We Must Know, We Will Know

I recently made mention of one of the great short comics, Richard McGuire's "Here" on the blog, and well what do you know! Another great short comic, We Must Know, We Will Know by Ron Rege jr. (recently collected in Against Pain, D&Q Books) has just been posted on What Things Do (click here to read). Originally published in Drawn & Quarterly's house anthology in 2002, it's worth noting that Ron's approach with this strip-a series of stand alone, but interconnected, strips all on a theme (in this case, mathematics), has become a popular narrative strategy in comics in the intervening years. And its not surprising it's a strategy that's here to stay, and not associated with any one artist. David Heatley's one page portrait comics, Seth's Wimbledon Green and George Sprott, Clowes' Ice Haven, Deathray, and Wilson, and on and on. Rege didn't invent the idea of doing a story made of lots of self contained strips that build into a larger whole-that idea can be traced, at least in echo form, to reading a substantial chunk of any good newspaper comic, where the narrative is spread over little short strips, all with their own punchlines, building into a larger story. And more recently with something like Jaime Hernandez's Wig Wam Bam, which built a huge novel length story from somewhat disparate narratives of 16 pages each.
But Rege's is the first I recall to really do it, and to do it so well (and if I may be so bold as to suggest, it was THE influence on modern cartoonists to work in this way). Visually, he stylistically changes it up from strip to strip, and narratively dips into biography, science, myth, history, and autobiography, but thematically building it to a complete satisfactory whole. In my world its a straight up classic of the medium.
It is a frustrating thing even having to write this post, because I think Rege has introduced so much to comics that have become de rigueur at this point, and he rarely gets his due, I think. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a couple of Lubavitch Chassidic jews about how many of the social outreach programs that the Lubavitcher Rebbe introduced into the jewish world in the 1960's have become co-opted by many other jewish organizations that, ironically enough, still have only negative things to say about Lubavitch philosophy and outreach. But one of the guys suggested that it was a much richer, deeper level of influence-how much more powerful is the effect of Lubavitch Chassidism when the people who profess to be no fan of it, actually still live with it's philosophies, unknowingly? It is much more ingrained in the culture, and what was once radical is now standard. Same thing can be said of Charlie Parker-someone can say they hate jazz, while all the music they like exists solely because of jazz and it's influence. So next time someone says they don't "get" or like Ron Rege comics, you can tell them, no you actually fucking love Ron Rege comics whether you know it or not!

Ron Rege's Blog.
What Things Do.

posted by sammy at 9:33 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Worst trend in modern comics.

11:33 AM  

Blogger sammy said...

A, the amazon link was for people not in la., but youre right. Removed.
Why worst trend? Curious.

11:40 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a trendy way to flatten emotions. Reading most of these books is as emotional as looking at something through a microscope. It's lazy and it's a fad. Rege did it out of necessity for what he was trying to say. (I agree Rege is one of the greats / originals of all time -- anyone who says otherwise doesn't get it.) But I think Chris Ware formalize the "strip series" first (nice name for it), or at least is the reason everyone else does it. George Sprott is probably the most successful, natural-seeming attempt at telling a story this way but it would have worked regardless. On the other hand there's Schitzo #4, the worst comic book ever. Or take Wally Gropius, there's no reason that story (such as it is) needs or wants to be told that way except to baffle us with BS. I think overall like the Amores Perros intersecting worlds movie formula... Even though it hasn't been a total waste of time, it will fade away and no one will miss it.

Respectfully disagreeing, Anonymous

12:23 PM  

Blogger sammy said...

I dont necessarily disagree with you on everything. Stuff to consider.

11:24 AM  

Blogger Tim Hensley said...

Since Sammy's going to let me twist in the wind, I'll just say my story is divided into installments because that's how it was originally published. There would have been even less patience for it if it had just picked up where it left off 3 issues ago. The page counts and title treatments are similar to what you'd find in any teen comic. Whether it "needs or wants" that form is for the reader to determine. In general, I tend to be skeptical of someone whose version of emotion IS TYPING IN ALL CAPS and calling a comic he respectfully disagrees with the worst comic book ever. I've never seen Amores Perros.

