Comic Strips

Comic Strips

A collage of bpNichol's visual poetry including selections from love: a book of remembrances, Aleph Unit, Door to Oz, and Movies

bpNichol's interest in the ideogrammatic possibilities of words and letters also ran parallel to an interest in the comic strip and its narrative and syntactical conventions. Ever since he was a teenager, Nichol maintained an interest in comic books, and even collected popular and rare comics.

According to bpNichol, "[the comic strip] is a different set of narrative conventions and a totally different set of linguistic conventions that cuts across language barriers. It's the universal language system that's already extant. It can be used powerfully." [1] In a traditional comic strip, this "language" depends on the manipulation of a visual field which is normally divided into frames that indicate the passage of time and a narrative. Nichol would experiment with this "language" to produce different poetic and artistic effects.

The "Frames" series from love: a book of remembrances allowed Nichol to pare down the image vocabulary to parallel the pared down verbal vocabulary that he had been experimenting with in his other poems. This series allowed Nichol to experiment with the narrative frame of the comic strip and play with the sequence of each frame. The simple hand drawn visual symbols in the "Frames" series were very easily interpreted and became interchangeable with the written word; Nichol insists on the priority of language over drawn representation in this series. For example, "Frame 10" (pictured in the top-left corner above) is all descriptive language, situated in a visual settingUltimately, these drawings became a vocabulated landscape, a visible fact of language.

Each frame presents a lyrical glimpse of a story (e.g. a single bird in the sky thinking "lonely") or questions the concept of the frame itself (e.g. "Frame 7" assures us that "a frame runs arounds this phrase," but no frame appears on the page: so the frame is the page itself, the book, the reader's peripheral vision, the world). The series examines the ambiguity of the frame: its temporal ambiguity, its narrative ambiguity, and its spatial ambiguity. bpNichol continues this exploration of the frame in Aleph Unit, Movies, and Door to OZ-- other collaborations with Barbara Caruso and Seripress.

In Aleph Unit (pictured in the bottom-left corner above), the frame, the letter A, Aleph, remains constant at every stage, however there are continuous shifts in the image as the work progresses. This metamorphosis of the image occurs within the same kind of ambiguous time/space that the "Frames" series also developed. Furthermore, the serial nature and the stylized landscape of Aleph Unit are also influences of the comic strip.

In Door to Oz and Movies (pictured in the middle and on the right in the above image), there are no verbal or lettristic elements in the metamorphosing images (except for their titles). In Door to Oz, there is a landscape with a winding road between mountains, which is reduced to a curvy, sensuous non-referential shape. While in Movies, there is a tree by the seashore that metamorphoses into a pensive animal's head. Despite their lack of verbal or letteristic elements, Nichol still considers these pieces as "language texts... Working within & without the standard of one frame unit of the comic strip i was able to image a language change." [2]

[1] bpNichol quoted by Stephen Scobie, bpNichol: What History Teaches,Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1984. (Call No. SPC PS 8527. I24.Z88 c.3) 

[2] ibid.