There’s a silver handprint on the brown, nondescript cover of 4 Fragments, comic artist Viktor Hachmang’s latest release with publisher Landfill Editions. It’s the artist’s own hand, but with one finger cut off—a rather gruesome nod to the fact that the book includes four short stories, rather than five. “I was thinking about what the first printed graphic design in history might’ve looked like,” he explains. “Obviously, it’s someone printing his own hand on a slab of rock.”
So begins a slight publication of four short dreamlike, elliptical pieces that are less an exercise in narrative, and more an experiment in how graphic design might enhance the mood of a comic. Four very different scenes are rendered in unexpected inks and varied paper stocks, each formal element boldly invigorating a reader’s experience of a strip.
“Coming from a graphic design background, playing with printing techniques an obvious move to me and it’s weird that it’s not used more often in comics and graphic novels,” says the Netherlands-based illustrator, who studied design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. When illustrating a metallic, reflective, or wet surface for example, instead of going for trompe l’oeil effects, Hachmang uses coated spot color printing. “That’s what makes sense to me.”
One fragment called ‘Mask’ vividly illustrates a short poem by Bertold Brecht called ‘The Mask of Evil’ (1942), which deals with the pains of being evil, and questions if the condition isn’t merely a product of self-inflicted pain. Hachmang’s interpretation is richly detailed, and the use of an extremely glossy stock emphasizes the luxurious and opulent setting of the poem. Another fragment imagines a prehistoric—“or post-historic?” says Hachmang—world in an obvious reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, with framing and sequencing taking heed from Stanley Kubrick. The gritty, speckled paper stock connects the touch of the pages to the rough and sandy setting of the story.
Hachmang’s meticulous choices articulate a concern that reverberates across all areas of the publishing world, but which hasn’t been as loudly trumpeted by the comic community. “Since print has been declared dead many times, I think we should try and explore specialized printing and paper stocks even more in comics,” he says. “What is the added bonus of a printed book in contrast to an e-book for instance, or web-based comics?”
Hachmang got the idea for a collection of short stories during the last stages of an extensive graphic novel (called Blokken, now out in Holland and published by Nigh & Van Ditmar). Instead of focusing on the visualization of a written script, he wanted to spend time with abstract shorts that follow a sequence of images. It allowed him to focus meticulously not only on print techniques, but on drawing style. Another touchstone of the overall book concept was Japanese “designer scrapbooks” from the 1960s and ’70s (particularly ones created by Tadanori Yokoo and Kiyoshi Awazu), which held diary-like collections of images, commercial and non-commercial work, source material, process scraps, and random photos. The cluttered nature of the books informed Hachmang’s own inclusion of process scraps and sketches.
“By having a more open-ended and less precisely constructed path, this book was like dreaming ‘out loud’,” says Hachmang. “It’s much scarier to not really have a planned out script for each story, instead starting with one strong image and seeing what you end up with along the way. It’s an experiment that can go wrong quite easily. It’s quite a fragile process.”