A History of Poetry Comics #08

Writer and artist Joe Brainard (1942-1994) was obsessed with (among other things) Nancy, finding ways to collaboratively collage, coerce and copy the comic strip stalwart into his art.

Brainard’s The Nancy Book (Siglio Press, 2008) collects a large selection of his work (both written and drawn) that features Nancy. He draws his subject in the style of other artists, collages her into cigarette ads, and other times poses her in pornographic situations. He often places her within the visual language of comics, using elements such as panels, speech bubbles, captions, and emanata. Two examples are below.

Collaboration between Joe Brainard and poet Ted Berrigan from The Nancy Book (Siglio Press, 2008)
Collaboration between Joe Brainard and poet Ron Padgett from The Nancy Book (Siglio Press, 2008)

In the first one, the panels can hardly hold Brainard’s Nancy until she finally breaks the gutter and covers the bottom lower right panels. In the second one, Nancy is free falling across the panels. In both cases, they perfectly represent what Ann Lauterbach calls in the introduction to The Nancy Book: “Candor: a kind of fearlessness about boundaries.” (p. 8)

There’s also the concept of collaboration to consider in these poetry comics. Both examples credit poets Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett. Thinking collage, in the same way he found Nancy in the comics page, he found poetry in the words of his friends. (More about collaborations in a later post.)

Of note, in addition to his Nancy drawings, Brainard created other comic books, including “People of the World: Relax!,” “Some Drawings of Some Notes to Myself,” and “The Cigarette Book” all found in The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard (The Library of America, 2012). These underscore his ongoing conversation with comics.

As Brainard makes us consider popular comics as rightful subjects and architecture for fine art, he equally makes us consider a wider acceptance of what a poem is. This is what I think the best poetry comics do.

Timeline: 1963-1978

Warning: This incomplete history maps my journey as a poet learning about comics and doesn’t follow a strict chronological order.

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