Monday, March 23, 2009

Art Spiegelman's Maus

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At the mid-seventies American underground comics were, as Art Spiegelman put it (The Comics Journal # 65, August, 1981: 106) "going through a slump. [...] [T]he underground comix market was shrinking, and we [Spiegelman and Bill Griffith] felt it was necessary to create a life raft of some kind for the artists that we thought belonged in print." Said "raft" was Arcade the Comics Revue (issue # 1, Spring, 1975 - issue # 7, Fall, 1976). The artists who "belonged in print" were, with editors included, Robert Crumb (who gave permission to use the title of an old mimeographed comic book that he did with his brother Charles back in the sixties - issue # 1: April, 1960 -; Crumb also agreed to draw the covers of the new Arcade; he drew five of them), Kim Deitch, Spain Rodriguez, Justin Green, Jay Kinney, Jay Lynch, etc... old glories of the dying underground movement, all of them... Here's an excellent text by Alan Moore about Arcade: http://www.readyourselfraw.com/recommended/rec_alanmoore/arcade/arcade.htm.
After the Arcade experience Art Spiegelman "swore [he'd] never be involved with a magazine again" (The Comics Journal # 145, October, 1991: 97), but (97, 98): "[he met] Françoise Mouly and she wanted to do a magazine[.]" Said mag was the amazing Raw (volume 1: # 1, July, 1980 - # 8, September, 1986; volume 2: # 1, 1989 - # 3, 1991).
Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly chose to publish the work of both American and European artists. The first issue of Raw exemplifies this perfectly: a text by Alfred Jarry (Raw starts under the sign of the Pataphysique...) illustrated by Gary Panter (...and Punk aesthetics), is followed by Kaz and "Manhattan" by Jacques Tardi. Joost Swarte, Ever Meulen, Mariscal, the Bazooka group, Marc Caro, Pascal Doury, Cathy Millet, Francis Masse, Europeans all, also published in Raw magazine. The Americans were: Bill Griffith, Justin Green, Kim Deitch, Robert Crumb, Jerry Moriarty, Charles Burns, Mark Beyer, Ben Katchor, Drew Friedman, Mark Newgarden. There's also a South American exception: Muñoz & Sampayo. Issue # 7, "The Torn-Again Graphix Mag" (because the cover was, you know?, torn) included a special section dedicated to Japan with the work of: Teruhiko Yumura, Shigeru Sugiura, and... the great Yoshiharu Tsuge with his marvelous "Red Flowers." A few artists from the first half of the 20th century, like George Herriman and Winsor McCay, were also remembered now and then...
Volume two of the magazine brought us all of the above, plus: Richard McGuire, with his great story "Here," Mattotti & Kramsky, Lynda Barry, with "Sneaking Out" and "The Most Obvious Question," Chris Ware, with "I Guess," Alan Moore, writing for Mark Beyer (!) a memorable "The Bowing Machine."
Raw's first volume was graphic arts oriented in a way that may very well be behind Chris Ware's control of his books as art objects. From the size of the mag (10,5 x 14 inches) to the different papers chosen, everything showed an enormous attention to detail and great taste. Raw Books also published some extraordinary one-shots like Jimbo (Raw one-shot # 1: 1982) by Gary Panter (whose covers were corrugated cardboard while the interior was printed on newsprint; as strange as it seems this is a highly sophisticated, beautifully designed book - not to mention that the "cheap" materials match Panter's ratty aesthetics perfectly) and Jack Survives (Raw one-shot # 3: 1984) by Jerry Moriarty (in which the colors were printed on the cover while the black lines were printed on an acetate dust jacket).
Raw mixed the old school undergrounders and the (back then) new alternative comics artists, but their aesthetics didn't clash because Raw wasn't satirical (even if some satire could also be found in its pages). Raw has been accused of being all about style, not substance. There's some truth in the allegation, I guess, but one just has to remember Sue Coe's highly politicized work or, obviously, Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus (which began serialization in Raw # 2, December, 1980), to recognize that Raw wasn't always about experimentation and form.
Maus (published in book form in 1986, with the subtitle "My Father Bleeds History," and 1991, with the subtitle "And Here My Troubles Began)" is both an autobiography and a biography. It portrays Spiegelman's difficult relationship with his father (the heritage of trauma, so to speak), Vladek, a survivor from Auschwitz, while narrating the latter's life story.
Art Spiegelman explained Maus' birth (The Comics Journal # 65, August, 1981: 103): "somebody was putting together a comic book called Funny Aminal [sic] Comics, and I was invited [by Justin Green] to do a story for that book, whose only guideline was that it involve anthropomorphic characters. [...] I was looking at some films that were being shown at a film course [...] that included a lot of early animated cartoons. I was really struck by the cat and mouse cartoons. I saw that the mice in those cartoons were very similar to the negroes in the other cartoons that were being shown in the same days, and realized that this cat and mouse thing was just a metaphor for some kind of oppression. I wanted to do a comic strip in which the mice were blacks and the cats were the whites[.][...] I was never going to be able to give this any authenticity, because I just didn't know the material [.][...] On the other hand , there was an involvement with oppression that was much closer to my own life: my father and mother's experience in concentration camps, and my awareness of myself as a Jew." (The "[sic]" above is in the original text.)
At first view "Maus" was at odds with other Raw comics and Art Spiegelman's previous work (e. g.: what was collected in Breakdowns, Belier Press, 1977) because the former was more formalist and more visual oriented. With "Maus" Spiegelman wanted to (The Comics Journal # 145, October, 1991: 98): "feel more like [he] was writing than drawing." On the other hand Raw's first volume's size wasn't right for an intimate, low profile story like "Maus" (The Comics journal # 65, August, 1981: 119): "The final solution [I hope that no pun was intended!] was a separate small-sized booklet[.][...] Seeing these small pages of kind of doodle drawings, almost - they're rough, quick drawings - mounted together makes it seem like we found somebody's diary, and are publishing facsimiles of it. And that's kind of nice."
At second view, though (The Comics Journal # 180, September, 1995: 76): "all the things I had been interested in from 1970-78, had to be used and deployed, but deployed in such a way as to make something fairly seamless happen. [...] I'm talking about things like panel size, the rhythms that happen on a page, where your eye is driven across a page." Sometimes Spiegelman uses the old Dell children's comics eight panel grid to depict scenes from the present and completely unpredictable page layouts (with diagrams or some panels blown up, for instance) when he's depicting Vladek's recollections. We can't compare our daily routine in times of peace with the disruption of that same routine when a war is going on and we're in the eye of the storm.

