Friday, January 18, 2008

Retention, or, The Art Form of the Comic

When I was younger, everyone around me quoted lines from movies as their contribution to good humor. Everyone would laugh in shared recognition of famous, and hilarious, lines from the latest Hollywood comedic blockbusters. Except me. You see, I never could remember any of these lines. I seem to have a retention problem, most noticeable when it comes to humor. If you know me, you'll realize I have never actually told a joke. When I try, I barely can get it out, and don't have the timing needed for succesful punchlines. But thankfully, I also don't use movie lines to try and get you to laugh.

Lately though I have been using lines of dialogue from "It's A Wonderful Life". I've even gone so far as to suggest, just as Tom Hanks touts the virtues of "The Godfather" in "You've Got Mail", that to any question there is an answer from a line of dialogue in Capra's masterpiece. But really, why does anyone want to do this? Use scripted dialogue in real conversations? Laugh because we recognize a line from a movie? Just because it was funny the first time around...

I consider it a masterpiece - a seamless film that works perfectly in so many ways, and I realize the only reason I can do this with "It's A Wonderful Life" is that I have seen it so many times. Without VCR's and DVD's, I never had the funny lines ready as a kid because I never saw things over and over. Even now, the majority of the films I see, I see once. Quality should be treasured, but there is more dreck than quality out there. Amazing images and characters stick with us, forcing us to remember, or lingering just close enough that we can recall them at appropriate times.

Similarly, there are few books I read more than once. There is always a new story to get wrapped up in. Sadly, it seems I have less retention of books than I do of movies. But there is only the image we create in our heads to associate with literary stories. The truly powerful works that remain with us are probably more so than those of cinema because the pictures are all our own.

Which brings me to the point of this post - comics, sequential pictures, with or without dialogue. The images and stories from comics seem to stay with me stronger and longer than either film or literature. I believe it's because of the personal nature of the art form - we are alone as we experience it. A movie can be shared, but we can be passive as the images roll. The written words of literature create images in our head, but often these slip away.

With comics, we turn pages at our own rate. We linger as long or as little as we like. And though we don't create our own images, we fuse the drawn forms with our reading of the lines. If the work gives us a personal reason to respond to it, the likelihood rises of our being able to remember and recall those images and storylines. I plan on writing more about comics in the future.

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