If the process of manifestation, which involves the full fledged appearance of the visible world, never truly involves a departure from the unmanifest, undifferentiated reality of Shiva, then it follows that the tantric path of return consists of the recovery of this vision of the undifferentiated unity of all things. This vision, which at first appears to annihilate all things into the dark abyss of Shiva, later grows into the unmilana samadhi, which reveals the pulsating essence of Shiva actively structuring and maintaining all the apparently finite and even inert forms of visible reality. The yogin must come to a vision of the inseparability of all things from Shiva. -- Abhinavagupta
In a society of broken boundaries — families, roles of institutions (education versus family, etc.) and individuals (gender roles, etc.), etiquette, attire, speech and personal conduct, the printed comic seems to offer a quaint oasis of restrained creativity. As such, it’s ironic that certain “mommy” stereotypes include banishment of the comic book as a time- or mind-waster. Time to get over it.
Whether the plots are finite or serial, the two dimensional “panels” generally provide both the security of well-defined space and at least some element of closure.
Paradoxically and due, in large part, to the limits of two dimensions, black and white ink or “flat” coloration, the medium appears to be inherently subversive: An implicit lack of depth (with the assumption that the content must also lack depth) tends to reduce its elements to caricature.
Given this almost contradictory combination of restriction-rigidity and subversion, one could push it a bit and say that the comic is a “bipolar” art form. This may not seem entirely out of line with the human “bipolar” experience of daily life! It might be argued that neither a depressive nor manic “phase” can allow for full-spectrum perception, the abundance of life that accompanies peace of mind, except in those moments we lazily and tiresomely call “epiphanies.” Similarly, the comic offers a “base,” limiting experience — instead of the full spectrum solar brilliance of art and storytelling through the fine arts and literature, it gives us but a small, wintry slice of the highlights.
The comic thus bears a natural penchant for deviltry, a Shiva-like destruction of forms via reduction to the least flattering elements (consider G.B. Trudeau’s treatment of Hunter S. Thompson as one of the better-known examples).
In short, the comic, which may be justly called intensely Saturnine, is an embodiment of the most basic sort of creative tension, the kind that resides within the medium itself.
So now the most natural thing to do with a comic panel must be to build on that foundation of creative tension. Throw a bunch of kids into it! Kids embody the robust Jupiter of astrological psychology, of growth through expansion. Maturing through constraint — that’s Saturn. And that tension is, rather basically, what makes the comic go ’round (or, rather, go square).
Apropos of constraints, I very much doubt young children are actually “testing” their boundaries or limits as they grow — more likely they are testing their parents’ limits. We tend to project a bit about such difficult matters. Kids, in fact, have a way of imposing their own constraints: They mimic and they play at roles, make believe they are their heroes.
The age of heroes is finite, however. Consider that ancient Greece’s heroic period (Second Bronze Age) ended as the Iron Age began ... “A glory had forever passed from the earth of which we today have only the faintest intimation ...” (Donald Richardson, Greek Mythology for Everyone: Legends of the Gods and Heroes). If we accept Sigmund Freud’s notion that, “the childhood of the individual is the childhood of the race,” it follows that children must eventually transcend the limits of role playing and outgrow their heroes.
Formalized role playing — commercial games such as Dungeons & Dragons and others — appears to be more than just a hobby for the kids in Snapdragons (Dork Storm Press, 2006), a comics collection in which role-playing and storybook fantasy converge at a gateway to new possibilities.
That combination is certainly non-exclusive. As the artists are, essentially, examining the creative process, the collection of comics presents some very complex and interesting approaches and ideas worthy of study.
Commercial role playing games seem to form the characters’ Weltanschung, Whether the kids are playing indoors or out, playing dress up or simply exploring new spaces, the Snapdragons kids’ use the language of these games.
From the standpoint of astrological psychology, which at least affords us some useful language as applied to creativity and the arts, we are speaking of the realm of Mercury, said “to govern the way the mind directs its thoughts and connects reason between the conscious and the subconscious, physical and the spiritual” (Deborah Goulding, Skyscript: “Saturn, the Great Teacher,” December 2003). This will become very evident in Snapdragons.
It appears (however alarmingly) that a growing number of people find games, typically electronic, to be a principal “connector” in their lives. Electronic games form an entertainment medium so powerful that those embracing it will line up outside of stores hours before early morning openings when new gaming systems become available in limited supply.
