Ocular Excess

A Semiotic Morphology of Cartoon Eyes

Published in KABOOM! Explosive Animation from America & Japan, Museum of Contemporary Art Publications, Sydney, 1994
Edited version reprinted in Art & Design No.53 (Special Issue: Art & Animation), UK, 1997

Baby eyes and cadaver stares

In a widely accepted notion of infantile development, the baby is viewed as becoming part of our social reality once it becomes conscious of others. This awareness is conveyed by the baby staring into the eyes of others (particularly those of the mother, but not exclusively). At this point, the baby's motor functions perform complexly: the voice attracts the baby's attention, which then becomes focused on the eyes of the speaker, while muscular control stabilizes the head to maintain a fixed gaze. This 'moment' - this transformation from the over-elasticized flesh-blob to an animated puppet - can no doubt be thrilling as the life form spontaneously reacts to stimuli from our domain. But the thrill dulls the preceding six to twelve month period (depending on your ethics) wherein the life form was in some way acoustically and sonically aware of its tactile environment. From the uterine sensurround of low frequency rumbles to the timbre explosion of the outer-body 'acoustosphere', the baby is arguably first aware of a socialized dimension through acoustic transmission (rhythms, voices, tinkles, etc.) [1].

Could it not be possible that the baby who stares into the eyes of a speaker is looking at what it might think is a voice? Certainly we carry this interpretive effect with us into adulthood when we look at others' eyes to gauge the slant of what they are saying. Like babies, we connect - sometimes desperately - the visual to the acoustic; we seek out the eyes as if they are the throbbing tip of an optic fibre connected to the vocal vibrations. Strangely, eyes sit most still when you look at them intensely and lock into their gaze. Yet it is then that you notice they do 'vibrate': they suggest movement as they reflect kinetic and dynamic light changes in the surrounding environment. In this way, eyes can suggestively be viewed as ectoplasmic domes, translating acoustic vibrations into phosphorescent activity across its surface. Transfixed by a conflation of micro details, babies and adults question alike: are those twinkling eyes the voice? are those eyes speaking to me? or is the voice somewhere else?

The eyes of cadavers answer these questions best. Trapped in their still flesh and frozen muscles, the dead body's smoky eyes proclaim: no voice here. Inert liquescent discs, they rest robbed of the complex minutia of muscular lines (lids, brow, bags, corners, etc.) which once worked to distract us from the pupil, trying to imply that the eyes convey all, alone. The cadaver holds eyes which, alone, convey nothing. Without that surrounding muscular activity, dead eyes stare out vacant. They are the exact opposite of those spooky life-like paintings whose eyes follow you around the room. Dead eyes follow no-one. They recall the parent's traumatic moment when they realize that their baby is deaf: its eyes follow no-one.

Living in fear of the deadly stare, we have welcomed many social conventions based on avoiding the cadaver's glazed gaze - from placing pennies on lids to staging deaths with closed lids; from blind-folded executions to the tactful aversion of one's look. These conventions are given scant regard in photos of the dead whose eyes clearly are open, captured unblinkingly by the camera's eye. Near-dead eyes can similarly traumatize. The innate repulsion in repeated images of Jewish concentration camp interns & starving African refugees is physiologically transmitted by the bulging eyes which protrude from their deepening sockets. On the verge of being drawn back into the black holes of the skull, these eyes speak of the final living moments of a virtually dead body.

Perhaps this is what is meant by the phrase "wide-eyed and full of life" - that if you were dead someone would tactfully close your lids, or that as you near death you could not physically prop open your lids so widely. To claim that the phrase is supported by a notion that "life is conveyed through the eyes" implies a facile reading of how our physiology and morphology affect our ocular consciousness. Eyes equally speak of death. Perhaps this is also why human characterization in animation is so predicated on the eyes - on their grotesquely bulging 'ocularity'. The voice of cartoon eyes scream out "I am alive; I am animated" while projecting a kinetic yet artificial aura. Just as we read the baby's first gaze as a sign of its consciousness (its motivation, its reaction, its will to move) so too is comprehension of the cartoon character's mind enabled by its eye movement. The depiction of cartoon eyes is then less based on verisimilitude and more on pure motion mechanics. True to the artificiality at animation's base, cartoon eyes connote life not by appearing life-like in manner, but by simultaneously evoking the emergence of conscious movement (the baby's gaze) and the withdrawal of physical movement (the cadaver's gaze).

What seems paradoxical is in fact a logical confusion between modes of perception. Recalling the haunting dislocation between the visual and the acoustic, cartoons feature graphically depicted eyes combined with recordings of actual human voices, fusing dense sonorities with comparatively crude markings. Most cartoons' lip movement (a few consonant and vowel templates) is about as complex as their eye movement (left, right, centre), which further colludes that the eyes may in fact be the voice. While photographic cinema is essentially a machine for projecting flesh ghosts whose skin is composed of shimmering photo-chemical grain, graphic animation gives us true disembodied voices which forcefully occupy their cartoon bodies. In a cartoon world, life is rendered under a logic of unconformability: things appear life-like because they aren't; things move realistically because they can't. It therefore makes sense that eyes seem to look at us because they're not looking anywhere, and voices sound real because they are.

