Mash-Ups Examined

By | Friday, September 26, 2008 2 comments
I've been a little disappointed at how little response my mash-ups have gotten. Not that they're outstanding and desire heaps of praise -- far from it -- but I think there's something very interesting that goes on in the inherent discord that occurs when merging two unrelated comics. Let me post a few more here, and I'll go into further detail below...
What I've done is replaced the dialogue of several comics with the text from today's The Devil's Panties. In the original comic, Jen receives an email that links to a web site which she finds wholly disgusting. She's seen visually reeling away from the computer before drowning it with bleach to disinfect it. She then receives a follow-up email asking what she thought...
The text makes perfect sense in the context of the art. However, as you can see in the mash-up strips I've done, the text takes on new connotations depending on the art. In We the Robots the screams of disgust become screams of physical agony as the two robots get pummeled by the super robot. In Garfield the spider evidently becomes aroused and begins copulating with the mouse, screaming in pleasure.

Obviously, it doesn't always work. Moving Pictures now makes no real sense at all and Dilbert comes across a little strangely. In the case of Pearls Before Swine, we can figure out that Croc sees something on TV which he apparently tries to replicate, but we're unsure of what exactly he's seen or how it's ultimately implemented.

Scene changes can pose problems -- as shown in the last panel of Garfield -- but can also work in an unintended way -- as seen in Dilbert. Zooming out to show the entire office building, readers are left to imagine what's going on to an even greater degree than in Jennie Breeden's original strip. Who's screaming? Why? Does that creature come from somewhere as a result of the screaming, or is it the cause?

Now, in the case of some comics, the dialogue is written so independently of the art that it can stand on its own, or make sense with a different artistic context. Get Fuzzy and Andy Capp both have a tendency to work that way, for examples. Because of that, one can drop the dialogue into a wider variety of comics and the joke still makes sense. (Not that additional or different connotations aren't generated by the juxtaposition of the text with different art, mind you!) In some comics, by contrast, the joke hinges entirely on the art. Offhand, I can't think of any contemporary strips that use that with great regularity, but Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson frequently used their artwork to convey their message more so than the text.

In the case I'm showcasing above, the art and the text work in concert to present an overall message. Changing one or the other changes the message, in some cases to the point of illegibility. But the merger of the two pieces creates a new hybrid in which elements of both originals fuse in new, and sometimes unexpected ways. The Biography of Jack Parsons here maintains the somber mood from the original, but is lightened somewhat from the new dialogue. The original presents a much bleaker period of Parsons' life.

Not every comic mash-up is going to be successful, certainly. Many will likely make considerably less sense than either of the originals. But, by carefully selecting which strips to work with, one can create a wholly new comic that, despite superficial similarities, bears strikingly little resemblance to either original.
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I am a huge fan of your blog. I am not really a fan of the mash-up thing. It's sort of a performance art kind of thing, and it doesn't do anything for me personally. When I see that you have posted more mash-up stuff I sort of make a little frowny face at the computer, but I read them anyway.

I get a great deal of enjoyment out of your blog. I find myself telling people that sort of thing alot, but it's true. Yours is one of a half dozen or so that I read regularly, and check up on a lot.

The Mash-up thing is obviously something you think is cool and are enjoying doing and thinking about and considering the craft and the art of. I don't have any issues with it. I would not ask you to stop or change or anything, it just isn't a thing that speaks to me the way it does to you.

Obviously no offense is meant by this, and I am only posting it because you mentioned the lack of responses. I am a firm believer in people posting what they are moved to post in their own blog. That's why we read blogs, right? Keep up the good work, keep exploring the avenues of art that interest you and posting about them. For a thing that I don't fully get, I have to say your commentary is good. It also does raise some interesting questions about the medium.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in this.

I think the mash-ups illuminate something about the source materials, because they're a) not really "randomized" considering that you know what strips they're from, and b) they're all colours on the "comics" palette, and so familiar enough anyway that qualifying the juxtaposition is mostly easy to do. But then some materials won't be as fruitful as others, you've got to think, so...why? What really makes the difference, in each case, and what can you generalize about it from those specifics?

Neat project.