99 Ways To Tell A Story

I've been a Matt Madden fan for years (since we did 24-hour comics together in Austin) and just got a book he published a couple years ago - 99 Ways To Tell A Story: Exercises in Style. Originally I saw parts of it on his website (you can see some here) but seeing all 99 together is something else entirely.

The book is basically this - he starts with a basic one page comic, telling a simple story of a guy (Madden) getting up from working, answering a question from his girlfriend upstairs, then staring into the refrigerator wondering what he was looking for. Madden then tells this story 99 different ways, all in comics or semi-comcs form.

The idea from this comes from the French author Raymond Queneau, who told a simple story 99 different written ways - so one version from all possible tenses, then all possible forms (poetry, song, etc.) and on and on.

Madden, who shows truly strong drawing skills here, stretches the comics telling of the story every way he can. He goes through genres (superhero, fantasy, horror etc) he goes through form changes (all vertical panels, all horizontal panels etc). He does some truly amazing things - my two favorites are one where he disassembles and collages together all the visual elements of the story making a crazy-quilt mash-up that is wonderful. My other more sentimental fave is the Calligram, a picture made from words and pioneered by one of my heroes, the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The map version is also great:

In the introduction Madden makes a point that this project shows that form and content aren't at odds, but inescapably linked. I agree, and I think it also shows, and not just for comics, that artists and authors make all sorts of decisions, each of which make an impact on the final product.

Madden says he realized that the basic "template" version itself is full of stylistic and artistic decisions - that no way of telling a story (or of making an image) is free of "style". Again, I agree - and it's in the interrogation of those styles, those assumed points and givens, that an artist can find and create something new.

1 comment:

ahab said...

Hey, good post! I'm a bad consumer, by which I mean I rarely go out of my way to buy stuff. And I'm not going to buy Madden's book. But I'm sorely tempted.