Images and sounds:
1. Robert Crumb's Arcade # 26, September, 1962, featuring Fritz the Cat (the contrast between Fritz's colorful life and the bleak black and white around him is indication enough of Crumb's mastery); one aspect of Robert Crumb's art that's not mentioned very often is how good he is designing types; the arc in the letter "A" above is a touch of class;
2. Arcade the Comics Revue # 1's cover also by Robert Crumb (Spring, 1975);
3. editorial for Arcade the Comics Revue # 1 by Bill Griffith and Art Spiegelman (as published in The Comics Journal # 65 - August, 1981): both editors mean well ("arcade is gonna be a comics magazine for adults!," but they predict financial hard times: "just a couple of deadbeats!!" concludes the booth owner;
4. one year later Murphy's law proves to be right once again (editorial in Arcade # 5, Spring, 1976, as published in Rebel Visions, The Underground Comix Revolution 1963 - 1975, Fantagraphics, 2002);
5. Art Spiegelman (or "John") self-deprecatingly feels a little embarrassed for choosing comics as a medium for self-expression (Print vol. 35, issue # 3 - Print, a graphic arts magazine, published 6 issues per volume, so, this is issue # 207; a small strip at the bottom is missing);
6. "Maus music" as Art Spiegelman called the Comedian Harmonists' work (The Comics Journal # 180, September, 1995: 105), stormy weather over Germany indeed; Stormy Weather is a song written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (1933).

PS A Raw history by Bill Kartalopoulos: http://64.23.98.142/indy/winter_2005/raw_01/index.html

An online Print mag interview with Art Spiegelman:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Barthélémy Schwartz's, Balthazar Kaplan's and Others' Dorénavant - Coda