1:27 PM  

Blogger sammy said...

I wouldn't even put Gropius in the group of comics I am thinking of-there is only a couple of one pagers in there (if that-I don't have the book handy), no strips less than a page, and has a linear plot. so thats a different conversation I think.

12:35 PM  

Blogger Tim Hensley said...

Yeah, sorry I lost it there! Too much internet use...

12:52 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't know Gropius was serialized. I don't agree with the 100% comicometer rating, but it's clearly a beautifully drawn, thought-provoking book and well ahead of the pack.

Towards the end of the book, the already fragmented narrative starts to read like a strip series. It comes off as a stylistic flourish that dates the story and tips it over the line to the frustration zone. Sorry but that's my take on it. I don't mean this to sound like an attack and I apologize for the earlier flippancy.

I don't think that strip series concept is defined by short cartoons per se but rather by a shifting POV playing off comics styles of simpler times to convey a sense of conceptual distance from the things that matter to me as a reader -- emotion, meaning, etc. That's why I think George Sprott does it best -- because there's nothing meta about the way Seth handles the form. Like Rege, he actually keeps the attitude in check and leaves storytelling where it belongs, as the primary concern.

If it sounds like I'm harping on the SS thing, it's because it feels like I'm the only one who finds it incredibly annoying and completely of our lousy era, and would like someone to validate my opinion.

PEACE ~ anon

2:11 PM  

Blogger DerikB said...

Charles Hatfield wrote about this type of comic awhile back, a conversation that actually started in a review of Crickets.


2:13 PM  

Blogger sammy said...

well, I like gropius, so I am leaving that one alone. but I am suspicious of that SS mode of storytelling (as you call it) because I know its easier to do as a cartoonist and easier to get a quick easy response from readers with it. it can become a lazy way of telling a story because it can have the veneer of depth without actually having any because you can shift from a million different things and give them all snappy little titles and some can end on a joke and others can end without a joke, like you can do a 4 panel strip of just shots around a room and do a one pager of world war 2, and then a half pager about syphilis, and another page about eating fresh apple pie and soon enough you have a comic book about hitler or whatever.

6:03 PM  

Blogger Jason Overby said...

true that this method can be shallow or gimmicky, but Rege's comic is so weird and good! There is nothing easy about this comic! It fits together in such a complex manner - there's no obvious way to unpack it. It's not a formula like Ice Haven or something. Amores Perros is like so many 90s indie movies that seem to equate connecting disparate narratives with depth. It's not art like Rege.

8:19 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares if it is a trendo or a gimmick?
Come on?
Is it good?
Did you like?
Did it moved you?
Did it left you thinking or crying or laughing?
Or whatever.

Been so analitical is the worst way to flatten emotions.

Regé´s work is beyond the critic.


6:54 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear this Ron Rege chap is HUNG LIKE A HORSE. Can we see pictures?

3:38 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time I read Rege was in that Ivan Brunetti Yale book...I totally didn't get it at first. Then after a couple more readings I picked up on all the little resonances Rege was weaving in there and engaged with it on a more narrative level 'cause I hated the art...Now I think he's great, a true original, the Captain Beefheart of comics!
And Wally Gropius is fucking great.

7:21 AM  

Anonymous Andrew Lorenzi said...

Hey, Schizo 4 is a fucking brilliant comic! In my opinion, or whatever I need to say to defend that.

12:30 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive me, for I am correcting your grammar.
In this sentence: "But one of the guys suggested that it was a much richer, deeper level of influence-how much more powerful is the effect of Lubavitch Chassidism when the people who profess to be no fan of it, actually still live with it's philosophies, unknowingly?" "it's" should be "its". That's all.

12:14 AM  

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