Cave Art As Sequential Art

By | Tuesday, June 15, 2021 Leave a Comment
I caught this Twitter thread recently, which talks about some compativiely recent (in the past three decades) discoveries about cave paintings. You can read the thread there for the full story, but I'll try to summarize the key point I'd like to touch on.

Some cave paintings that have been found have had multiple drawings overlaid on one another. Like a goat with multiple heads or a mammoth with multiple trunks. When I'd first seen/heard about these in school, no one had a good explanation for the multiple images. My assumption was that the artist simply wanted to redraw that part and, since erasers hadn't been invented yet, just left the original marks in place. However, a scientist named Edward Wachtel happened to be looking in one of the more obscure caves and was forced to use an old oil lamp for light. In the flickering light of the lamp, some of the lines would disappear briefly as the light source shifted slightly. In fact, with the fairly weak light source, it seemed as if none of the lines were all visible at the same time. You could only see one of the goat's heads. Only one of the mammoth's trunks.

They had been deliberately created that way! They were specifically designed so that you couldn't see the whole thing at once. That's why they had to be in caves -- they needed a limited, more directional light source! (Side note: cavemen, by and large, did not actually live in caves; they mostly used crude huts. Caves were either decidedly temporary shelters or used for rituals. Like painting.) Moving the lamp back and forth created almost a sort-of two- or three-frame animation sequence! The person posting the Twitter thread called them proto-movies.

Despite that name, though, the effect is not unlike that of a lenticular image, which I made a post about back in 2019. A post in which I argued that lenticular images are, in fact, comics. The image does not move itself, as is the case with films, but you as the viewer have to change the position of your eyes relative to the image. You can either move the image itself (in the case of the shields that came with Secret Wars action figures) or your head (in the case of a large drawing carved into the interior rock wall of a cave).

You have a sequence of images, viewable only in a deliberate sequence, dictated by where they are placed in space. “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” per Scott McCloud. They might be only two or three panels, but these are every bit a comic that the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...!
Newer Post Older Post Home