Oubapo. Oupus 1 (L’Association, 1997).
The Ouvroir de Bande Dessinée Potentielle’s (Oubapo) first Oupus book is a combination of essays and examples (see my review of Oupus 3). The biggest part of the book is Thierry Groensteen’s “Un premier bouquet de contraintes” (A First Bouquet/Bunch of Constraints), an enumeration (with examples cited and occasionally pictured) of constraints found in work predating the Oubapo’s 1992 founding and those created by the group. The other large part of the book is the comic “Le Grabuge galactique” (The Galactic Ruckus) by Étienne Lécroart and J.-C. Menu, which is created with the “tireur a la ligne” (“line stretching” called “larding” in English by Warren Motte) constraint originally theorized by oulipian Jacques Duchateau. A few other shorter constraint examples are included.
The book begins with three introductions. The first two by oulipians Marcel Benabou and Noel Arnaud, respectively, are short and fail to discuss comics or the Oubapo at all. Jean-Christophe Menu follows up with a brief history of the group (first official meeting February 26, 1993).
The most interesting part of the book is Groensteen’s essay. He begins by considering the possibilities for utilizing oulipian constraints in comics. He skips over the issue of defining comics, though does briefly consider the question of the importance of the text (he considers it contingent), and goes on to grammar and syntax in comics. While the idea of finding a finite number of small discrete units like an alphabet for comics s easily dismissed, the syntax of comics is a possibility. Groensteen quotes Hubert Damisch, who is here discussing painting:
Là où le sémiologue s’épuise en vain à mettre au jour les “unités minimales” qui l’autoriseraient à traiter de la peinture comme d’un “système de signes”, la peinture démontre, en sa texture même, que le problème demande à être pris à l’envers, au niveau des relations entre les termes, à celui, non des lignes, mais des noeuds.
[Where the semiologist wears himself out trying to reveal the "minimal units" which would allow him to treat painting as a "system of signs", painting demonstrates, in its very texture, that the problem asks to be taken the other way, at the level of the relation between the terms, in this case, not lines but knots.]
Groensteen follows: “Dans la bande dessinée, ce sont les relations entre les composants d’une même image (niveau morphologique), et les relations entre les vignettes contiguës (niveau syntaxique), qui sont sémantiquement déterminantes.” (15)
[In comics, it is the relations between the components of a single image (morphological level), and the relations between the contiguous drawings (syntactical level), which are semantically determining.]
Groensteen also notes the difference between literature and comics in regards to publication: for instance, the placement of the work on a page. Literature in almost all cases is placed on the page by accident of page size, margins, etc. Comics are created to be placed in a certain way on the page. One can also consider concerns such as page size, color, number of pages, many of which are what Jan Baetens calls “negative constraints”.
It is these areas where I think comics constraint need to be further explored, particular the syntactical level (such as my panel transition constraint) and the layout of pages.
When Groensteen gets into enumerating specific constraints he lists them in two groups: generative (they create new works) and transformative (they re-create from existing works). He writes off the possibility of creating a table (like Queneau’s table or this one at Spineless Books) of constraints based on the elements upon which the constraints act (line, panel, strip, page, book, theme, motif, color, point of view, framing, text, etc). While I’m not sure a table is a good idea, it might be interesting to see what comes from thinking about these elements and constraints.
I’m not going to go into the constraints individually (I’ll save that for another post some other day). He does offer numerous examples of works that use the constraints (a reading list for me) and at least every other page has a panel, a strip, or a whole short story. A lot of the examples are quite interesting, such as Ayroles six panel reduction of Proust, Spiegelman’s “Malpractice Suite”, and Bill Griffith’s “The Plot Thickens”. Even for the non-oubapian Groensteen’s analyses have a lot of worthwhile ideas. (I’m trying to get ahold of some of his books about comics. More later, I hope.)
Following Groensteen’s essay is a collection of strips using the double blind constraint and an accompanying explanation. This constraint involves having scripters and drawers working without knowledge of the others work, generally starting from the same strip (the scripters only see the art, the artists only see the text). Rather in the vein of the Surrealist exquisite corpse, I don’t see this as serious work, more like entertainment.
Killoffer has two pages for a “tripoutre” which is hard to explain without visuals. It’s a form of multi-readability. Anne Baraou writes a couple pages about her “comics dice” which is a set of three dice with 6 comics panels on each. One rolls the dice and gets a three panel strip.
The other long piece in the book is Lécroart and Menu’s “Le Grabuge galactique”. Written with the larding constraint, it starts out with two panels in section A. In section B a panel is added before, between, and after the original two panels, creating a 5 panel sequence. In section C, panels are added before, between, and after the panels in section B, creating an 11 panel sequence. This continues on through section G which covers 16 pages (12 panels each). An additional constraint is placed on the text. The text in the new panels in each section must begin with the corresponding letter of the section. The finished comic concerns a human couple and some aliens. I got bored before finishing the thing, not my style of writing (whacky comedy) or drawing (I dislike Lécroart’s big-nosed cartoony style).
This volume is worth the price for Groensteen’s essay alone. It deserves a translation (if I had the time I would do it) so it can get better recognition in the English speaking comics world. Matt Madden has listed the constraints on the Oubapo America page, but it lacks the analysis and examples. I’ll try to add to that summary in the future with my own excerpts from the essay.