Don't Fear the Paper

Hold the paper up to the light
(some rays pass right through)

Expose yourself out there for a minute
(some rays pass right through)

Take a little rest when the rays pass through
Take a little time off when the rays pass through

I'm barely moving
I study motion

Everything seems to be up in the air at this time
(Air - it can break your heart)

It's hard to imagine that nothing at all
could be so exciting, could be this much fun

I'm charged up. It's pretty intense.
I'm charged up. Electricity.

Don't think I can fit it on the paper
Don't think I can get it on the paper

But it was never, it was never written down
Still might be a chance that it might work out
If you hold on to that paper

"All I see is little dots."

(Words by David Byrne, from the Talking Heads' album "Fear of Music.")

Getting around 4CP

This is the 311th post on the 4CP blog, which I realize makes for a rather daunting mountain of dots and associated musings. The robots at Google Analytics tell me that there are a few people every week, somewhere in the world, who look at every single image, but for saner souls, here are some navigational options:

If you're wondering what I think about this project, there's an illustrated manifesto, In Defense of Dots - The Lost Art of Comic Books, as well as a 4CP FAQ, which compiles my answers to email inquiries. 

I attempt to post images in sequences that are as varied as the gallery's premise allows, so any stretch of the blog is likely to be representative. However, if you have an interest in a particular kind of content or composition, you'll find a limited number of categorical tags at the bottom of the page with which to filter images (e.g.,  SuperheroesPortraits,  AbstractPlaces). If you're a Jack Kirby fan, you might enjoy the anomalous series Cosmic Debris - Kirby in the Seventies. I've compiled some of my favorite images here, which vary from the choices of others, over here.

People who want to be harassed can be alerted to new 4CP posts via  Facebook or Twitter.


The mossy green on the top two-thirds of this image is a single, uniform, printed color. The darker areas and ghostly gutters and speech balloon come from the opposite side of the paper. When you're on the lefthand page of a comic, this is the palimpsest effect; if you're on the righthand page, it's foreshadowing.

Jack Kirby's 4CP aesthetic

A possibly outlandish assertion I made about Jack Kirby in my 4CP FAQ has filtered into discussions at HiLobrow and The Comics Journal, so I thought I'd better provide an image to support this claim:

[Kirby] embraced the underlying chaotic, radioactive dots and force fields of the printed page, and he enlarged them into entire galaxies and negative zones. When the Fantastic Four dove into another dimension, they were diving into comic books themselves, shooting past four-color planetoids and through the wavy energy of bleedy black ink. Kirby’s cosmic crackles are benday dots that have gone supernova and collapsed into black holes.


Over at HiLobrow, the latest edition of 4CP Friday is curated by Chris Lanier, who observes that zooming in on process printing creates an ambiguous zone between illustration and diagram. Lanier's thesis and his clever choice of a final image reminded me of one of my favorite series of LP sleeve designs, which is surely also one of the forgotten inspirations for the 4CP blog. 

Brian Eno's 1970s ambient albums brilliantly employed extreme zooms of printed maps. These visual cues on the sleeves suggested that the music within was itself an isolated and magnified detail – a pattern of dots, backed by a couple of underlying tones and textures. Blown up, the diagrammatic, information-bearing structure of maps gave way to abstract process-printing art.

As Lanier points out, maps can just as easily emerge from abstraction: The river delta below is smoke from a Jack Kirby Demon panel.



Why did you make the 4CP blog?

1. I like little colored dots. I like confetti. I like Christmas lights. I like trousers that painters have been wiping their hands on for a while. I like the Wonder Bread logo. I like the dots of four-color process.

2. My favorite part of Blade Runner when I was a kid was the scene in which Harrison Ford’s character zooms infinitely into a photograph, looking for clues. That’s the scopophilic impulse that drives 4CP.

3. My account of what I learned from the 4CP project is here: In Defense of Dots.

Where do the comic books you’re scanning come from?

Most of my images come from a collection I amassed in the mid- to late-Seventies that sat in my parents’ house for 30 years. They left an indelible fingerprint on my adolescent brain, which looks exactly like the 4CP blog.

Can I use images from the blog for my own purposes?

Yes, of course. I'd love to see what you do with them.

How big is the printed area you scan for an image?

Most images are a small or very small fraction of a comic book frame. An inch by an inch-and-a-half might be typical, but some are much smaller and others contain almost the whole illustration in the source frame. This post may help you establish a sense of scale.

What’s the connection between 4CP and your earlier Comic Book Cartography blog?

There’s some sort of yin/yang connection between the two galleries: Comic Book Cartography documents the deliberate encoding of concentrated information, while 4CP documents the accidental creation of surplus information. CBC is comic books trying to rationalize their crazy world. On 4CP they just speak in tongues.

Why don’t you say more about the images you post?

My blogs are comics as non-sequential art. I’m compiling the places where the action stops – the diagrams and details that push back against the sweaty forward rush of clobberin’ time. One of the goals of 4CP’s spare visual presentation is to slow you down. The excessive mediating clutter of every experience these days has a distancing effect, encourages us to go faster, to consume more with less deliberation. We’re exposed to more things, and we can possess them instantly, but we get close to very few of them. The words, images, and page layouts we encounter in our daily lives are designed with the assumption that we have no time to spare and therefore that everything must be optimized for easy hit-and-run consumption. The minimalist approach of the 4CP blog is supposed to make you feel like you’re alone with something foreign in a quiet place. The images make no demands on you, other than refusing to explain themselves. You can sit down on a bench for a while or walk on, but wherever you go when you navigate away from 4CP, it will probably be louder and more crowded.

