Mind-Bending Comic Collages: Do You Know the Samplerman?

Vintage American comics Human Centipede-d into surreal, maze-like mosaics, Flash Gordon warped into Gordian knots, landscapes of mushroom clouds and BOOM!. This is Samplerman, and there is nothing else like it.

One of my absolute favorite finds from trawling Tumblr is undoubtedly Samplerman, which is saying a lot, considering Tumblr, as a blogging medium, is basically a cascade of supposedly meaningful images–vintage movie posters, obscene artwork, the plethora of Vines and gifs screaming for your attention. Many art Tumblrs on my feed come and go, but I find every update from Samplerman completely arresting:

Untitled, by Samplerman

Untitled, by Samplerman

As you can see, the Samplerman project involves sliced-up scraps and highlights from vintage comics, rearranged into lunatic landscapes made of gunfire, pictographic pin-ups constructed entirely out of eyeballs, endless patterns upon patterns that are alternately mystical and nightmarish. These pieces scream bloody mystery to me, especially because despite the freak-splatter dynamism of the pieces, there are flashes of actual narrative:

action romance
Action Romance, by Samplerman

Untitled, by Samplerman

That’s perhaps the eeriest aspect of these works, that there seems to be a sideways logic that can’t quite be grasped. You get the unnerving feeling of being watched from behind a screen of nonsense and hypnotic imagery, or of being spoken to in a pictorial language you barely understand. Bad collage is white noise, but as Samplerman shows, masterful collage creates a new logic out of hackneyed pieces, thus revitalizing the system it’s possessing.

Samplerman is the side project of Yvan Guillo, a veteran French artist whose surreal work has found its way into zine and comic anthologies in multiple countries, often under the pseudonym Yvang. In an excellent interview by It’s Nice That, Guillo reveals that Samplerman was created by accident one day, as he was toying with mosaic and kaleidoscope features on Photoshop, with Golden and Bronze Age comics as his source material. He began these pieces as a “procrastinistic” practice, in which he would meditatively cut, paste, and reconfigure the pieces gradually until it “feels done.” With regards to the comics he uses, Guillo has this to say:

I don’t really read the stories, but I love how they look: the cheap paper, the bright primary colours, the screen-tone, the drawings, the conventional representation of landscapes, the simplicity of the lines. I have to make a choice among this mountain of graphic elements. I pick what I like: face, hand, clothes, tree, car, text balloon etc. and start to (digitally) cut them out.

I can empathize with the attitude: I’ve always loved the pulp-y quality, the childlike glee with which these books fire aerodynamic space rockets towards distant galaxies and punch out Nazis with derring-do, back in an age where these scenarios still felt novel. By extracting the saucey bits and rearranging them into a logic untied to any historical period, he preserves their energy, makes them able to baffle any generation of any cultural background. And most importantly, the end result is the same as the original purpose of the source material: the space fields are spacier, the tales of mystery more mysterious, the explosions more explosive than they ever were.

That’s the pure genius of Samplerman–he makes these tired and cliched images work again by breaking them. He reminds us that what needed maturing in comics was the logical aspect, the decisions of storytelling, dialogue, themes, all the writing. But the images, on the other hand, are captivating just the way they are.

Untitled, by Samplerman

Hair StormHair Storm, by Samplerman

samplerman5Untitled, by Samplerman

If you enjoy these works, you can find Yvan Guillo’s books here, and his webcomic Julie and Auguste here.


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