fiffe & the rule-set of the city
part two

projections of feelings

My apologies to the few of you who read this blog about this post going up as late as it is. Hectic week, last week. 2012 tryin' its best to kill us all, but we fightin' it back, stubborn, headstrong. So... cities, fractals, algorithmic, periodic rule-sets describing large-scale structures, consistent tool use, bridgings of meanings across shape structures, pictorial dictionaries wherein definitions are contained within references to other pictures, and of course, the interrelatedness of all this weirdness to itself and to the singular city-setting of Michel Fiffe.

Fiffe's consistent tool use allows his art itself to accrete meaning through patterned repetition, and this allows Fiffe's chaotic style to maintain a singular fractal feel even across very loose rendering systems. This comes out in the cities he draws as collections of jumbled angles and icons, held together with the tool-oriented nature of the marks with which they're built. He may draw no building remoetly the same way twice, but they'll all be drawn with the dry brush and the nib pen, and colored with watercolor and colored pencil.

Whereas some other cartoonists strive to create rhythms and patterns of interacting icons, Fiffe creates rhythms and patterns of interacting tool marks. He does not necessarily need to use his marks to iconographically code as most cartoonists do, but to emotionally code, as most artists at large do. This expands his visual grammar well outside the range most comics readers are used to processing.

Comics aren't generally as open to interpretation as static visual art at large, and relating back to the How to Read Comics post, most comics readers aren't really well practiced in stretching their senses of self enough to connect to more interpretive, more abstract, less directly representational art. Not only that, but comics share a very high level of reading approach with prose, in the minds of comics readers at large.

You're not supposed to stop and really contemplate the art in the dominant mode of comics reading. And even if folks do stop to contemplate, what they're contemplating is rarely worth contemplating, usually relying on the same old camera-based tv-evoking experience, or the icon-system-based more-traditional line-cartooning, rather than incorporating composition and storytelling and visual depiction lessons from worlds of fine art, engineering, information visualization, semiotics and more. 

I'm cross pollinating a little here, but seriously, ya'll don't know shit about reading images.

And Fiffe, he sits right in the middle of all these methods of visual communication. 

Or at least all the old-world ones.

As is obvious from one look at his comics and as I brought up in the first Fiffe & the Rule-Set of the City post, Fiffe is old-school in his tools. Analog-only mark-making. I'm cross pollinating again, but analog has its limits in being visually communicative. Thankfully, all the art limits are like asymptotes: we'll never really reach them.

But Fiffe reaches for them. Stretching. Grasping out.

His cities, like his comics at large, demand to be read in a mode other than the dominant. You cannot glance, read, and move on. As has been stated, he does not use only icon systems or hard-and-fast shape-structures, and the icon systems and shape structures he uses mutate and transform constantly. Most comics artist's draw things only one way, which can usually be seen most clearly in how they draw hands. You'd never mistake Ditko's hands for Kirby's or Cameron Stewart's for Mike Mignola's.

These things are the words of their visual dictionaries, and, to stretch the metaphor, they're always spelled the same (read: drawn the same). This "stamped out" quality to the art allows for a highly complex symphony of composition in which all the icons always read the same, code the same, mean the same, as they're always drawn the same. 

Fiffe's icons do not do this.

Fiffe's highly complex symphony of composition is built not just of icon-marks but of emotion-marks, which due to his previously mentioned skill and brio allows it to be much more richly rewarding listening experience to those who can hear the music. 

Imagine if you had to train you ears to hear pitches above and below the normal ranges of human hearing, and there were symphonies and concertos and even pop songs written for that wider range of hearing. So, if you really wanted to listen to the music the way it was meant to be, to take in all of the coded information, you'd have train yourself to properly hear. 

Range, remember?

All the metaphors coming together here to reveal the through-line 'tween them all, as the range of his mark-making and of his emotional evocation and of his story plotting and of his page composition and of the very structure of his cities come together to reveal themselves all as perspectives of the same obviously-multifaceted multitalented individual, full of broad life experience and understanding and empathy. Even the anthology itself, as stated back in Zegas Number One: Everything and More, is a symphony, a triumph of complex composition and wide-ranging emotional balance.

Fiffe's cities are whatever they need to be. No bias. Ultimate adaptation. Plucked from the quantum phase-space of neurons and chemical lightning, through a sea of variety and decohering possibility after possibility, until the little city-vision-snowflake emerges from the muscles and the pencil on the other end, an expression of Fiffe's nuanced, highly controlled, chaos.

I don't know enough about Fiffe's process to know how much conscious contemplation is put into the penciling of his city's angles and shapes and discordances, but if I had to guess, I'd say there's very little. They have the feeling of transmissions from the under-mind. Visions of how a city feels inside and taken and inverted, projected outwards. If I had to guess, I'd say we're getting Fiffe's emotional impression of the city on a panel-by-panel basis. There's a panel toward the end of Zegas 2 (below) that shows this most clearly, with Emily Zegas just having found out why she's been distanced from her boyfriend, while also putting up with her brother and going to start a new (possibly quite shit) job.

The city reflects the moods. Whatever it needs to be.

Later, when Boston and Gina are on the rooftop having one of those moments mentioned in an earlier post, shared only between a few, but which we all still intimately recognize, the city shifts again, now a collection of kaleidoscopic shape and color, dissolved away into ever-changing hues and shadow-shapes, barely recognizable in the background of our young lovers.

This is Fiffe's city: Emotional projection in the usual marks-and-colors mode of non-comics visual art, and ever-shifting geometrical icons systems that are built out of or dissolve into said emotional projections. Hard and fast icon-systems and shape-structures need not apply. Fluid, surreal, continuous visual adaptation desired, please apply within.

part three tomorrow, featuring some actual, proper, art criticism and more rambling!

thank you for reading!

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