Strong Eye Contact

The prevailing and frequently propagated wisdom about the publishing industry is that as more and more accessible outlets for digital media arise, and further generations grow up fully immersed in these new and rapidly evolving technologies, the physical print publishing industry will be relegated to the fringes, at most a niche, boutique offshoot of the digital media monolith.  Famed music producer T-Bone Burnett has lamented that the compressed, digitized form of the mp3 replacing the traditional analog recording as the standard format of music consumption is the equivalent of taking a photo of a painting, keeping the photo, and throwing the painting away; this thought could be applied just as easily to the concept of the e-book replacing the substantial presence of a physical, bound book, and even more literally to the visual medium of comics and graphic novels.




A good deal of attention has been given to the idea of “digital comics” being the potential or at least partial future of comic books and graphic novels; even Scott McCloud, one of the foremost analysts of the comic book medium, explored the idea extensively in his book “Reinventing Comics”, the sequel to his own milestone of the genre “Understanding Comics” (one wonders if early comic book pioneer Will Eisner, whose seminal “Comics and Sequential Art” laid the groundwork for McCloud’s work, would be so enthusiastic about such technological developments).



Some of the best comics and graphic novels, those that most artfully employ the comic book form, gleefully and defiantly resist the possibility of  such digital appropriation. They require the full dimension of the physical page, with all it’s freedoms and restrictions. Such is the case with “Strong Eye Contact”, the remarkable new multi-media graphic novel by Christopher Adams. This is the graphic novel as abstract expressionism, with disparate styles and a visual depth that could not be rendered in flat, pixelated recreations. The storyline is loose, shambling, and amorphous at best; the artwork is at once disorienting and mesmerizing, rendered in intricate, textural patterns, with an experimental and effective combination of different artistic mediums.



There is no plot to “Strong Eye Contact” so much as an impressionistic narrative patchwork. There is a central protagonist; over the course of the comic, devoid of dialogue, we see  him perform stand-up comedy, play mini-golf, survive a plane crash, play a guitar at a pawn shop, and numerous other seemingly random and disconnected events. Trying to construct any sort of purposeful structure or story line seems less important, however, then simply absorbing the immediate experience of Adams’ intuitive visual landscape. The illusion of any possible conventional narrative thread comes further undone as one page follows another, with the artwork taking the form of elaborately cross-stitched full-page illustrations as events depicted become ever more disjointed and strange, building towards a purposefully inconclusive resolution.



To return to my original digressive tangent; “Strong Eye Contact” is an organic, tactile reading experience, one necessarily of ink and paper, not pixels and codes. Neither computer screen nor any manner of digital gadgetry could do justice to the various and diverse artistic textures. Adams’ chosen medium shifts and evolves as the comic goes on, alternating between pen, marker, water color, and crayon. Pages intermittently become dedicated canvases for kinetic abstract paintings, distilling and deconstructing the surrounding pages down to the vibrant colors and hypnotic gingham patterns that serve as the book’s unified visual motif. Occasionally the visuals vanish entirely, with consecutive pages left intentionally blank, contributing to the experimental and idiosyncratic rhythm of Adams’ storytelling.


The book itself, published in a 9×7 inch paperback, is an impressively conceived and designed object; the odd and oblique choice of title and cover art is somehow at once removed yet relevant to the comic’s content, making the whole more abstract and subjective yet at once more coherent within it’s own hypnagogic and surreal logic. It’s one to be admired and absorbed, fascinating for it’s ambiguous potency, as well as it’s own bold and unique artistic construction.

“Strong Eye Contact” is available from publisher 2D Cloud for $14.95.
3 replies
    • avatar
      Terell Paris says:

      I take your point but I think you misinterpreted my analogy. Mr. Burnett is using the painting to photograph example to say that converting an analog recording to an mp3 loses much of the depth and richness of the original recording- the analog recording is still a mass produced product, but it’s the form that product was intended to exist in, and that can successfully fulfill it’s original vision. An mp3 has less depth and audio integrity. So, even as a recreation, an analog recording is it’s superior. Similar to my mind is the distinction between a graphic novel and a digital comic, or, yes, sometimes a book and an e-book, if it was written, designed, and published to exist as a physical product. So its true that every printed book is a facsimile, but one that a digital recreation often couldn’t, to my mind, match in quality or fidelity to it’s creator’s vision.

      • avatar
        Saul Bottcher says:

        Just wanted to note that Terell was kind enough to contact me by e-mail with his reply (posted above) and we were able to discuss the topic in a little more detail.

        Terell’s point is pretty clear above and I agreed with him, so I won’t add anything more, just wanted to say I appreciated the contact.


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