Wednesday, December 9, 2009

(Hu)Man -Thing

I've posted a few times now about human/plant hybrids. From the ancient Green Man to contemporary comics characters such as Swamp Thing and Poison Ivy, these are figures that clearly have some kind of enduring magnetism. The idea of a person merging with the ecosystem is, perhaps, particularly poignant today given the breakdown of the relationship between humans and the larger natural world.

I find it interesting that so many human fantasies revolve around a symbolic or literal union between the human and nonhuman. Some argue that the purpose of this integration is to reinforce the limits of the human, that the enmeshing is a catharsis that ultimately firms the borders between what is human and what is not. I'm not so sure. Perhaps we humans are less subtle.

Some more beautiful Italian 'grotesque' prints and sketches (from the Metropolitan Museum Database). These are by Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau, from his Petites Grotesques, 1550 and 1562 respectively.

These animal themed sketches are attributed to Spanish artist Andrés de Melgar, after 1554.

Andrés de Melgar's work very much reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. The titles do also, for example the above is referred to as "Term Holding Turtle over Dragon with Satyr-grotesque, Whose Tongue Holds a Snail."

On the topic of human/plants, did you know DC's Swamp Thing had a rival at Marvel Comics? His name is Man-Thing, and he was 'conceived' and published the same year (1971) as his swampy brother.

He haunts the swamp and everything.

Like all good fearsome beasts he has a penchant for carrying barely dressed lades up hill and down dale, although I suggest he keep his 'giant sized man-thing' to himself. Especially when poor Howard the duck is around.

(Pics from Marvel Wiki. Where there is plenty more Man-Thing to be had.)


  1. Would you call the transformation of the protangonist in District 9 an example of the grotesque, then?

  2. I haven't actually seen the movie yet (I will, I swear!), but I gather he undergoes a pretty graphic change.

    It sounds like his transformation would definitely be in keeping with the visual tropes of the early grotesque style. I do notice that contemporary narratives make the act of transforming a focus in and of itself. Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915) is often credited as a 'grotesque' story and yet the protagonist's actual transformation into an insect happens 'off screen.' Today, we see everything. We want to be involved. Hence the thrill of video games in which we get to perform our own transformations and make our own grotesques...