Who are you? Who is “Half-Man | Half-Static?”

My name is John Hilgart. When I first engaged the insta-blog format, I had no interest in putting myself between the material and the audience, so I called myself Half-Man | Half-Static. Once the blogs attracted attention and I began writing about them occasionally, I was no longer anonymous.

Are you an artist?

I was formerly an English Professor. I am currently an ad man. I’ve always been engaged in some kind of visual art, but rarely in a sustained, systematic way. My creativity is largely reactive. Both of my formal professions depend on creative thinking that is prompted and bounded by inflexible parameters (e.g., a novel or a client situation). The creative process of 4CP is very similar; it’s an aesthetic pursuit based on an intuitive critical conversation with images that precede me.

I flip through comic books at odd times and bookmark pages where there’s a promising inch of material. When I’m in the mood, I’ll choose some of them to scan. Over time, I’ve gotten better about correctly identifying an image that’s going to work while it’s still on the comic book’s page. But it is always a process of reduction, of successive crops, and what gets posted is often a much simpler composition than the one I’d intended while scanning. Once they’re enlarged, you discover what they have to offer. You also realize how devastating any tiny fragment of unwanted material is to a composition’s integrity.

I’d say my aesthetics are hopelessly modernist. 4CP probably reveals as much about my love of Kandinsky and classic cinematography as it does about my love of old comic books and the appropriation of mechanical aesthetics. Pop art was the merger of high modernism and commercial modernism anyway. My visual sensibilities come from my 1960s-1970s childhood, the culture of my parents, and growing up in an arts-intensive city that experienced substantial growth in the 1950s and 1960s. There were a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright and Wright-derived homes in my neighborhood, and my grade school was a sprawling early-Sixties flat roof with an exterior design organized around colored rectangular panels.

What do you think about Roy Lichtenstein?

I like him a lot, but the perversity of his simulated enlargements of comic book details is that their precision negates what actually happens on the pages of 20th century comic books. Whereas chaos reigns on the craggy surface of wood pulp that has been blasted by successive printing plates, Lichtenstein is the Mondrian of comic book aesthetics. No matter how far from his dots you stand, you’ll never see green. He celebrated a mechanical precision and an idealized four-color process that the comic books never had.

I believe that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Jack Kirby developed an opposing meta-aesthetic of comic books. He embraced the underlying chaotic, radioactive dots and force fields of the printed page, and he enlarged them into entire galaxies and negative zones. When the Fantastic Four dove into another dimension, they were diving into comic books themselves, shooting past four-color planetoids and through the wavy energy of bleedy black ink. Kirby’s cosmic crackles are benday dots that have gone supernova and collapsed into black holes.

Within Sixties fine art, I think Warhol’s screen prints are closer to the texture and visual experience of an enlarged bit of color process printing. It’s the calculated sloppiness of his work, as well as his dots. His coloring is painterly, not mechanical. His broad strokes are comparable to those of a comic book color separator’s brush, and he’s out of register when it suits him.  What’s great about cheap mechanical printing is that it doesn’t look mechanical when enlarged. It’s imprecise. It’s accidentally subjective. It’s full of gestures above and beyond those that were intended. That’s what makes it iconic. That’s why it’s hard to fake with computer design.

What does 4CP have to do with you marketing career?

There are no unchained melodies in the world of commercial persuasion: A must equal B. Words and pictures are entirely instrumental vehicles for an un-confusing message designed to create a specific, positive association. It’s semiotic algebra. 4CP is where I keep one foot planted on the Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin side of things, against identity. My images are advertisements for useless beauty, a rejection of instrumentality. At the same time they’re reminders of a lost industrial economy, featuring color separations by the citizens of Bridgeport, Connecticut and printing by the people of Sparta, Illinois. 4CP doesn’t celebrate auteurs so much as a historically situated form of human productivity.

What does 4CP have to do with your English professor career?

I’d like to think that the 4CP images walk a line between aesthetic autonomy and an inescapable embeddedness in their sources. In this respect, my favorite images feel the same to me as a certain kind of luminous, lyrical sentence that was typical of modernist fiction: Raymond Chandler’s startling metaphors. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s voyeuristic idealizing. Willa Cather’s elegiac loneliness.

Their novels were often about powerlessness, loss, and the colonization of subjectivity by culture’s dominant ideologies – but the little imagist jewels they set into their prose created pockets of autonomy and transcendence, dialectical fractures. These are the moments when truth and beauty are achieved simultaneously, even though the truth almost inevitably sucks. They’re buried in the complicated social mire of a novel, among thousands of other sentences. They can’t quite escape, but they try.

This predicament is why I prefer fiction to poetry; the poetics I find most transcendent are inside prose. My aesthetic synesthesia connects that kind of trapped, fluttering sentence to the images I extract from comic books. Rick Moody’s new novel includes a great one: A wind was blowing up outside, broadcasting widely the dust and detritus of the post-imperial desert. In my dreams, Moody wrote that as a blurb for 4CP.


4CPainting by Andrew Wales

Artist Andrew Wales has completed a massive watercolor of a 4CP image. The source material was 1.2 x 0.8 inches; the painting is almost 2 x 3 feet. Andrew has written about the painting and his interest in making it on his blog, which features a diverse collection of his work. To me, this painting is a logical extension of what happens when you blow up four color process. The larger it gets, the less "mechanical" it  looks. Thank you for sharing this, Andrew.

Andrew Wales and his painting.
The 4CP scan.