Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cartoony Cosmik Debris


Recently I was at my son's high school football game when the skies opened up and it poured. Some helpful soul turned to me, gestured to a stack of orange plastic, and asked, "you want a poncho?"

I laughed out loud. This question reminded me instantly of the Frank Zappa song, Cosmik Debris, in which the narrator skeptically asks, "Now is that a real poncho, or a Sears poncho?"

Truly, a question for the ages.

The ever insightful Mr. Flynn offered an earnest response to my last post on certain somewhat tiresome, essentialist definitions of cartoon.

His final statement reads thusly: But "cartoon" and "animation" are two slightly different beasts. They overlap when you speak of "cartoony animation."

Bob is correct, of course. But the specific word choices suggest the poverty of discourse in this arena. Can you imagine a serious argument about, say, the postwar novel being articulated in this fashion? Is a novelly novel analogous to a cartoony cartoon?

I am not tweaking my colleague Mr. Flynn, but rather our underdeveloped vocabularies.

Perhaps you find my recent emphasis on diction exhausting. But holy cow, we ought to be able to bring some rigor to a conversation about the visual and narrative conventions of these fields, no? Are the alternatives opaque academic jargon and sophomoric jargon?

Now is this a real discipline or a Sears discipline?

Image: Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Freak Out!, album cover art, 1966. For the record, Cosmik Debris appears on Apostrophe ('), 1974. I recommend it.

6 comments:

Bob Flynn said...

Ha, I still feel refreshingly young because I don't know the Frank Zappa reference at all. Don't trust anyone over 30.

I just had a realization that of the three terms (cartoon, illustration, animation), "animation" is probably the most apt and succinct, even though it covers a broad territory. There is recent debate over whether motion-capture qualifies, just as some people have been quick to knock rotoscoping. But for the most part, it does the medium justice. John K is quick to attack genres and what he terms quality, but it still amounts to a sequence of images that mimic movement when played in succession.

I think "cartoon" is something that is define-able, because people know it when they see it. It's just a matter of breaking down and identifying visual cues.

gail zappa said...

Here are a few comments for you: first, you have posted a copyrighted image which belongs to us without permission - this, in relation to other types of poverty in discourse - but because I like what you have to say I am hereby authorizing you to use it. Sometimes permission is soooo very easy to get. Next time, please ask first.

As for the 'debate' which, though tempting, I have not followed any further than this page, I would like to add that without light there is nothing (or at least a nothing that can or cannot be seen) - so, once you have light, you have movement. Certain movement signifies life - other movement, drawn, for instance, can signify art. After that, you're back to the eternal question posed by FZ.

DB Dowd said...

My sincerest appreciation, Gail Zappa, for your permission to use the image. This is tricky territory, not because people say no (they very rarely do) but they are difficult to track down. As a person who does visual research and writing on popular materials, one is often required to rely on a fair use claim and hope for the best. It is easiest not to use such images, yet that prevents many such images from being seen at all. When the images are the very thing you want to explicate and often celebrate, it's quite regrettable. Blogging, especially, is done on the fly. Books are different, and even then, when one works with images from magazines, securing permission is hopelessly complex, and can take many weeks, often resulting in blind alleys when the sources are decades old. So I do not seek permission in this space, but will always remove something when requested. But now that I have contact information for you, Ms. Zappa, I will ask next time. Again, many thanks for your permission. I am a great admirer of your late husband's work.

There is at least a possibility that my post touching on the wit and wisdom of Frank Zappa may help sell a little music, which I fervently hope is the case. I am especially fond of Joe's Garage. I saw him on that tour in Columbus, Ohio.

DerikB said...

DB: I find the issue of terminology, a problem when discussing comics of various sorts also. Terms are often vague, non-existent, or have no consistent meaning/use.

I think that people will often balk at any such terminology for fear of "academic jargon", without realizing the poverty that discourse is left in without such jargon.

John Hendrix said...

Ok, your blog is now the coolest of anyone I know.

Jaleen Grove said...

YES! I have been arguing for the development of a suitable vocabulary and discourse - on our own terms as practitioners in the popular/commercial/applied arts - for some time now. But I frequently run into walls. First wall is that the standard art history folks still can't quite stomach the thought of us unwashed illustrator types scribbling on their pages. Second wall is illustrator types who scoff at the idea they could get anything out of a serious discussion on, say, semiotics.

Until these wall come down neither group is going to advance.

It is because we lack a language built by us for us that we keep getting forgotten. The practitioner's point of view is potentially the most powerful and creative in the ranks of the theorists and critics - lets let them have it.