“I must've been five or six,” Bram Meehan began, “a neighbor my family used to catsit for had some key Marvel collections and they just sucked me in while I waited for the cat to emerge from under the bed.” The image of a young, ponytailed Meehan pouring over the classics with a watchful cat nearby warms my heart. Meehan is exuberant, his passion for comics palpable, and ever the writer, he is articulate when he talks about his work and the work of members of 7000 BC, the non-profit “support group for people who make comics” of which he is the secretary of the board. 7000 BC grew up in Santa Fe out of the 24 Hour Comics Day project, the accurately titled event during which artists create a complete comic in a single day. Officially established in 2005, 7000 BC delivers workshops to schools and libraries, secures table space for members at conventions coast-to-coast and perhaps most importantly according to Meehan, “provides comic creators an opportunity to meet and get the support of others. To hang out with people who will encourage you in your endeavor, provide production advice and ask you what you've been working on recently.”
Though the text and image blended medium of the comic book is becoming more and more accepted as a form of art in its own right, an abiding negative, pop culture-y connotation lingers around the form. “We have great works of literature … museums house great works of art. When you put them together—suddenly they're lesser? It's bizarre,” Meehan posited. Yet, it is the dual aspiration of comics that makes them so unique, offering up a reading experience that other formats just can't deliver. “Comics engage readers on a subconscious level in a way that no other medium does,” Meehan said. “The core of it comes down to the gutter, the space between the images,” and what happens in the reader's mind as they move from frame to frame. Prose and film offer continuous story construction, comics do not. The reader is a participant when reading a comic, shaping time visually across a page and constructing movement between the frames—filling in the images that aren't shown and designing a story uniquely theirs. “You unsheathe Wolverine's claws,” Meehan cited as an example, “because they weren't there in one frame and they are in the next. The panel forces you to pause and consider connections and time.”
The reader is a participant when reading a comic, shaping time visually across a page and constructing movement between the frames—filling in the images that aren't shown and designing a story uniquely theirs.
Meehan returns frequently to the notion of time. Space is vitally important in the construction of a comic—the past, present and future are visible simultaneously, on a single page. “Right now I'm really interested in how artists unfold time, how they make time visual,” Meehan offered as we talked about some of his favorite recent comics, the standout being Images's Lazarus series. “On this continent, time unfolds left to right,” he explained, “layout impacts perceptions of time. It is a unique form of visual communication, and ultimately, visual literacy to read a comic … This is a different way of perceiving and understanding art.” Time isn't the only element that readers confront head-on and experience on a new artistic plane when they open a comic book, but melding two dynamic means of communication and “forcing people to make these connections between the verbal and the visual” changes the way stories are told and understood. “It makes for more engagement,” according to Meehan.
The time consuming process of creating a comic can be just as illuminating as reading them. “There's this return to contemplative craftsmanship,” Meehan suggested and then paused before finishing, “that sounds way pretentious, but it gives you time to pause and consider. It takes so damn long to do a single page.” And for that reason, with mastery comes simplification. “It's the nature of all communication—what do you need to say? Can it be more effective if it's short?” And in that process of simplification, creators must learn to trust the reader and allow them to fill in those gaps between the panels. “These are sophisticated visual concepts … Reading comics is a learned skill. They have their own language.” 7000 BC is delivering that literacy to New Mexico through their varied workshops and monthly meet-ups.
What do you have to say? Finding a voice in this genre doesn't have to be a daunting task. “Just make something,” Meehan said, “anybody can do this with a piece of paper and a sharpie. The barrier of entry is low.” And accessing the insight of local comic makers is just as easy. “To become a member of 7000 BC, you, uh … just consider yourself a member of 7000 BC. And show up to some meetings,” Meehan suggested.
If you just need a little push to put sharpie to paper or some encouragement in the right direction as you time travel on the page, your support group will be meeting in Albuquerque on Jan. 16. Check 7000bc.org for updated times and location.