fiffe & the rule-set of the city
part one

just look at those windows...

This is all that I really want to talk about today. This auto-geometric entoptic noise right here. This representation system for our modern nerve centers and industrial organs. I hinted at it earlier in the week with the image associations 001 post and the Moebius connection and now I'm gonna ramble on and speculate highly about it.

Alright, lessee now... continuous inversions of dynamics, auto-generated geometric patterns, a projection of short-handed visual-processing, spatial swing-music, a cracked reflection of ideaspace, emergent crystalline eye-noise... There's an old Arthur C. Clarke documentary called Fractals - The Colors of Infinity in which Clarke and others discuss, among many other things, the rule-sets by which large-scale structures emerge, making notes about the patterns of clouds and lifeforms and pictures and much more. I'll quote 24:23-24:48, from the craziest/coolest guy of the doc:

"Every single thing you see is one way or another described by reference, either
to itself or to something else in the picture you see. It's as though you're staring
at a vast dictionary, but the dictionary words are bits of pictures, and the references,
the definitions of the words, are made with other bits of pictures."

All structures follow the same basic rules, depending on how you want to look at them. This is what artists do, take in the rule-sets for the creation/recreation/evocation of real-world structures & feelings and spit them back out again. There are folks who can photo-realistically paint a wide variety of landscapes very quickly and with no reference, for example, because they've trained themselves in the compostional and representational rule-sets for evoking that particular setting. Any artist who's studied anatomy has done the same with the rule-sets for the human body. And there are countless books out there about the most efficient methods for perfectly photo-real light-based shadow-shape illustration of anything.

As always though, that sort of ice-cold perfection is not our goal in comics. We do not want perfectly recreated renderings, but highly personal icon systems and color rhythms.

We want representation, not recreation.

More filter, more filter! 

So, the city and Fiffe.

The city just wears so many faces in these comics.

It plays a dozen characters all once, yet remains a singular setting, still. It's a testament to the hidden rules deep with the controlled chaos of Fiffe's stylistic approach that all the disparate profiles of his consciousness-made-real cityscapes manage to actually cohere into something far, far greater than just the sum of their highly disparate parts. This is the surrealist place where the landscape and the mindscape conflate and become soft and mutable, crystallizing only for a panel at a time into unique structure, before going soft again in the empty space of the gutters, and then crystallizing again into a unique new form only long enough to survive the space of the next oh-so-brief panel.

Again and again and again.

Imagine snowflakes.

Such variety of rendering. Such novelty of patterning. Fiffe's basic tool use and essential skill and brio allow the whole thing to cohere as one. He lets the shapes come out as they will, ranging from simple sparse outlines to heavy shadow shapes and exquisitely detailed renderings. The metaphorical, super-positional, all-now, phase-space vision of the city, brought to you via brush, colored pencil and immaculate, messy watercolor.

Welcome home, little city-thing, do you not recognize it?

What allows Fiffe's cities to hold together is the tools. In the on-rush of the digital-art age, there have been some artists who have chosen to, unsurprisingly, because this is how things are done, invert the idiom, and reject digital. For every Cameron Stewart or Frazer Irving, slinging Manga Studio and Photoshop, respectively, there's a Sean Murphy or a Tonci Zonci, firmly remaining with the traditional, tried-and-still-oh-so-true, tools. And then there's Michel Fiffe, doing the same, brushing and penciling, dry and in color, against the grain of the electron flow.

But enough romantic bullshit. The fuck is going on with these buildings, huh?

Well, it's all to do with the fact that is Fiffe is a difficult cartoonist to read, sometimes.

Often, really.

His style has a massive range, and his shape structures and rendering workflow move around with little respect for the literal or even necessarily for the representational. But even when making abstract shapes, Fiffe sticks to the same tools, and this, like in my previous post with those dudes mostly sticking to clear-line, means that the marks he makes and colors he lays down build up whole substrates of visual grammar just through their use alone. 

Things do tend to accrete, you know.

This ultimately for Fiffe means that, to misuse some music terminology here, he can bridge his visual meanings in his readers minds, creating a specific association with his marks with one type of shape structure, and then using those very same marks to illustrate a whole different drawing, bridge the original association over into the new structure. This is related to a that old comment sometimes said about some comics artists (in rather a good way) about how "everything looks like it's made of the same stuff." I associate that sentiment with something Dash Shaw said to Paul Pope a couple of years ago onstage at some con or something or other. Dunno where it was first expressed, but you can see it with Paul Pope, you can especially see it with Jim Woodring, and of course, you can see it with Michel Fiffe.

The shit of it is though, this is a visually surrealist comic. Where there is pattern and grammar, there may not necessarily be intended significance. Like the music of a quasar or something, this is structure, not meaning. Unless we overlay it, of course. And we cannot help but do so. Sensual brush strokes, harsh yellows, etc. 

Discordant dry-brushes, bristle-stabbing figures into place across the page. Scratchy colored pencils, texturing everything. Vast watercolor swathes, painting across the sky. The instruments of the one-man band. The unique sound of Michel Fiffe comics. Fiffe's rule-set for urban evocation shifts around everywhere but to outside the bound of his tools. This, as in the case of the clear-line-texture boys, creates it's own sense of inherent visual unification. However, unlike with those guys, who have a relatively narrow, if highly fluid, set of stylistic rule-sets, Fiffe's rule-sets range. His city, his prime, ur setting, is whatever it needs to be.

This is not like Miller's Sin City, or even like any of the cities or structures in a  Stokoe, Graham or Milonogiannis comic, which all each feel the same across each of their comics. Made via the same rule-sets and so evoking the same emotions as ever with said rule-sets. They are as character actors. Fiffe's cities, however, as previously stated, have range.

In fact this precise difference can be said to be true of all of Fiffe's drawings. He does not stick to hard and fast shape structures, but rather to a variety of loose tool-focused rendering systems. Fiffe is nuanced and complex in exactly all the ways he shouldn't be in order to create a slick, marketable, casually palatable reading experience. 

He is a difficult cartoonist to read, sometimes.

Every time you think you have some of the usual visual rules to hold onto, they just seem to disintegrate before your very eyes into hazy scratches of ink and color. Not everyone likes that.

I happen to love it.

part two of city-talk tomorrow. i'm running on fumes and it's late.
thank you so, so much for reading!


 wait, what is this doing in here? tomorrow, dear reader...

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