Haiku and Comics – Constraints and the Creative Process

| May 2, 2011

All – a little bit about the presentation by me, Nick Sousanis and Michele Root-Bernstein of Michigan State University – co-presenter; along with Patricia D. Stokes, Barnard College, Columbia University – moderator.

Presenters will engage in a moderated discussion concerning the resonance and intersection of the creative process in haiku and comics and how introducing constraints opens space for creative discovery. Grounding the theoretical through examples drawn from their respective practices, the presenters will seek insights into the creative process more generally.

And now – the long version:

There are great similarities to be found between the juxtaposition of image and text in comics and the juxtaposition of verbally-described images in haiku. In seeking to explore that resonance and derive insights into the creative process more generally, the two presenters will engage in a moderated discussion delving into their respective crafts/mediums. Both not only study the workings of their respective mediums, but are actively engaged creators within them. The conversation will weave together their observations and discoveries as researchers and practitioners. To this end, the presentation will include selections drawn from the presenters own works and focus on their creative approaches, thereby providing the audience with a glimpse into the inner workings of these art forms beyond the theoretical.

Some issues that will be undertaken over the course of the conversation:

  • The resonance mentioned above between haiku and comics and within both art forms in terms of visual-verbal juxtapositions.
  • The poet’s use of words, punctuation and line breaks affects the sensory development of images and the (conceptual) space between them and can mirror the way in which one thinks of organizing space on a comics page.
  • The leap in meaning between images in haiku and in comics as emblematic of creative insight or discovery, as articulated by Jacob Bronowski and others.
  • The notion of constraints of form – how voluntary adherence to deliberate inefficiencies stimulate creative discovery and generate possibilities. Within the context of the conference, this connects to Bernard Suit’s definition of games from “The Grasshopper” wherein “playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles” or “the selection of inefficient means.” We might consider creation in haiku or comics as proceeding in game-like fashion – the built-in constraints (the rules) generate an expansively complex pursuit, i.e., how  negotiating the space between one’s initial idea/notion and the constraints of the space for exploring it (for instance, the page dimensions and page count of a comic piece), becomes a dance, a play of constraints, in which the shape of the piece shapes content and from which something unexpected emerges in the resulting feedback cycle.
  • The active role of the reader in making meaning in both mediums. According to McCloud, the reader is engaged in the empty space between panels, the “gutters” – actively making meaning between these gaps. As he describes it, “In the limbo of the gutter, human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea” (p. 66). Similarly in haiku, the reader is an “equal partner or collaborator in constructing the creative value of the poem” (M. Root-Bernstein, p. 22).

We expect a lively exchange of ideas facilitated by the active involvement of moderator Patricia Stokes, drawing on her own work on constraints and creativity, all alongside questions and interactions with the audience. Through this, we envision a conversation provoking unanticipated discoveries provoking new understanding of the creative process for presenters and audience.

We look forward to seeing you there! – Nick

References

Bronowski, J. (1978). The origins of knowledge and human imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press.

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, Inc.

Root-Bernstein, M. (2009). Haiku as emblem of creative discovery: Another path to craft. Modern Haiku, 41(3), 16-25.

Suits, B. (2005, 1978). The grasshopper: Games, life and utopia. Ontario: Broadview Press.