“Empty Thoughts for Real Life” by Jody Zellen

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Screen capture from “Empty Thoughts for Real Life” by Jody Zellen. Traditional comic strip consisting of 8 panels, but devoid of any text or characters, leaving only preset word bubbles.
Open “Empty Thoughts for Real Life” by Jody Zellen

This minimalist piece takes a purely visual approach to language in a manner consistent with her other works. The panels only contain speech balloons, which are divested language, people, and context to represent purely abstract utterances. Is language disappearing from Zellen’s work? Or is it becoming yet another visual material to draw, cut, layer, shape, and imbue with behavior?


Perhaps her use of language is like Michael Goldberg’s as described by Frank O’Hara in “Why I Am Not a Painter.”

“Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

Perhaps for Goldberg there is too much language cluttering the painting, too much meaning, but the presence of the language leaves its mark in the painting. It shapes the result even though it is mostly obscured in the completed painting, which is probably why he foregrounds it in the work’s title, “Sardines.”

The presence of too much language can also be a point of conflict between writers, pencillers, and letterists in the comics industry. Too much dialogue in a panel can obscure much of the visual art, so when Zellen removes the art and language from the panels, what remains is a sense of the design and the proportion of image and text.

Besides, there is some language in portions of this work, and it operates as a kind of concrete or visual poetry that is intertwined with the language of comics.