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1. Thierry Lagarde's STP # 0 (cover; first quarter, 1977); I don't share Lagarde's taste, obviously;
2. Bruno Lecigne's Controverse # 1 (cover; May, 1985);
3. "Accident" by Barthélémy Schwartz (Dorénavant # 3, September, 1986); the work is not only the graphic part (an Hergé's détournement), but also the Balthazar Kaplan's explanation (5; my translation): "In this page (a remake of a sequence from L'affaire Tournesol [the Calculus affair] by Hergé), the global surface is considered. The division, by its austerity, puts in relation every image with the whole. The result is an impression of echoes between panels, of visual rhymes which emphasize the scene's dramatic tension.
The link between the images is not exclusively narrative. It partakes in a superior logic: the dialectics between the fragment and the whole. Every image is a fragment of the scene. The latter can only be felt by a global vision of the page, by a synthesis of the fragments.
It also gives an impression of rhythm: the time represented is a syncopated one.
The pleasure of reading: this page functions as a whole. We may scan it endlessly in all directions. It contains both emotion and vertigo."; Balthazar Kaplan describes what Pierre Fresnault-Deruelle dubbed the tabular reading ("Du lineaire au tabulaire" - from the linear to the tabular -, Communications # 24, Seuil, 1976: 7 - 23); it exists in every comic, but it's also true that some comics artists (mainly with a tendency for description: e. g.: Guido Crepax; or practicing what Thierry Gröensteen called "tressage" - braiding -: Système de la bande dessinée, PUF, 1999: 8) stress it more than others; I would say that Schwartz's page is innovative in another way rather than as an example of the tabular: it's a synchronic instead of a diachronic page; it invites a vertical instead of an horizontal reading, amplifying the emotional charge of the event;
4. the first thirty titles and authors in a list of a Dorénavant's putative comics anthology; the first seven entries belong to the restrict comics field; number eight is a poster, but, from number nine on, all the entries belong to what I called the expanded field and Barthélémy Schwartz described as "bande-dessinée non consciente de son existence en tant que telle" (comics without a conscience of being comics; "Dorénavant et la bande-dessinée," Dorénavant # 2, June, 1986: 5; my translation);
5. number ten in the aforementioned list: Textuel (textual) by Michel Seuphor and Piet Mondrian (1928); speaking of which, Barthélémy Schwartz: "in [Broadway] Boogie-Woogie, the gutter plays an active role, like images themselves." (Dorénavant # 2: 20; my translation);
6. poster announcing a Dorénavant exhibition (Dorénavant # 2) and showing Joost Swarte's influence;
7. satirical drawing by Frank Le Gall (Les cahiers de la bande dessinée # 70, July / August, 1986), it isn't clear who's being satirized: Schwartz and Kaplan, who supposedly wrote a "difficult" book about the gestalt theory?; or the comics milieu (personified by Louis Forton's the Pieds Nickelés) which is too stupid to understand them?;
8. Jean-Christophe Menu was the managing editor of the satirical mag Globof (# 9's cover by Charles Berberian, January, 30, 1988); it mainly made fun of the Angoulême comics con; two years later Labo was published (Barthélémy Schwartz participated with the text "Une période de nuit, l’idéologie bédé" - a night period, children's comics ideology): L'Association was born and the rest is history;
9. Matt Konture's page (Globof # 8's back cover; January, 29, 1988) satirizing the low standards of comics readers (children, young adults, old hippies and babymen); the comics author herein depicted is forced to sell-out "juste pour buffer" (just to eat).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Barthélémy Schwartz's, Balthazar Kaplan's and Others' Dorénavant


