I like trains. I like sitting by the window, the big windowframe of British trains, the glass panel that frames the outside world. Sometimes the train is still and another train clatters past, and my panel becomes a panel from “Master Race,” the short comic written by Al Feldstein and legendary for its illustration by Bernard Krigstein. One of the many effects in that eight-page comic that had never been seen before included a view of a slowing train, the motion communicated by slicing and repeating the view of people behind the train’s window glass, a convincing evocation of the experience in a static medium. A panel about a panel containing strobing strips of another panel.
Which is the sort of thing that, if you think about it for too long, makes a comics writer want to start drinking. But I seem to be on the train from Southend Victoria to Liverpool Street in London, and there’s no refreshments service.
The lights flicker. Bloody British Rail. As the lights brown out, there’s a strobing, transparent figure at the window, waving his arms. A black fringe of a beard, glasses with large black frames. Bernard Krigstein, circa 1955. I recognise him from photos with Harvey Kurtzman. He seems very concerned with the frame of the window, here in the flicker and strobe. This is what he says:
“Each panel must exist by itself. And the thing that makes a comic page different from every other day in the year is that each of these individual works of art, at the same time as they have a totally individual life of their own, also exist as a total group, as a unit. This was my inspiring motivation in doing comics. If you can pull out your panel and frame it, exhibit it as a panel, and then have the reader unconscious of that as he’s reading the totality, then you’ve done something, in my estimation. You’ve raised comic book art to the level of Goya, if you can achieve that.” *
(A fragment of a thought that I found in my files today. Probably ten years old.)