By Sergio Figueiredo
“My mind kept wandering. I found no solace in [poetry or] music of any kind […] it seemed too obscenely exquisite. The only cultural artifacts that could get past my defenses to flood my eyes and brain with something other than images of burning towers were old comic strips; vital, unpretentious ephemera from the optimistic dawn of the twentieth century.”
~ Art Spiegelman, In The Shadow of No Towers
There are moments when language escapes us, moments when the emotions we feel are un-articulable. For a great many comics-artists, these are moments rich with productive potentialities since comics are able to visually imply emotion without attempting to directly represent them. Hannah Charlton’s comic-adaptation of Hannah Hall’s poem, “The Shadow of Turning,” works along these lines, and does so remarkably well. Charlton’s nuanced project taps into contemporary comics theories, such as Art Spiegelman’sIn the Shadow of No Towers and Andrei Molotui’s Abstract Comics, concerned with addressing these moments that escape verbal language. In her reflection, she describes her purpose as not “creating a comic ‘story’ to illustrate the poem,” but creating “a visual and emotional space that stayed faithful to [the poem].” Hall’s poem is powerful, and Charlton’s re-imagining of the poem in a visual space enhances the powerful emotions both of the writers feel as women and as people of faith. Conceptually, this project reminds me of Craig Thompson’s Blankets, and its implicit emotional appeals presented in the visual landscape.
As far as the technical features are concerned, the intuitive pacing of Charlton’s comic and the shifts from dark ‘pages’ to light ‘pages’ presents the reader with a careful close-reading of the poem. For example, the shift from page 3 to page 4—where the content itself shifts from an empty work space to a nature scene in the clouds—indicates a shift in thinking where we, as readers/viewers, encounter the interaction of Hall’s self-reflection with Charlton’s own self-reflective interpretation. The struggles with identities that each express in their own pieces is well described as an adapt-ation without end; Hall responds to Charlton in this vein when she writes, “A conclusion would presuppose that I had found a way to consolidate my identities as a woman and as a person of faith, something that might take a lifetime.” Much like the avant-garde comics-artists mentioned above, Charlton continues exploring the inability to explore this inability to consolidate identities through re-mediating the poem, but she does so by consolidating media in an interdisciplinary manner.
The mixture of text, image, and digital media not only presents us readers with an exploration of personal identity, but also with an exploration of communicative identity, which Charlton describes as “a ‘parallel’ relationship between words and picture” spurred by reading “a verse or two and see[ing] what image (or images) would come to mind.” In other words, this ‘parallel’ works (or, rather, plays) with a conductive logic (cf. Ulmer)—a logic of the particular. For Ulmer, montage offers us one example of conductive logic with its shift from a particular scene to another particular scene. Another example comes from Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Discourse, figure: the superimposition of image and text. This is the sort of conductive logic that Charlton engages with through her visual interpretation of Hall’s poem; Hall notices this in her response when she writes that Charlton “knew what the poem was moving towards even if I didn’t.” The intuitive interpretation, rather than a more systematic interpretation, allows Charlton to superimpose an additional meaning to the poem that offers further insight into the identity-struggles Hall—and readers—describes. By overlaying this intuitive interpretation alongside Hall’s poem, Charlton avoids the trap of illustration—direct interpretation—and moves into marking her own struggles in a (collaborative) way would be, to use her words, “impossible to explain with words alone.”