Sparkplug Comic Books
I’m hesitant to talk about what I think John Hankieweicz’s enigmatic comics are about because that’s the part I struggle with the most when I read them. It’s been said that his comics have a logic puzzle quality to them, and indeed, I am constantly wondering if I could somehow solve my way through them. I’m sure by this point, I’ve walked into the trap.
Rather than create an underlying cohesiveness, Hankieweicz has given us a seemingly connected series of comics that explode our reasoning faculties, all the while sucking us in with their charming, yet terrifying playfulness.
Quite honestly, I’m not sure there is much plot or narrative to be mined in his comics–so it’s convenient that dance is an ostensible theme in several of his comics. Like dance, his comics have a lot of emotional fluidity to them. One panel flows into the next because of a common element that seemingly connotes a connection of some kind, and yet before you know it, you’re left with a whole lot air and gravity beneath your feet.
Underneath all his re-arrangements of chairs and a collection of arbitrary everyday objects and people, there is a disturbing sense that the visual vocabulary of sequential art has turned on the reader. Here I am, looking at a man sitting in a chair. Clearly this man is the protagonist or the soon-to-be speaker. Instead, the next panel shows a birdfeeder sitting in what I can only assume is the same chair and shown at the same angle. Did this guy turn into a birdfeeder? Are we looking at a picture from another point in time? Does the birdfeeder represent something that the man is expressing? We’re led to believe that there is a connection between the birdfeeder and the man. But I’m not sure I’m ready to start theorizing in however so many words what the connection might be. It reminds me of those science experiments where you perform an action and something happens, but you cannot assume that the action caused the occurrence.
The narrative strategies are all there to a certain degree–it’s as though the syntax is there, but the words are written by Gertrude Stein. Or Magritte. Well, let’s not get too carried away. And yet, there is something that’s vaguely “this is not a pipe” about all this.
To return to the subject of logic, I was recently trying to engage a number of chat bots (i.e. A.L.I.C.E.) in stimulating conversation. “What is your favorite book?” — “My favorite book is Great Gatsby. Have you read it?” — “Why, yes I have? I thought it was very depressing. What about you?” — “Oh, that’s too bad. I never looked at it that way.”
Like speaking to chat bots, there is a pleasing illusion of meaning and progression, which in the end leads you in circles, built out of logical responses that merely move you along without contributing much. But there is still something compelling about the process, and usually it’s the part filled by our own overactive imagination and hope for possibilities.