Author: Edward Ross
Released: 3rd November 2015
Read our Q&A with Filmish creator Edward Ross.
When comic books started to become a mainstream form of entertainment around the 1930s, a conversation also emerged about the validity of their use as educational tools. With snobbery about comics rife – even today when geeky enthusiasms are considered to be pretty cool – they have naturally been thought of as a poor substitute for traditional book-learning.
Artist and writer Scott McCloud proved graphic novel naysayers wrong in the early 90s when he drew himself as the narrator of a comprehensive text on comic book theory in Understanding Comics. Unconsciously following in McCloud’s footsteps in 2015, cartoonist Edward Ross has inserted himself into a graphic history of film in order to explain our relationship with the medium.
Presenting chapters such as ‘Time’ and ‘The Body’, Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film, explores seven symbolic concepts within movie creation. Baring all, from the dark side of Disney to the cultural implications of censorship, Ross combines extensive research with the filmic medium of graphic novels to carefully introduce sociological themes within movies, rather than focusing on the technical aspects of film studies.
Different from many other non-fiction comics, Filmish feels more like a printed documentary. Examining more than 300 movies from around the world in just over half as many pages, its structure is dependent on Ross’ omnipresent narration and is strengthened by his illustrated “interviews” with theorists, critics and filmmakers.
Addressing the reader directly, with iconic scenes paused in the background, Ross places an observable distance between them and the action that supports his points. Stepping back, we are able to study the individual cogs of story and production even as our narrator embeds himself into each example to demonstrate the emotional interaction these movies inspire.
The frames he chooses to occupy betray Ross’ love of genre fiction in particular, but the range of films that he covers is immense for such a short book. Ever succinct, his writing is effective in its sparsity, allowing for the creative jigsawing of illustrations.
In one panel, characters such as Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the James Bond franchise and Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhies are crunched together to evoke the sad fictional correlation between disfigurement and moral decline. In a later chapter several pages are devoted to the set complexities in Die Hard. We follow John McClane through a sequence of cartoon renderings in an insightful examination of how we navigate the world around us.
Ross’ enthusiasm for the subject matter glows on every page. However, caught somewhere between the roles of unabashed fan and knowledgeable academic, it often feels like he doesn’t want to rattle any cages with strong negative opinions.
Balanced objectivity in a theoretical text is by no means unexpected, but, with his personal approach to this passion project tilting the scales towards subjective analysis, the cautious wind blowing through the pages can be distracting.
Whether we agree with them or not, it’s refreshing when his own opinions do shine through. When discussing the idea of film as language, Ross devotes four concise panels to the examination of auteur theory. Using an illustration of Alfred Hitchcock standing in front of an ocean of faceless crew members, the cartoonist claims that the idea of a filmmaker being viewed as its sole author invalidates alternative interpretations of a text.
This swift analysis doesn’t teach the reader much about auteur theory but it does identify several issues within the film industry and the effect that limiting an authorial voice to those in power can have on society.
Interpretation is the main theme that runs through Filmish, both literally and in a more abstract sense. Flicking through, many of the illustrated scenes are immediately recognisable but few are exact replications of the scene they depict. Embracing the position of omnipresent narrator, Ross draws each sequence as he sees it as an individual, simplifying the image into an accessible and potent cartoon.
This article was originally published on badcantina.com on 4th December 2015.
For more about the making of Filmish, read our Q&A with Edward Ross.