Friday, 2 January 2015

Meskin, Twoskin

In part one of this fascinating new part-work (I'll be selling a folder for it in about March), I understood that comics exist in multiples. Then I got distracted and wondered whether this meant that comics had super-powers. 

Tune in for part two and get this statement explained.

The art form of comics is typically a two-stage art in which instances are produced by means of what Stephen Davies calls encoding and decoding. In normal cases, decoding (i.e., printing) is required to produce an authentic instance of a comic. But this is only in normal cases—in some cases no decoding is needed to produce an authentic instance of the comic since the encoding is itself a proper instance of the comic. And in some of these cases comics are produced by means of a one-stage process (i.e., they are finished when the artist’s work is complete). 

Okay, pass the crack pipe. Meskin quotes Davies, who elucidates three different ways in which multiples can be made. It's the process of encoding that Meskin picks as the most applicable to the comic - that is to say, there is no 'instance' of the comic, no source, just the copies.

Right - yes, when I saw the exhibition in the Victoria and Albert of Kirby/Lee Fantastic Fours, they just slapped a few issues in a case, and didn't worry about getting the versions from which they were printed. 

But I disagree with Meskin that this makes comics 'multiples without a source.' The novel is called by Davis 'an exemplar based multiple' - there is a manuscript, and all copies, or multiples, are authenticated by comparison to the exemplar manuscript. Exactly the same thing is the case for a comic. I know I am always trying to distance comics from being literature (they are something other, more complex), but I think that the parallel between the novel's manuscript and the completed art work of the comic is much closer than the magical 'encoding' that Meskin suggests.

Mind you, a copy without an original is a seductive concept. I am thinking of Baudrillard, and how he says that we live in a world of simulcra, in which 'real things' have been replaced by signifiers. 

I'd love to run with Meskin's definition of the comic as an encoding/decoding medium, and shout that comics are, in fact, an expression of a universe that is without a source. But either I have misread his intentions - most likely - or he has put a bet on the wrong multiple horse. 

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