A History of Poetry Comics #09

Artist-poet-teacher Johnny Damm‘s most recent poetry comics carefully collages X-Acto-knived images from vintage comics books pairing them with found text. Perhaps beyond genre or classification, his work speaks to the edge of the universe where comics become poetry and poetry becomes comics.

There’s no mistaking he’s currently working within the context of comics. His supplies consist of vintage comic books from the late 1940s and 1950s from which is “excepts” panels and images. As he states in an interview included in the back of Failure Biographies (The Operating System, 2021), “I make comics out of other comics.” (p.170)

Damm uses found text from sources as varied as journals, public statements, articles, interviews, and letters — juxtaposing these words and phrases within the context of the panels. The resulting found poetry changes both the comics and the text in ways that shift and create new meaning.

Here’s an examples from “Failure Biographies:”

From “Failure Biographies ” by Johnny Damm (The Operating System, 2021)

Like the best poetry, Damm has created something entirely new working within preset constraints. (Think “The Sonnets” by Ted Berrigan.) The comics and the text work to build a context for each other, increasing the impact of both. These poetry comics may appear simple, i.e. effortless, but the comics and text together communicate the complexities and challenges of contemporary life in an exacting and engaging way.

Recommended: Damm’s 2022 work “I’m a Cop.” Provocative and timely.

Footnote: Tradition of found poetry is a long one. An example I admire is Charles Reznikoff’s “Testimony” (Black Sparrow Press, 1978), a work created entirely from transcripts from U.S. trials 1885-1915. He worked on the project for 10 years, according to the introduction note. His work inspired me to assemble poems using text found in the Journals of Lewis & Clark in “by Land…” (Ravenna Press, 2015). Another book I’ve kept around is Found Poems by Bern Porter (republished by Nightboat Books, 2011). Many of the poems in this collection use text found in newspaper advertising.

Timeline: 2017-now

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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