, if the only thing written on your grave was : "Ursula Vernon - she drew hamsters with funny hats", that would be a big achievement anyway. There are lots of people who can't claim as much.

Meh. Comics are one of the weakest artforms, uncomfortably straddling the unwanted wasteland between film and books. They're books without enough words, or films without scores. I agree with the above poster than Maus is good - but there was only one short bit of it that I thought worked better with pictures than it would as words (that's the bit where he's a human in a mouse mask). I suppose the graphic form is easier to pick up if you don't like reading, but that's only a reason why comics are useful (to get people into reading who otherwise wouldn't) not why they're good in themselves. [Nobody goes on about their great mountain-tricycles, but the tricycle is a good introductory stage for children].

The one published comic I've read [and my housemate is obsessed so I've read a fair few and seen hundreds more] that actually benefitted overall from being a comic was Sandman. In my opinion, this is mostly because the graphic novel format slows the work down massively. As Sandman is basically a series of very short stories with interludes of prose poetry, in purely written form it would be a quickly-done-with thing. As huge tomes of painting, it takes a lot longer to read, you dwell on each sentence longer, and the overall tone has the time to sink in and affect you.

The same, I think, is true of Digger. Digger also benefits from having far better art than any other comic, acting as an auxilliary source of beauty. [The exception I'll make here is that I've seen some excerpts from Sin City, and they also look gorgeous - and from the film I'm sure it works better as a comic than as a book. On the other hand, I suspect it works even better as a film...]

I also admit that comics can work better at dealing with tedium. I'm a fan of several webcomics than heavily feature light-hearted dialogue and silly happenings - and in a pure written form they would become tedious very quickly. I think they have an advantage over film in that their tiny episodes hammer home the punchlines better.

[And finally, I'll make an exception for 'comics' that are actually artworks. A Lesson Is Learned But the Damage Is Irreversible, for instance, can be seen a a series of sometimes-linked drool-inducingly beautiful thought-provoking individual 'plates'.]

So certainly there are advantages to graphic forms, and there are great examples. But there are also great short stories - and a graphic novel is ultimately just a short story with a lot of illustrations. But I don't believe that any graphic novel, or any short story, can ever be as soul-shatteringly powerful as a great novel can be. A good book makes you doubt whether your awake or asleep when you've finished it, and makes you unsure whether you're you or not, and makes you certain that its characters are more real than the people you know, and makes you, albeit perhaps only for a short time, care more about them than the real people, and it makes you confused every time you wake up. I don't believe comics can do that. It's a more limited art-form [mostly, I suspect, because there aren't enough words, but also because the two-dimensional picture reinforces the fictional nature of what it depicts].


Oh my, are those harpoons flying towards me? Sorry chaps...


If you were moved by his account of Baghdad, have you tried reading Baghdad Burning, by Riverbend? I've not read all of it, but what I did read was deeply affecting.


Lastly, just to be contrary - I think that had you been talking to someone whose work had just got a hollywood deal about films you would have got a similar reaction. Or perhaps modern american music would have a similar effect. Or literature (except that publishing houses aren't as closely related to their stable in people's minds as comics publishers or music producers). All american art is hugely powerful around the world.

They're books without enough words, or films without scores.

No, they are comics. They are a self-contained medium and are an original form of literature because the artist and the author can transform them in whatever way they want. I've seen comics written entirely without words, and those in which the illustrations were barely a doodle under the text. The presentation of comics is a treatment of theme and the content of comics is done to achieve a specific purpose, both of which are entirely under the command of its creator. Books and television are something very, very different.

I'm very sorry for you that you don't understand the medium, but hey, we all have our hurdles. I personally have no idea what's going on in interpretive dance.

It is REALLY hard to find a Fine Art professor at my school who doesn't go "PFLUH!!" at the mention of comics. Can I share this story with them?

Please do! The more people know about this guy, the better the world is.

From a local television interview show:

ANDREW DENTON: It does work. You said that as a child you loved reading comic books. When you got into prison there they were again. Can you tell me about John James and the power of Spiderman?

CHRIS ABANI: Here’s this 14 year old boy who one of the things that particularly military regime would do at the time was if a family member was being sought after and they didn’t find him they would arrest somebody and hold them as ransom and someone had gone after his father who’d fled the country and they took John James and held him as ransom. So here was a kid who’s essentially in prison on death row with a bunch of killers and rapists who has no business being there. But who had the most cheerful disposition and the guards, it’s one of those moments where I think, you know, some of the guards must have recognised their own sons, cause he was the only one allowed reading material and he had three comic books with him. You know, The Green Lantern, Spiderman and the Silver Surfer. And he would teach some of his older inmates, these really vicious men how to read with these comic books and so like you know late at night you would sort of hear a bunch of men reciting things like you know “take that, Spidey,” or “my Spidey senses are tingling” and sort of there’s something really amazing about literature that that this is the thing about stories that it it doesn’t whatever its original intent is it has a way it’s almost like a like a virus.

Wow, well written. Thanks for posting this. :)

I made comics in Baghdad too, and I can attest to the power of the medium to reach across boundaries.

I did these for the kids of Baghdad while with the Army (hence the name 'Baghdad Kids'). It was part of our way to reach out to them and get important messages across. Although I created many other products aimed at the adults, Baghdad Kids remains my proudest moment 'over there'.

Here are some scans of them:

Hi there, wandered in through a link from (

Guess I'd better keep on drawing, then. :] Thanks for the great anecdote.

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