The Poetry of Comics
From the drawing board of Leland Myrick
“If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry”
I took part in a panel discussion at last summer’s San Diego comic convention that started me thinking again about a subject that’s been spinning around in my head for a while—the relationship between comics and poetry, and whether some comics can be called poetry. It didn’t take me long, honestly, to come to the conclusion that many comics, though they might not have started out as poems, are in their finished forms closer to poetry than anything else.
During the panel discussion in
One of the most important things that happened in the transformation from poem to comic was the loss of words. My editor, Mark Siegel used what became an important phrase for me in the early stages of the book when I was still struggling with keeping the language of the original poems intact—Let the words fall away. And so I did. In my head I saw the words falling away, floating leaves settling on the floor around my drawing table. And when I did, the transformations occurred for me, small enchantments twisting poetry into comics. When I told my friend Jane (who taught me more about poetry than anyone else) about this process, she said, “Oh...don’t let the words fall away! Let me have them.” One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received, and I’ll always love her for saying that.
When I finished MISSOURI BOY, I didn’t stop thinking about the connection between poetry and comics, because the chapters still felt like poems to me, and I began to think about the other graphic novels and comics I’ve loved, and I began to think about which ones felt like poems to me. And a lot of them came to my mind. And I decided that, for me, certain books are poetry, in the same way that MISSOURI BOY is still poetry. They feel like poems when I read them. The magic mix of the language, the arrangement of the words on the page and the pictures conjures poetry.
The moment near the end of Dave McKean’s CAGES when the artist and his love are talking about creativity and then walk out on the balcony to see the city rising beneath them—that’s poetry. The moment in Taiyo Matsumoto’s BLACK & WHITE when Kimura has a leisurely conversation with Suzuki and then kills him, Suzuki knowing all along that he’s going to die—that’s poetry. The moment at the end of Lark Pien’s LONG TAIL KITTY, when Long Tail Kitty carries the bunny-chewed shoe to the sleeping woman—that’s poetry. The moment in Keiko Nishi’s shojo manga, THE SKIN OF HER HEART, when Lin-Lin turns down an offer of marriage from the factory chief’s son and the rain stops. That’s poetry. And I think even if Dave McKean or Lark came up to me and pointed a finger in my face and told me absolutely not, their books are NOT poetry, I’d smile and nod, and they’d still be poetry in my head and in my heart.
This all may lead one to say that I am just playing with words. And that would be true. But, if I stretch my mind and try to come up with a definition for poetry, I can never settle on anything that strays very far from Miss Dickinson’s definition that I started with. Novels can be poetry, and graphic novels can be poetry, and films can be poetry, and sometimes, for a little while, people can be poetry. They may not be verse, the physical manifestation of poetry that usually starts on the left side of the page and turns back on itself. But poetry is not the same as verse. Not for me, and not for Emily Dickinson.
[UP NEXT WEEK: GREG COOK]