First of all, my eternal gratitude to Scott McCloud (comic book author, theorist, and personal hero of mine) for spreading the word on all the coolest sequential art on the net. I've made my share of good decisions in the past few years, but I still believe that one of my best was going to see him speak at the University of Oregon in the spring of 2006. I left the room with a signed book and an imagination stimulated as it hadn't been in years, and since then I've only found more and more to be delighted with in the world of the popular arts.
This week Scott posted a real strange beast on his blog, and asked his readers to weigh in on the question of the ages: is it comics? The "it" in question, by the way, is the following video (be sure to watch it in full screen):
Holy hell, I know!
This strangest of beasts is essentially a prog-rock electronic tapestry, illustrated by one Ira Marcks, with music by an act called The Few Moments, alias Michael McQuilcken. The pictures serve as accompaniment for the band's album MARCH 3: His Forearms Were Tanks Now. With a name like that, it's just got to be good.
Scott's question (whether the video is "comics") is probably best answered using the definition of the form he proposed in Understanding Comics: "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." This definition covers just about everything typically considered to be comics: the only notable outsiders are single panel cartoons (you can't very well juxtapose one image without another image, can you?).
At first glance, the illustration of MARCH 3 appears to fall into that very category, since none of its scenes are separated by panels or other devices found in comic art. The image is clearly exceptional, however, as it is over fifty feet long. There simply isn't a word for things like that, but it does juxtapose images in deliberate sequence, so I really don't see what's to sit on the fence about. If it fits the definition, I say claim it, and let the world marvel.
I'm at a loss to describe the music, which identifies itself on its website as "Eclectic Post-Pop," a term I take to be synonymous with "really weird piano-based shit." According to producer Jake Lodwick, the album's concept revolves around a boy:
...a boy who was born laughing and whose legs kicked relentlessly, whose movement was impossible to control, who could not sleep, whose parents "took shifts, a steady rotation of looking after him, while the other one would sleep out in the car," drumming on every conceivable surface, pounding the parents’ belongings to smithereens, immune to adult anti-psychotic medication … an individual incapable, by his nature, of being restrained; his bombastic inner fire and innocence; his relentless and violent quest for peace, and his eventual triumph.
It may certainly be about that, but if the illustrations have any bearing whatsoever, it also appears to be at least partially about warring interstellar crabs, knife-wielding baboon demons, and all manner of skeletons and sea creatures. Most of the time, you won't be able to understand a word of what the singer is trying to communicate, but if you've got the patience, I can almost guarantee you'll enjoy it.
Several of the images in the video are particularly disturbing: I wouldn't particularly recommend showing it to impressionable children. This piece is first-rate prog madness, and should therefore be handled with exceeding care.