Everything started with Thierry Lagarde's article "Pour une critique nouvelle" (for a new criticism; STP # 0, first quarter of 1977: 4, 5). Lagarde saw what he called a paranoia in comics criticism: on one hand comics critics wanted comics to be legitimized among the other arts as the ninth in the elitist club; on the other hand they refused to judge comics using external criteria: "comics are what they are, i. e.: children's entertainment [little mickeys], and I don't want them to be anything else" (Philaz in Sphinx # 9 / 10, 1974; as quoted by Lagarde, my translation). It's possible to find this anti-intellectualism in the comics milieu, even today. The so-called "comics specificity" is a good excuse to mask the babymen's canon's mediocrity. In the end this attitude can be summed up as follows: I want to win, but I don't want to play. Grow up, indeed! To be fair: the former and the latter may not be exactly the same individuals...
I find particularly interesting those comics critics who, knowing nothing about the arts because they just read children's comics and humor, praise mediocre or so-so comics artists and writers as if they were the cats pajamas. These critics practice what Thierry Lagarde called "le gonflage" (the inflating; ditto: 5).
Another good point in Lagarde's article can be named (as Bruno Lecigne did in "De la confusion des languages" - on the confusion of the languages -, Controverse # 1 - controversy -, May, 1985: 5; my translation) the "amalgame" (the blending): "formerly undervalued in toto, comics are, today, valued as a whole. [...] [W]e don't know what we mean exactly when we talk about comics, or, we don't refer to the same things. The practice of the blending leads to the confusion of the languages." What this mixture entails to comics critics is a well known phenomenon (ditto: 5): "everything is valued in a bulk, according to undifferentiated criteria."
The mingle applied by babymen readers is Team Comics (Tom Spurgeon: "Editorial: Martin Wagner Owes Me Fifty Bucks," The Comics Journal # 211: 2: "comic fans are often paralyzed by nostalgia and the need for self-identity." http://www.tcj.com/250/e_spurgeon.html.) Lecigne, again (5): "there's a sub-cultural practice of the ghetto, limited by a common mood, on the margins of the official culture." It's an "us versus them" mentality that views any discriminating critical practices as a threat to the whole. The rest of the world, on the other hand, does a mix of its own: comics are children's entertainment garbage (and I'm stirring too, of course).
Bruno Lecigne's concept of blending has consequences when we distinguish hacks from true authors (something that mergers usually don't do). These classifications are constructed, but they have meaning inside the system that produced them: namely Modernism since Romanticism. Lecigne acknowledges this (and I think that he would also grant Postmodernism's Anti-Individualism), what he doesn't accept is the dishonest confusion of commercial criteria (the stereotypes and formulas that do well in the box-office again and again) with aesthetic judgment. The author may be dead, but some authors are a lot more dead than others. Besides (ditto: 23; my translation): "facing a process of fetishization, peculiar to a para-cultural ritual, every analytical distance or any conceptual ease are seen as a psychological menace." This threat may very well explain elitist accusations and the politics of fun. Babymen will be babymen.
Étienne Robial, publisher of Futuropolis (the original one, not today's Futuropolis) tells it better than me ("La bande dessinée se meurt: merci la «critique»!" - comics are dying: thank you "critics" -, L'année de la bande dessinée 81 / 82, Temps Futurs, fourth quarter of 1981: 241): "we witness the burial of every really interesting experience to satisfy the narrow taste of a fistful of juvenile hacks dressing shorts under their suits and keeping lollipops in their pockets while they wait for recess."
Meanwhile... Balthazar Kaplan and Barthélémy Schwartz appear on stage. Barthélémy Schwartz remembers (L'éprouvette - the test-tube - # 2, L'Association, July, 2006: 354, my translation): "In January 1985 we sent a false Swarte to Angoulême comic con titled Anton Makasar présente: misére de la bande dessinée [Anton Makasar presents: the misery of comics]. The following March we sent to several critics the détournement of a comic by Hergé which we titled L'Affaire Balthazar Kaplan. It had a long subtitle describing our agenda: "a few simple thesis in favor of a modern debate; the one that will allow comics to truly be an original art form or misery of comics."" "De la misère"(on misery) by Barthélémy Schwartz was published in Bruno Lecigne's Controverse # 3 (January, 1986: 15 - 19) and it was reprinted in L'éprouvette # 2. In this short text the author, not exactly a critic, but an author who questioned comics (and, unavoidable fact: flew the milieu and its putrid waters after a few years), attacked the market and wrote things like "saying that a certain comic is commercial and another one is an author's creation means nothing today" (L'éprouvette # 2: 328; my translation). In other words: 1) it's too easy to be an author in the amalgamated comics milieu; and 2) Kaplan and Schwartz refused to apply the aforementioned epithet "author" to those who practiced what they called "the storyboard" (i. e.: those who did narrative comics: they were true avant-garde modernists who wanted to produce formalist comics, devoid of narration; the narrative was wrongly seen by them, methinks, as belonging to the realm of literature and film). In "De la misère" Schwartz also states that comics artists should stop trying to make a living doing comics if they want to be true authors. With Revue Dorénavant (henceforth magazine; # 1, March, 1986 - # 7 / 8, January, 1989) Barthélémy Schwartz and Balthazar Kaplan put their money where their mouths were. (Stéphane Goarnisson and Yves Dymen joined Schwartz for the last issue - Kaplan had already left.) Both continued to write their theoretical texts (something rarely seen among comics creators), they gleefully registered the angered reactions of the babymen to the mag and, finally, they did their non-narrative comics. For that alone, they deserve to be in any serious comics canon.

