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THE CRISIS IN THE NEWSPAPER COMIC STRIP KINGDOM : PART 1

 

“Stripped” is the name of cartoonist Dave Kellett’s documentary about the newspaper comic strip industry. Started five years ago and now nearing a final stage with the help of filmmaker Fred Schroeder, the made-for-television program assesses of the current state of the newspaper comic strip and its future. Kellett, who is a webcomics enthusiast and practitioner, admits that he began the project expecting to record the demise of newspaper comics; but as he assembled interviews with cartoonists, he changed his mind: the film now ends on a somewhat more optimistic note — adapt or die, with history showing that adaptation has been part of the medium’s history.

At the New York Times artsbeat.blog, George Gene Gustines describes the film as “a musing on comic strips by many of their creators, how the medium has evolved and the migration to the Internet, some of it forced as the number of newspaper outlets for strips has shrunk and some of it voluntary by a new generation of cartoonists.”

The film itself is fast-moving — quick images of comic characters and strips, a sort of collage in motion, followed by short sentence excerpts from more than 70 interviewed cartoonists on screen, then more collage. Although divided into “chapters” (“The Golden Age,” “The Creative Process,” and “The Crisis”), some of the chapters don’t go very far — “The Golden Age,” for instance, scarcely covers the ground. “The Creative Process” is much better: it offers the most lengthy excerpts from cartoonist interviews.

I’m quoted twice on camera. Once I say only a single word, and I wasn’t quick enough when watching a screening to catch what it was. On the other occasion, I utter this profundity: “I don’t think web comics are the answer” (“comics historian” lettered beneath my picture). And that cryptic comment reveals the film’s most serious flaw. Why don’t I believe that web comics are the answer? What is the answer? Is there one? What’s the question?

Throughout, the film is much the same: there’s little depth. Some of the interviews about the creative process are nicely insightful, but there’s too little thought displayed in assessing the fate of the newspaper comic strip. It’s a subject that deserves — demands —i n-depth examination and discussion. And Kellett provides very little of either.

In short, the film is more dazzle than deliberation. It conveys an impression rather than offering an analysis. But the film is skillfully done, and that is its redeeming feature. Discussing a static artform, printed comic strips, Kellett and Schroeder compensate for the inherent lack of movement with quick cutting and flashing imagery. The flashing images go by quickly — here and then gone. The film is copious rather than thoughtful.

But that ain’t necessarily bad. In presenting and assessing the state of the comic strip universe, the film is friendly and understanding about an artform seldom examined in a motion picture medium. That is a great plus in itself.

 

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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