Form Is Function by John Barber

This column was meant to be an examination of the form and aesthetic qualities of comics from a theoretical yet practical point of view. This had been, really, the idea of pretty much anything I’ve ever written about comics.

I’ve always been more interested in the practical side of "comics theory". My philosophy has been that in understanding how something works, I can better use that something to make comics.

There are some creatures who create comics (or make music or whatever) seemingly never giving the mechanics a thought. I assume at some unconscious level this stuffs being worked out – like, if somebody throws a baseball at you, you’re not doing all kinds of math calculating wind speed, rotation, effects of gravity, etc. – you just catch the thing.

But some part of your brain must be working those things out. And there’s a lot that goes into making comics that’s that kind of reptile-brain, behind-the-scenes-of-your-own-head stuff. Both baseball and comics require a lot of practice, if you want to be any good.

But they both require thought. Ever watch an old baseball game? The game used to be played totally differently. Rules changes aside, if you watch old film of baseball from the 30s or 40s, it’s fascinating to see players routinely trying to chase down runners or not immediately know where to throw the ball in a given play.

Baseball theory has advanced a lot in the past hundred years or so. I’m sure some would say the sport’s been ruined. I’m likewise sure some would say comics have been ruined in the same timeframe.

But I love comics now. And I love thinking about comics. I love breaking stuff down in my head, because I think stuff that’s been broken down can be put back together better.

I love artists I can analyze. I love Brian Michael Bendis, I love Howard Chaykin – because they are creators that I can learn from. Not just steal from, but people whose techniques I can actually look at, see how they work, and add them to my own set of techniques.

Putting it all down on the computer screen has been challenging – literally challenging to the ideas themselves. It’s forced me to think and rethink and has been worthwhile to me. I learned a lot writing this column.

Which was what was always meant to happen. This was never supposed to be me pretending to dictate from on high – it was me trying to learn to catch the ball in public, and telling you what I’ve been catching.

Sometimes it’s been successful. I hope I presented some ideas that have been challenging to your own thoughts and philosophies about comics.

In the time I’ve been working on the column, I’ve simultaneously managed to start working on comics full-time, and produce less of my own work than I have in years. It’s just been a matter of time and energy. At the same time as all this, I’ve been working on a book about making webcomics, featuring some of all of our favorite webcomics creators, with my good friend Steven "Toon Art" Withrow.

Something has to give, and, well, you’re reading it. Add to the mix that I’ve gone from being always-on-time with this column to being an absolute deadbeat – evidently I’ve helped drive off Damonk, my own editor. The time’s right to close up shop, to start putting some of that practical theory to work.

Goodnight, and thank you.


  1. I am saddened by this news. Form is Function was my favorite column on Comixpedia for the duration of its run.

    Still, if I had to choose, I’d much rather see some new Vicious Souvenirs updates.

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