Image:
the cover of Dorénavant # 5 (March 1987).

PS Barthélémy Schwartz's Flickr and Picasa albums:

and blog:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Alfonso X's and Others' Cantigas de Santa Maria - Coda # 2

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1. Alfonso X's portrait: Libro de los juegos (the book of games; 1283);
2. cantiga # 256 in the Florentine codex (facsimile: Edilán, 1989); some of the comics in the Florentine codex are unfinished letting us see the cantigas' early stages: with one exception (eight panels), everything started with a six panel grid; in this cantiga the Holy Mary heals queen Beatriz;
3. panel from cantiga # 42: Medieval baseball?, no, but its the juego de la pelota (the ball's game); this huge repro let's us see how detailed the art in the miniatures is;
4. two panels of cantiga # 63 depicting the battle of San Esteban de Gormaz against Almansor; the split panel, another supposedly modern feature is, actually, more than seven centuries old;
5. the second panel above in which the artist depicted Almansor's troops; it's fine to note that, unlike modern war propagandists, the 13th century artist didn't caricature the enemy;
6. if you thought that there were no moment-to-moment transictions (to use Scott McCloud's classification) in Medieval comics, think again: cantiga # 74 (detail);
7. cantiga # 142: "King don Alfonso and his men were hunting on the banks of the Henares River. One of his falcons injured a heron and broke its wing. The heron fell into the river. The dogs could not retrieve the bird because the current was too swift. One of the King’s men jumped into the river to fetch the bird and was swept under the water. He was repeatedly submerged, but he called on the Virgin. The King assured his men, who were also beseeching the Virgin, that she would save the man. The man emerged from the river carrying the heron. He presented the bird to King Alfonso who blessed the Virgin for the miracle."; the artist who did this cantiga sacrificed the reading direction to symmetry (the last two panels are read from right to left), but he let us a clue in order to read the page in the appropriate manner: the fly of the falcon (Breixo Harguindey: "As Cantigas de Santa Maria: obra mestra das orixes da historieta" (the Cantigas de Santa Maria: a masterpiece from the origins of comics; Boletín galego de literatura # 35, 2006: 47 - 59; image as published in said essay);
8. cantiga # 183: "In Faro, there was a statue of the Virgin. It had stood on the seashore since the time of the Christians, and captives prayed to it. Christians called the city “Holy Mary of Faro” because of the statue. The Moors resented this and threw the statue into the sea. As long as the statue lay in the water, the Moors could not catch any fish. When they realised this, the Moors recovered the statue. They placed it on the wall between the merlons. Afterwards, the Moors caught even more fish than they had before.";
9. cantiga # 207; read it, here (read cantiga # 63 as well): http://www.jessicaknauss.com/kzoo/. (The summaries above were taken on The Oxford Cantigas de Santa Maria Database: http://csm.mml.ox.ac.uk/.)

PS You may find many cantigas, here (the resolution is mediocre, alas): http://www.oronoz.com/oronozframeset.html: just search for "Cantigas de Santa Maria" in "Buscar Imágenes."
The Cantigas de Santa Maria are also the first (but we can never be sure about firsts, can we?) autobio comic. Joseph F. O'Callaghan wrote a book on the subject: Alfonso X and the Cantigas de Santa Maria: A Poetic Biography (BRILL, 1998). Even if the author talks about "biography" instead of "autobiography" he says very early in the book (1) that it may also be an autobiography. What happens is that we can't be sure that the king himself wrote any cantiga. One name in particular needs to be cited here as a co-author of the book: poet Airas Nunes. Anyway, as you can read in the summary to O'Callaghan's book on the Google Book Search engine page: "Declaring himself Mary's troubadour, [Alfonso] appeals to her as his advocate and consoler as he recounts specific events in his life and that of his kingdom. As he tells us about his family, his war against the Muslims of Granada and Morocco, the treachery of the nobility, his frequent illnesses, and his fear of hellfire and damnation."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Alfonso X's and Others' Cantigas de Santa Maria - Coda # 1