One may speak of faddishness but electronic gaming has been around for about 30 years; never mind that we still have rock music, with the Rolling Stones (formed in 1962) to be the top grossing touring concert act of 2006 with $138.5 million in North America; we’d be compelled to refer to a 40-year-old “fad.”
Commercial role-playing games have been around since Gary Gygax (Tactical Studies Rules, TSR) first published Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.
To the uninitiated, however, the role playing gamer may seem even stranger than the rabid video gaming enthusiast. Animated motion picture storyboard artist/illustrator Liz Rathke and gaming writer/publisher/comic artist John Kovalic have, in Snapdragons, succeeded in demonstrating that the games are basically structured versions of the kind of play that kids do naturally.
Subversive? Well, wisecracks (school cafeteria meatloaf is “fugglier” than zombies) do layer the collection. While whimsy abounds, as it should, this particular comic series addresses the creative imagination itself in a caring, patient manner, which suggests the book’s potential usefulness to parents hoping to understand and foster creativity in their children.
Creative kids create their way out of boxes (much like comics creators), as Snapdragons demonstrates in a most ambitious twist on Maurice Sendak’s evergreen, Where The Wild Things Are.
Here play intrudes on homework and chores. By putting her foot down, Mom, not merely moves to maintain decorum, but effects a full-blown existential dilemma — in effect, she becomes Shiva, unleashing creative/destructive forces.
But when Mom imposes a temporary ban on their sophisticated playthings, precocious Jody and twin brother Jake discover that “you don’t need games you buy at a store to have a good time.”
The twins use their imagination to sail (consider Hermes/Mercury, a guide to travelers, in the mythic tradition of the far-off adventure) to where the “Wild Things” might be hanging out. Things take an ironic twist, or rather, several of them.
The creators of the comic don’t simply reference Sendak. They perform a full-scale détoumement, re-conceptualizing the images, message and artefacts they’ve lifted from the original.
Here is pure drollery: To these modern-day gaming kids, Sendak’s creatures just aren’t frightening. They are, in effect, mild things.
“Not SCARY? But I rolled my terrible eyes” ... “gnashed my terrible teeth.”
Jody and Jake recruit the monsters for (what else?) play in imaginary video, card, and board-based games based on the kids’ real-world collection (at this point one recalls the late Fred Rogers who took great pains to clearly mark the border between reality and fantasy play).
Furthermore the kids’ gaming thoroughly befuddles Sendak’s not-so-nightmarish creatures. Rathke’s visual rendering of the exasperation of the creatures is arresting and endearing in this high moment of deconstruction.
What we have in effect is ... drum roll, please ... a “role-playing reversal” in which the children become the “monsters” and the monsters are overwhelmed.
This is a Leonine twisted circle, however. There is one more sleight-of-hand. The imaginary creatures, it seems, have their own imaginations. Their way “out” of this "Ransom of Red Chief” quagmire is to convince the kids that their mother is calling and hasten to send the children home.
The ultimate trump card is always, “Mom,” and here it falls with a distinctly leaden “thunk.”
We could creatively apply a term created by Bertolt Brecht for this particular plot twist: Umfunktionierung, a creative solution addressing a new “reality” or set of circumstances defining the rules of this particular fictional universe.
This, in turn, creates a kind of cognitive dissonance visible on the faces of the children “crossing over” once again.
This solution not only highlights the artistic necessity of creative tension (the creative Sun against the female principle of Saturn ... “everything that arises from its influence carries the aim of creating firmer foundations for future potential” -- Goulding, again), it provides a kind of analogy to healthy child development in which the imagination and mundane reality are balanced.
Ironically enough, it is only by playing the restrictive “Mom” trump -- hence invoking Shiva — that the “Wild Things” can be truly wild once more. And that is a very special, healthy minded moment, in a growth adventure for children and their parents and for those of us risking our reputations to examine the creative process wherever it occurs.
Not only is this tribute worthy of Sendak and suggestive of magical realism, but, in all its glorious, comic subversion, points to a postmodern vision. This vision honors the early 20th century Modernist view of the art escaping from the artist-as-prison by figuratively recapturing it; thus the vision appears to be liberated from the internal logic of the work of art itself. In this very attempt to “corral” or “label” it, though, we appear to be reaching into the abyss ... Mom?
— Robert Preuss