From Stage to Panels

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Andy Konky Kru has posted the entirety of Joseph Franz von Goez’ 1783 comic Leonardo und Blandine over on his indispensible site for pre-modern and early modern comics, Bugpowder. And It’s a treat: while by no means great art, its tight sequencing, relying on histrionic moment-to-moment renderings of the characters’ love and grief, is fascinatingly exacting. Telling the tragic, Decameron-inspired story of two star-crossed lovers over 160 panels, it is highly melodramatic and not a little grim.

It comes as no surprise that it derives from a musical drama written and directed by Goez. It almost seems like the promptbook of an obsessive playwright, not content to just provide dialogue and general stage directions, drawing out his instructions for the actors in almost obsessive detail. I don’t know how well it would have worked as such, but it calls attention to the close relationship I believe early comics shared with forms of lowbrow theatre and performance art, and the continued similarities between the two forms. Not just the use of broad archetypes and the comic and melodramatic approach to plotting, but the very way the characters are portrayed interacting in front of the observer’s eyes, in full-frame images.

It was only in the 20th century that some comics moved in the direction of more cinematic storytelling, and while that has yielded interesting results, I’m not convinced that then kind of simple staging of the theatre isn’t closer to the way comics tend to work. If nothing else, it’s interesting to not how comics master Will Eisner would often make the comparison in his late years, at times almost describing his attempts at being ‘filmic’ in the Spirit as youthful ostentation, believing the more barebones expressiveness of his late comics to capture emotion and story better. I’m not sure I would agree vis-à-vis his comics, but then I don’t find the cinematic aspects of The Spirit to be as important as the aspects that are more uniquely tied to comics storytelling. But that’s another story and it’ll have to wait till I get around to writing about that series one day.

In the meantime, enjoy Leonard & Blandine!

For more on Goez, see Deutsche Comicforschung 2005.

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