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1. scenes fifteen and seventeen of Ilias Picta (or Ilias Ambrosiana; c. 493 - 508) as published in L'illustration - the illustration - by Michel Melot (Skira, 1984); the Ilias Picta is a Byzantine codex depicting Homer's Iliad; you may find a few more images, here: http://rubens.anu.edu.au/htdocs/bytype/manuscripts/survey/00061.html;
2. page from Charles le Chauve's Bible (c. 846) as published in L'illustration; as Danièle-Alexandre Bidon put it: "There was, during the first centuries of the Middle Ages [...], a confrontation between two figurative narration systems: the panel and the strip." (Le collectioneur de bandes dessinées - Hors série: Les origines de la bande dessinée, 1996: 13; my translation); Carolingian bibles, as the image above shows, privileged the strip;
3. another strip: scenes from the Joshua Roll: a 10th century Byzantine rotulus almost four hundred inches long (ten meters), as published in Michel Melot's book who added (34): "images and texts overlap closely to tell, in a comic-like way, the first twelve chapters of the Book of Joshua;"
4. Romanesque image by Facundus (1047); page from Comentarios al Apocalipsis (commentary on the Apocalypse) by the Beatus of Liébana (w; 776);
5. page from the Moralia in Job (12th century); the characters talk with each other using phylacteries (the shepperd on the left tells Job and his wife how something bad happened; we see the event, in flashback, in the upper panel); Töpfferians love to say how phylacteries don't have the same function as modern balloons because they're more like labels; well, sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't: we can clearly see here how phylacteries serve the purpose of conveying direct speech (just like speech balloons do);
6. page from the Maciejowski Bible: http://www.medievaltymes.com/courtyard/maciejowski_images.htm (c. 1250); the architecture has the same function as the modern gutter in this four panelled page;
7. page from Al-Maqamat (the assemblies; 1237) by Abu Muhammad al Qasim ibn Ali al-Hariri (w) and Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti (a);
8. October in Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry (the very rich hours of the Duke of Berry; 1412 - 1416) by the Limbourg brothers; all twelve months are illustrated in this famous book (the palace that you see in the image is the Louvre in Paris);
9. the Liber de herbis (the book of herbs) by Monfredo de Monte Imperiali (14th century).

PS From Cave Paintings to the Internet, Manuscript Illumination Timeline: http://www.historyofscience.com/G2I/timeline/index.php?category=Manuscript+Illumination

