Oxford Writer's House is excited to present the final three mentors for our INKFISH event on June 21st: Bruce Mutard, a comics writer, artist and researcher; Bruce Snider, author of Paradise, Indiana, and The Year We Studied Women; and Justin Coombes, artist working principally in photography and poetry. Read here to find out their views on the interplay between image and text, ahead of our own experiment in the same...
Why do you think the comic is an appealing art form?
Bruce M: I’ll say from the outset that I don’t believe comics are ‘better’ than any other art form, as many comics evangelists would have it....Representational images are certainly powerful in that they can punch across a lot of information nearly instantaneously, and are largely recognisable by anyone, whereas words require understanding of the language, and also take time to read (as well as learn).
Bruce S: Because of its sensory impact and versatility
Justin: For me, it's something to do with its not being an officially endorsed form of knowledge formation in school.
Did you read comics growing up?
Bruce M: Yes, but not that many...I drifted away from them until about aged 19 when I discovered Heavy Metal Illustrated and that changed everything. I went to a specialist comics shop called "Minotaur" in Melbourne and… got blown away. A world of comics.
Bruce S: Yes! I was a huge X-men fan (way before the movies) on the Marvel side of things, but also read DC's The Teen Titans.
Justin: Yes: obsessively.
How much truth is there in the old saying that a picture tells a thousand words?
Bruce M: It is said that pictures are polysemic, possessed of many meanings. What that is really saying is that a picture means something different to every beholder. It may be obvious what a picture is - a portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein for instance - but how we react to it depends on what we bring to it, us: the tapestry of our personality, likes, dislikes, beliefs, mood on the day when we encounter the work.
What themes make for the best visual stories?
Bruce S: The comic is such a versatile form that you can deal with any theme. The possibilities are endless.
Justin: You probably can't go too far wrong if you stick to what Dante said were the only subjects fit for a poem: love, virtue and war.
You probably can't go too far wrong if you stick to what Dante said were the only subjects fit for a poem: love, virtue and war.
Do you think the comic’s attraction is timeless?
Bruce M: Looking at history, the answer would be no. Whatever parallels that can be found in say, illuminated manuscripts from the 13th Century, 14th Century narrative fresco cycles to Mayan codexes and Hogarth’s narrative cycle paintings, these are not comics as we understand them...I think it will always be a niche form of entertainment, especially in a mass media that is crowded with options for busy lives. But the pie is always getting bigger...
...it will always be a niche form of entertainment, especially in a mass media that is crowded with options for busy lives. But the pie is always getting bigger...
Bruce S: The pairing of image and language is timeless, so absolutely.
Bruce Mutard is a comics writer, artist and researcher, whose books include: The Sacrifice (Allen & Unwin, 2008), The Silence (Allen & Unwin, 2009), A Mind of Love (Black House Comics, 2011), The Bunker (Image Comics, 2003). He also has had short comics stories in Overland, Meanjin, The Australian Book Review and Tango among others. He publishes other creators’ comics under his own imprint, Fabliaux. He has presented papers, workshops, and artist talks at RMIT, Edith Cowan University, University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of South Australia, Oxford University, Loughborough University and University of Arts, London, LICAF, ICAF, Comics Forum and Transitions among others. He is a PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University researching comics from a visual arts perspective entitled Comics Without Borders. He is also working on his latest graphic novels, Bully Me and The Dust Of Life.
Bruce Snider is the author of Paradise, Indiana, and The Year We Studied Women. A former Wallace Stegner fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, he’s also the recipient of a James A. Michener fellowship. Bruce’s other awards include residencies at Yaddo, the Millay Colony, the Amy Clampitt House, and the James Merrill House. His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, Kenyon Review, and Best American Poetry 2012. Bruce has taught at numerous universities including Stanford, the University of Texas at Austin, and Connecticut College. A recent Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington at George Washington University, he is an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco.
Justin Coombes is an artist interested in poetics, memory and love. He works across media, but principally in photography and poetry. His art is usually narrative in form, and through simple juxtapositions of word and image, plays on the very complicated relationship between the two. Previous creations have included the voices, and viewpoints of, amongst others, a lovelorn, acid-scarred crow; a retired, gay journalist; the Taoist and Buddhist deity Kannon; a pregnant, nesting kingfisher, and an officious Tokyo tour guide. Justin also occasionally curates projects, writes essays and collaborates with other visual artists and writers. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Halcyon Song’ at Paradise Row, London and recent criticism has appeared in Photomonitor and Routledge’s Visual Studies magazine. His poetry has appeared in Material Online and his photography in Granta magazine. Awards include the British Oxygen Company Emerging Artist Award and grants from Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Justin teaches on the BFA and DPhil Fine Art programmes at Oxford's Ruskin School of Art.