Erik Nebel is a contemporary comics maker, whose body of work is predominantly published digitally. The comics world is founded on a history of printed matter, and it often unintentionally disenfranchises work that is strictly made for the web. Web comics typically have their own forum apart from comics made for print, which is self-categorizing. Erik Nebel’s comics dominate their platform, in terms of simplicity for means of visual distribution, as well as accepting and employing the screen to their advantage in regard to color and motion.
Erik Nebel, from a formal standpoint, uses the elements of color, scale, pattern (repetition) to create a connection with their audience without means of establishing “character” descriptions. We look to Erik’s images of fluid, moving, form-ambiguous figures across the page, with the only rigidity in their work in the sequencing across the template of three rectangular panels.
It is a primitive instinct to read groups of figures as multiple persons when placed in the same space, so the setup of the comics are a defining line, implying a narrative. It’s a simple mechanism (the three panel grid) but without it, it would be a different kind of comic. If anything, the stationary structure of the grid enhances Erik’s graceful forms, and stark choices in color/contrast. Comics made for print usually see a loss in translation to the digital screen, but this is where Erik does their best to exploit the gap between the two. Nearly every strip they create vibrates between lines, flat against flat.
In 1963 Josef Albers published a book known as Interaction of Color, and described various principles, one being the Bezold Effect. This effect describes a color illusion called “optical mixture” where two or more colors perceived simultaneously are seen combined. From the impressionistic painters we have learned that they never presented, let us say, green by itself. Instead of using green paint mixed mechanically from yellow and blue, they applied the two unmixed in small dots, allowing perception of the green – as an impression. (Incidentally this is the same principle used in 4 color process printing).
Nebel’s colors are joyous and spontaneous, working to retain your attention as the eye reads the figure. The colors appear to have no code, which is important to the narrative of the non-binary; the stories are of figures in ecstasy, emotion.
When we look at the way the images relate to figures in art history, we can see Matisse. Bold color and iconography only suggesting “Humanity”, to tell stories of spirituality. When we talk about the Eastern perceptions of gender in imagery, they see male as an Earth figure, carnal and woman pertaining to the spiritual. The figures we see in these stories are both and neither. They are charged and meditative. I do not assume any comics maker is looking to be regarded through a lens outside their intentions, but the language of images is made for these sort of relationships.
Looking outside of a formal breakdown of Nebel’s comics, we see a space for loud, silent moments. For figures which best express themselves by means other than speech. We are challenged by Erik’s images, in such a way that while the digital screen generally promotes the shortening of the attention-span for images, this timing is thrown off by the interactive quality of Erik’s work.
Timing is one of the variables in comics that is controlled through the panel (largely through multiple panels), and Erik manages to alter this further through means of color, in very limited space. This questions what other ways of interacting with our readers we cartoonists may be overlooking.
Erik Nebel is not only a deft cartoonist demonstrating new boundaries, but with these comics is forcefully pushing a space for social change.
Erik Nebel has been published in print in Best American Comics 2015, and listed under Notable Comics in Best American Comics 2016. They have a 96 page compilation through Yeti Press of their online work. Erik Nebel participates with The4PanelProject (exploration of the four panel comics format) and you can see more of their work on their tumblr, where they post a new comic everyday.