Monday, March 2, 2009

Alfonso X's and Others' Cantigas de Santa Maria



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"The realm of the images began way before the 20th century." That's how the world's most renowned Middle Age comics specialist, Danièle-Alexandre Bidon, started her article "La bande dessinée avant la bande dessinée" (Le collectioneur de bandes dessinées - Hors série: Les origines de la bande dessinée, 1996: 11 - 20; the comics collector - one shot: the origins of comics; my translation). (Another Medieval comics scholar worth noting is Eckart Sackmann - in German -: http://www.comicforschung.de/tagungen/06nov/sackmann/06nov_sackmann1.html.)
Bidon's text and title were, later (2000), used as documentation and virtual exhibition title at the Bibliothèque nationale de France's site (the National Library of France): La BD avant la BD (http://expositions.bnf.fr/bdavbd/index.htm; there's an English, more abridged, version). Danièle was right. All through Medieval times (476 - 1456) books (codices) were illustrated (illuminated, sometimes copiously; according to her, a Bible could attain 5424 panels; ditto: 11). Since the Vienna Genesis (c. 540) or the codex Purpureus rossanensis (the purple codex from Rossano; c. 555) until later examples like Paul's, Hermann's and Jeantrès' (the Limbourg brothers) Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry (the very rich hours of the Duke of Berry; 1412 - 1416) the Middle Ages are a boon to great comics and great illustration lovers. My personal favorite work, among all this great corpus, was done by Romanesque Spanish artists, particularly the Comentarios al Apocalipsis (Commentary on the Apocalypse) by the Beatus of Liébana (w; 776), also known as the Facundus Beatus' (a; 1047) or the Fernando I's and Doña (lady) Sancha's Apocalypse (the patrons): http://www.moleiro.com/base.php?libro=BLFIYDS&idioma=en.
Another important phase in the illuminated manuscript's history is the Carolingian era with Vivien's Bible (or Charles the Bald's Bible; 845; abbot and king, respectively: http://expositions.bnf.fr/livres/vivien/index.htm) or the Moutier-Grandval's Bible.
Anyway, are all these books comics? As we must know by now, it all depends on our definition of the word. Danièle-Alexandre Bidon's definition is too orthodox to go beyond the proto-comics cliché. Besides, she published her essay in a magazine that significantly, and in a rather provocative way, accompanied the panel that occurred during the Rodolphe Töpffer exhibition in Angoulême (January, 26, 1996). Quite obviously, said exhibition tried to be an anti-comics centennial celebration, establishing Töpffer as the "father of the comic strip" at the same time. At such an undoubtedly French party, elitist Medieval comics were as unwelcomed as American mass distributed newspaper strips (Töpffer was a Swiss artist, by the way, but he wrote in French).
Even so the Cantigas de Santa Maria (songs to the Virgin Mary; c. 1270) by Alfonso X (the sage; 1221 -1284; king of Castile, Léon, Galicia) and other artists, were described by Bidon as "sequential narrative's [...] perfection." (14; my translation.) Whoever wrote the captions under the images on the La BD avant la BD exhibition asked, in a rhetorical way, if the Cantigas are: "The first comic book?", adding: "[It's]the Medieval manuscript that's closer to a Modern comic" (my translation).
The Cantigas de Santa Maria are four hundred and twenty seven poems narrating the Virgin Mary's miracles and lauding Her. Four books contain the cantigas (two have comics: one at the Escorial, the other in Florence). Music notations complete this Medieval "multimedia" book. The words are in Galician-Portuguese, one of the languages more frequently used to write poetry in the Iberian Peninsula at the time.
The Cantigas are an extraordinary window into life in 13th century Europe. Apart from that they are the result of an incredible comics skillfulness. Who were these comics artists from long ago, then? It's hard to tell, obviously... Gonzalo Menéndez-Pidal registers a few possible names (La España del Siglo XIII - 13th century Spain -, 1986: 35): D. Andrés, Pedro de Lourenço, Bonamic, Juan González (John Gundisalvi), Martínez Pérez de Maqueda, Juan Pérez, Pedro de Pamplona. The books were probably created in Seville showing a strong Arab influence. Menéndez-Pidal detected similarities between the Cantigas and Al-Maqamat (the assemblies; 1237) by Abu Muhammad al Qasim ibn Ali al-Hariri (w) and Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti (a). Lourenço, Gundisalvi (of those names we are certain), and the others, proved to be worthy of their Oriental inspirers. Like them, they were great visual storytellers... Their work remains unsurpassed, more than seven hundred years later...

Images and sounds:
1. a fragment of cantiga # 10, "Rosa das Rosas" (rose of all roses; Rose of all roses, Flower of all flowers, / Lady of all ladies, Liege of all lords, / Rose of beauty and truth / And flower of joy and of youth, / Lady enthroned in great holiness, / Liege Lord who bears our sorrows and sins.); The Renaissance Players (Mara Kiek, singer), translation by Jack Sage; this is, in my opinion, the best vocal interpretation of a cantiga that I have ever listened to; an ancient music performer still has to bring the primary material to life, it's not enough to be archeological; that's what the great Mara Kiek does... no one seems to achieve this goal quite like her; here's another example (Martin Codax, Galician poet, 13th century): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhrtApWvyjg&feature=related;
2. this is a moving curio: the caption at the beginning tells us that Françoise Atlan (a French singer of Jewish descent) is going to sing a certain Cantiga Morena (brown song), but what she really sings are two songs being the first one "Rosa das Rosas;" this is erroneously presented as a Sephardic song ("Sepharad" is Hebrew for "Spain"); Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, so, for me it's moving to see "Rosa das Rosas" sung and played in Morocco; it kind of brings the Moorish influence back, five hundred years later, by the hand of a Jewish tradition; call me a Romantic, but, to me, it's the very best of three cultures!; a contemporary reminder of a brief period in Toledo's history when the three Monotheistic religions coexisted peacefully (I kind of miss Mara, though);
3. cantiga # 101 by Eduardo Paniagua's Musica Antigua group (a man who was mute and deaf went to Soissons; at the altar, he moaned and gestured, asking for the Virgin to come to his aid; the Virgin appeared to him and touched his face; She loosened his tongue and opened his ears; blood flowed from them; the man praised the Virgin; summary found, here: http://csm.mml.ox.ac.uk/index.php?p=poemdata_view&rec=101);
4. a facsimile of the Escorial's Códice Rico (the rich codex; Edilán, 1979) showing the three art forms in presence: comics, literature, music.