Warren Ellis: comics can help you perform sabotage, cure Alzheimer’s

Warren Ellis (who created the webcomic FreakAngels, among other things), gave a speech at Dundee University. He claims its was written in chickenscratch … but, as Abraham Lincoln could attest, sometimes the most timeless and memorable speeches come from concise yet powerful ideas that just mentally congeal into perfect nuggets of wisdom. For Ellis, comics are a superior medium. Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve worked in television, and there are a hundred people between you and the audience. I’ve worked in film, and there are a thousand people between you and the audience. In comics, there’s me and an artist, presenting our stories to you without filters or significant hurdles, in a cheap, simple, portable form. Comics are a mature technology. Their control of time — provided you’re not intent on reversing universes (or even if you are) — makes them the best educational tool in the world. Hell, intelligence agencies have used comics to teach people how to dissent and perform sabotage.

When done right, comics are a cognitive whetstone, providing two or three or more different but entangled streams of information in a single panel. Processing what you’re being shown, along with what’s being said, along with what you’re being told, in conjunction with the shifting multiple velocities of imaginary time, and the action of the space between panels that Scott McCloud defines as closure… Comics require a little more of your brain than other visual media. They should just hand them out to being to stave off Alzheimer’s.

Although I think a headline of “Grant Morrison staves off dementia” might be a little premature.

The line I always quote in talks like these, the one I want you to take away with you, is something the comics writer Harvey Pekar said: “Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures.”

He also talks about doing brown acid with Grant Morrison, which would be a major no-no if he was giving an address at an American university… unless it was Evergreen State College.

(h/t Robot 6.)

Also, did you know that, in the movie Jeans, there’s a song called “Poovukkul” that claims its actress is the Eighth Wonder of the World? That actress? Aishwarya Rai. Look out, Chyna!


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on July 15, 2009, in comics, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I’ve been taking the opportunity lately to compare what seems to be a best-practice in comics to something George Carlin said. After he died, tons of broadcast hours of interviews with him were rereleased. One comment that recurred was what a wonder it was how he challenged his audience to think. Carlin always denied challenging his audiences to think, saying that he instead showed the audience that he was thinking.

    As performers can nurture laughter while displaying a lack of thought, this gap between the thought being presented and the challenge to an audience to think isn’t necessarily a best practice in performing comedy, but it does seem to be a best practice in comics. Comics are hostile to subplots (heavy subplots are still a barrier to accessing Alan Moore’s work to some who I try to introduce his work to). And in comics any cropping of the figure disproportionately risks losing the reader, since each panel represents a substantial proportion of storytelling “time.” The choices (or abdication of choices) of a cartoonist or an intimate collaboration of creators in minimizing and bypassing these things that fit comfortably in other media is right there on the comic page. This is in addition to the labor in manufacturing the art in which the art is a prominent feature for the reader, and everything else in a story that goes on regardless of media.

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