Monday, November 30, 2015


Teaching a graphic novel course is always fun. The best part is the exploration: from different genres of comics, to artistic styles, and great stories. In defining what a graphic novel can do, to that of a comic story, I use the example of Capacity by Theo Ellsworth. This book brings about a visual and story based epic that captures some stunning philosophical ideas, creations, and connections. There are times in this graphic novel that I completely get lost in time and space.

Why is Capacity as an art form so estranged from the typical comic experience and so in tune to what we think and see in the real world?

Let's start with the minutia of the artistry. I don't mean that it is all about small things, but Ellsworth is creating a word that is complicated and hyper detailed. The complexity of character and image creates a complicated and sometimes complex matrix of ideas that aren't based in our reality, but in something more abstract and subconscious. The reader isn't defining the next panel or how the story is going to end, but how odd that figure is, or how long it takes to draw so many tiny scales. But when you pull back and see that inner workings, it makes a stunning and prolific universe. Not only is the narrative story (in this case I mean words) epic, it is interactive. Often the narrative accesses your vision and choice in a friendly banter. This is what draws the reader to the inside. It is there that we begin to ask ourselves, what is going on. The stories are filled with epic failures, uncertainty, and sometimes hubris. It switches from brilliant moments of understanding of the consciousness self and then shifts back to how he lived in his car. While it is about the commitment to art and the stories that he discovers in his mind, it is also about the reality between the outside world and the inside.

Capacity is a stunning imaginative wandering and it doesn't work without the symbiotic relationship between the images and the words that balance one another in the vision and scope of the ideas. In some ways, the artwork affords further into the mindscape that he creates than even the narrative suggests. It is a complicated and visual wandering.

When I passed this book out in class to share and let the students see the creativity and ideas in the book, most of them took some time. One girl stayed after class, not realizing that everyone was gone and she got lost in the poems, the stories, and the details. I didn't bother her for awhile because I had been lost in that same way. This is a powerful and very creative comic. 


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