Cinema is a medium tied to temporality. We experience a film one frame at a time, and barring a projector meltdown or remote control mishap, we watch it from start to finish in the order designed by the film’s creators. Comics, on the other hand, are a profoundly spacial medium. Time is read between the lines and between the panels, but it is the space of the page that we primarily consume. Over a two-page spread, all moments are one, and page-time is traveled as the eye darts back and forth across the page.
For almost two years I have been creating comic book essays on film theory, in the shape of my self-published comic series Filmish. Each issue deals with a different thematic frame, for example ‘Sets and Architecture’ or ‘Point of View’, delving into the multiple meanings and connotations for film of such themes. I admit to focussing primarily on English language cinema, and primarily on mainstream cinema. But then, I was never a particularly picky cinephile, and growing up in the age of Spielberg has left me with a love of that brand of Hollywood storytelling.
The thing that’s interesting is the act of translation from a primarily temporal medium to a primarily spacial medium. In drawing film I essentialise it, boiling it down to its timeless iconography. On the page, Godzilla, Gort and The Fly can occupy the same space, and an entire film genre can be demonstrated with one image. Some may call this reductive, but when those time-ties are cut, when we essentialise on the page a world we already have lived, we can then begin to understand it anew. There is nothing cinephilic in the act of synopsis. But when past, present and future are thrown together, when a film exists outside time, we can begin to understand how it is timeless.
But this is nothing new, is it? The very act of cinephilia is one of breaking down the temporal prison of film watching. If early cinema, and mainstream entertainment cinema too, is largely ephemeral, then rewatching, reviewing and reinterpreting is an act of rebellion against that temporality, that disposability. In producing our own works of cinephilia, we put an end to cinema’s temporal trap, and in so doing, invest the moving image with space. The space to be understood on new terms, to be meditated upon, to be loved rather than merely lived.
Edward Ross is an Edinburgh-based comic book artist and writer who will be speaking at the Project: New Cinephilia symposium at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Copies of ‘Filmish’ issues 2 and 3 can be purchased from Edward’s blog and you can download a free copy of Filmish issue 1 here.