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“Pablo Ferro Films” (1967). Victor Moscoso.
There’s always some education to be had from looking at comics by artists who are better known for their work in other media. Victor Moscoso is one of two members of hippie-era San Francisco’s legendary Zap Comix collective whose work on rock concert posters is arguably more notorious and influential than his comics. (Rick Griffin accompanies him in this category.) That isn’t to say, however, that Moscoso’s comics have wielded anything less than a tremendous influence over the past few decades, despite the fact that they remain somewhat under-discussed. Moscoso brought color printing to the medium’s underground, did work in Zap that anticipates the most adventurous of today’s experimental comics, and brought a cubist-inflected fine art sensibility to his pages that echoes in the work of cartoonists from Gary Panter to Art Spiegelman.
But the most striking thing about Moscoso’s comics work is just how effectively he was able to translate the action and effect of his stroboscopic posters into sequential form. Moscoso has spoken of attempting to create posters that worked more like comics than advertisements, forcing the viewer to spend time carefully reading them rather than imparting information as quickly and effortlessly as possible. The vibrating colors and eye-straining typography of his single images mimic the dense linework and slow progression of a paneled page in a fascinating way: Moscoso used both the single image and the sequence to create a fully realized world for the eye to inhabit.
The poster Moscoso created for SF-based motion picture company Pablo Ferro Films, above, is a watershed moment in the artist’s oeuvre, the place where his works in comics and posters unify with perfect elegance. It’s also a fascinating, formally audacious piece of comics, one that breaks rules and innovates furiously without giving up an iota of visual beauty. Moscoso’s work in more traditional color comic books was muted by his era’s production methods: benday dots on newsprint have a beauty all their own, but the furious clarity of Moscoso’s rich screened colors screams like a symphony here. The intense saturation of this poster manages to irritate the eye to such a degree that it becomes difficult indeed to take the full sheet in all at once. That is, it’s much easier to fall into this image using the simple, step by step comics-reading method than anything else.
Moscoso subverts that method, however, to produce a reading experience that’s both smoother and more jarring than what we’re used to. His use of photographic imagery, no matter how heavily remixed, brings this page into dialogue with film, and the tight sequencing, moment-to-moment progression, and screen-shaped frames do more still to recall it. Moscoso, however, doesn’t treat the panel like a screen, a fixed canvas that must hold the entirety of his images. Ever the poster artist, he utilizes the full canvas available to him, walking figures between his frames, treating his gutters as inhabitable spaces rather than negative zones. There’s no wasted space here, and Moscoso’s virtuosic eye for color ensures that nothing becomes too cluttered either.
Equally astounding is how effectively the usual pitfall of photographic comics — a sense of static deadness to the imagery — is sidestepped. The figures moving freely in between panels are a big help, but the doubled images, screened in opposing colors a few instants apart, lend the moments Moscoso captures both a definite sense of gesture and the fleeting lightness of real motion. (It only gets more impressive when you think about how hopelessly impossible it would be to achieve the same thing with comics’ typical black linework.) The effect ends up more like that of animation than anything else, the overwhelming flicker of the colors creating something impressionistic, a flurry of time communicated more than actually seen. It’s literally impossible to nail down a single space that these figures inhabit — even within the rectangles of single panels, they manage to move.
As gorgeous a piece of pure visual information this comic is, though, it’s equally inspiring as a model for cartoonists to follow. Moscoso innovates within the comics medium by pulling in technique and theory from other media, making a statement in a fused form that manages to harness the power and individuality of both sequential and fine art, with no small amount of silver screen sheen thrown in for good measure. A single, indelible moment of genius, “Pablo Ferro Films” throws down a psychedelic-comics gauntlet that, decades later, remains unchallenged in its particular, sublime beauty.