Monday, August 19, 2013

Opening Contract - Wild Children

This weeks Opening Contract comes from Wild Children, a graphic novella published by Image Comics with words by Ales Kot, art by Riley Rossmo, colours by Gregory Wright and letters by Clayton Cowles.

Let’s get to it, shall we?
First up, some background. Wild Children as described by Image explores “an explosive high school hostage situation that threatens to unfold its own reality like a cheap origami”. As the synopsis hints, the intial Columbine-like narrative shifts in tone, becoming a clever and hallucinogenic commentary on youth, rebellion, lies, perception, reality and the nature of comics narrative itself.

The opening panel itself seems unremarkable, a wide, horizontal panel depicting one of the teachers who’ll later be taken hostage. She stands at the front of a classroom. Behind her is a blank whiteboard and pale green walls. She’s on the far left of the panel, leaving the far right to be taken up with the white space of the board and the only text in the panel:
“I don’t understand.”
Wright’s colours here are muted and understated and Rossmo’s art is static, nothing flashy or showy, but that seems to be the point. In this interview with iFanboy, Rossmo said that his goal was to “to create art that would echo the institutional, cold feelings that get to you inside most high schools, eventually evolving into much more than that.”

Then there’s that single line of text, a sentence that gains resonance with each read. In the same interview, Kot mentions that he wanted Wild Children to explore themes of “Communication. Expectations. Lies. Assumptions. Understanding.” The teachers have no understanding of what it is the eponymous Wild Children are trying to accomplish. Uma (the only one of the Wild Children named) begins the comic by challenging the teachers guidelines and curriculum. When Uma questions the notion of chaos and anarchy as negative concepts the teacher from the opening panel cannot seem to grasp what Uma is saying. She doesn’t understand.

Kot takes that concept and runs with it as the narrative progresses. Uma and the other children try to awaken the grown ups (be that teachers, the police, those in the larger world and even us, the reader). They claim to have dosed the teacher’s coffee with acid. This changes the way nerve cells and serotonin interact, altering the regulatory, perceptual and behavioural systems in the brain. Understanding through chemistry and altered perception. Not long after this, the same teacher kneels at the back of the classroom facing the whiteboard as reality and colour start to shift, twist and blur. The teacher becomes the pupil. A mirror of the opening panel.

Reality shifts further. The children explain that they know they’re in a “two dimensional sequential reality” that they’re “inside a comic book.” We move from the four tier, wide panel configutation that’s been the standard for the most part to a nine panel grid as Uma begins to talk about seamless grids, multiple realities and the concept of hauntology.
The basic definition of hauntology?
“The idea suggests that the present exists only with respect to the past, and that society after the end of history will begin to orient itself towards ideas and aesthetics that are thought of as rustic, bizarre or ”old-timey“; that is, towards the ”ghost“ of the past. Derrida holds that because of this intellectual realignment, the end of history will be unsatisfactory and untenable.”
As well as the idea outlined above, the concept of hauntology can also be applied to popular culture and music. Comics, as we'll see, can also fall under hauntology's gaze too.

I’m not going to pretend that Wild Children is an easy comic to digest. It’s experimental, hallucinatory and purposefully lacking structure in places. As such, each time you read it you gain something new from it, your experience ‘haunted’ and informed by the previous read through. Touching briefly what I spoke about in my last Opening Contract, we can’t help but bring the past into the present when we crack open a comic book and read it for the second, third or even a hundredth time.

Kot perhaps understands this with that first panel and the choice of imagery and dialogue. He understands that each time we see the first panel we understand something new about the narrative, the characters, and the ideas Wild Children presents. The present exists only with respect to the past. Unsurprisingly Uma’s follow up line to the opening panel is “Don’t worry. I’ll repeat myself.” Two pages later Uma seems to be breaking the fourth wall (it’s done explicitly later on), saying “Some of you may think we’re evil. But I don’t think you’ll miss the point this time.” Repetition. Do you understand?

There’s a point towards the back end of the story where one of the children explains “We understand disconnected single-panel images as contributing parts of a whole. That’s the way our world is too.” Before that we get another child explaining that “sequence is magic” with a reference to Matt Seneca’s excellent column Your Wednesday Sequence (a highly recommended read).

In Seneca’s second column (covering a beautiful sequence from Guido Crepax’s Valentina) Seneca mentions that “Panels hold individual units of whatever meaning is being communicated; sequence is there to make sense of them, to display multiple ideas so that the reader can understand them in the order that the artist intends”.

The emphasis there is my own. I’d posit that with a work that’s meant to be read again and again the opening panel is the first example of where multiple ideas can begin to emerge. Sure, it’s the first panel in a long sequence but it’s also the starting point of a new understanding of the work. Hauntology in effect once more.

This idea of panels, sequence and time is something Kot cites when he states why he loves comics as a medium:

“Comics are unique as an art form because they give readers complete control over time and space in which they appear. We can flip through a comic book in a minute or spend an hour reading it. We can read just the first panel on every page and string together something deeply meaningful. We can just look at the images and not read the words. There are so many ways to read comics, so many ways to ignite our imaginations through them. The empty space between two panels is where we fill in the blanks – it’s where we participate on a level that’s quite uncanny.”

It’s even present in some of the musical influences Kot references in this interview:
“Music by people like Pictureplane[1], Fuck Buttons, Nosaj Thing, The Chemical Brothers…that deep, meditative quality of mid–00′s dubstep, stuff like Digital Mystikz and Loefah. Early Planet Mu, and Ad Noiseam releases, the breakcore/idm stuff. That quality of something that sounds and is incredibly broken but inherently whole and coherent if you just look at it long enough, because even the smallest part of our Universe will always contain everything, every possibility.”
So where does that leave the individual panel, or the opening one? The gutters, whilst a bonding experience are a place (a pocket universe?) attuned to the individual, a place where hauntology roams, places where the readers own experiences decide what he or she will see as their brain reconstructs the missing time/action. Panels are a marker, a place where the creators stake their claim on the reality the comic is presenting, where there own experiences and feelings are conveyed. But in between? They potentially contain everything, every possibility.

I’d wager it’s no coincidence the opening panel features a blank whiteboard behind the teacher, framing her inside two panels, tipping the reader off straight away visually that this is a comic, a universe within a universe. But the whiteboard has nothing on it. It’s blank white space open to interpretation. I started the ball rolling with this column just by looking at this opening panel. This is where I ended up. You may end up somewhere else.
“That’s the beauty of it. That’s the horror of it. That’s the ultimate gift of life. You are free. Life doesn’t make sense. It’s up to you to decide what it all means.”

  1. I wrote the first, messy and rambling draft of this columnn to Pictureplane’s Goth Star on repeat. When the sliced lyrics and volume changes start to kick in around 0:39, fragments only making sense as a whole, you can completely see the influence it has on something like Wild Children.  ↩

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Anonymous said...

i hate wide horizontal panels... they quite always mean cheap,boring, poor storytelling

Mira Nalini said...

Nice story! This story is based on reality. All the characters in the story shows life of a school going children when an accident change their life. I would suggest all my friends to read this book once.

children story books

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