Cute eyes and celluloid dolls

Celluloid doll (c.1870); Kewpie doll (c.1910)

Dolls, comics and animations are the harbingers of this 'logic'. Due to the fact that doll design was established in Europe by the start of the 19th century, images of dolls were seminal in shaping later images of infantile biomorphs. Newspaper, magazine & pulp depictions of nursery rhymes & fairy tales from the mid-19th century then adapted and cross-fertilized these doll images. By the start of this century, comics and shortly thereafter animated cartoons (silent and sound) joined these other media to coalesce a variety of images which mutate pixies, fairies, elves, bears, babies, cherubs, dwarfs and puppies into a genetic image pool which today still flows through a diverse range of media. Viewing the concentric rings of styles and designs in this image pool, one can perceive a developing contrast between previous centuries' approaches to realistic caricature and early 20th century depictions of humanized-characters, anthropomorphized-animals and animated-objects. These latter forms became more iconic in shape and appearance, as their markings (their lines, shadings, textures, etc.) were accorded a modern graphic status beyond their archaic illusory properties. For example, bears originally looked like bears; then they started to look like teddy bears; and finally they started to look like ... well, cartoon bears - pure iconic signs of peculiar coding of bears: fuzzy, soft, warm. This shift from the anatomically plausible designs of the mid 19th century to the more stylized representations of the 20th century articulated a complex semiotic continuum - a continually transforming morphology of bear icons - wherein stylistic traits were intentional and obvious (bug eyes, bulbous cheeks, pot bellies, 3-fingered hands, etc.) [2].

The major trait this semiotic continuum defined was cute. Enveloped by the domesticated baby environment, 'cute' signified an idealized social world in which people, animals and things were infinitely happy and kind to each other. This is an important point, because like the bear/teddy-bear/cartoon-bear convolution, most depictions of cuteness do not aim to copy, say, the visage of the baby (which is often quite grotesque and scowling in pain), but instead intend to codify the happy/kind domain of the baby. For this reason, cute often renders the baby monstrously cuddly and hideously gorgeous, as the baby is positioned in an exaggerated environment radically divorced from the real world. It is almost as if the baby is undergoing a soft socialization process by being made to 'identify' with cute images by proxy through the parents [3]. Images of the baby projected by doll design, comic drawing and cartoon depiction were (and still area) created under this logic, and one can see a clear transformation from the old world charm of the archaic realist baby to the corporate logoism of the modern cute biomorph.

Historically, one specific baby-biomorph image stream leads us into the more abstract extremes to which 20th century cute would reach: celluloid dolls. Celluloid is a volatile yet highly malleable thermo-plastic invented in the late 1860s in America. Used extensively in doll manufacture and production throughout the world, it was effectively replaced by a variety of other plastics and vinyls shortly after WWII. The original celluloid dolls were produced in the late 1890s by the Reinische Gummi & Celluloid Fabrik in Germany, and due to the popularity of their designs and the flexibility of the celluloid process they provided the governing aesthetic for most mass-produced dolls at the start of this century [4]. Outside of a variety of semi-realistic styles, three major designs dominated within this aesthetic: the Asian-tinged Diddums, the elf-like Kewpie and the flapper-girl styled Marcella Kewpie [5]. All of these dolls featured large dewy eyes of unnatural proportions, which in themselves were semiotic condensations of a variety of 'cute' icons. It is these three mass-produced dolls which defined a 'Euro-cute' sensibility and - as we shall see - were cross-fertilized firstly with the gangly American style of cartoon characters (from Bosko to Betty Boop to Mickey and Pluto) and later with the hyper Japanese style of manga and animation characters.

Glass eyes and death factories

German doll with moveable eyes (c.1890); Victorian momento mori photo of dead infant with parents (c.1880)

After World War One - a war that precipitated much design and invention in the field of artificial limbs - dolls developed more sophisticated visages, with the aid of glass eyes and certain mechanisms which allowed the doll to 'sleep' (with eyes shut) while in repose. The uncanny 'life-likeness' in these moving-eye dolls directly relate to the fix between the baby's twinkle and the cadaver's glazed reflection - the irony being that when their eyes are open, they look dead; when shut, they look like they've just died. In between the world wars, a new type of celluloid was developed called Milbu - an amalgam of the German words mich (milk) and blut (blood). This was an exciting development because of the fleshy smoothness it gave dolls moulded of this celluloid. The semiotic continuum of cute doll design becomes a torrential flood of confused associations here, as the desire for the realistic texturing of baby doll flesh uneasily echoes similar mandates in the fields of sex mannequin mouldings and mortician's' presentations for the bereaved. All three are concerned with projecting an illusory life-like quality onto a lifeless sculpted thing; all three are 'touched' by their 'user' in their own way for the tactile sensation of what is imagined to be a living thing. This strange fecund morbidity is an integral aspect of industrialization and all its mechanical and chemical processes which overload the senses: the gleam of metal, the touch of nylon, the smell of vinyl, the sound of plastic, etc.. The more that dolls were imbued with some life-like illusory effect, the more they resembled a dead baby.

The expansion of industrialization between the two World Wars was underpinned by these tactile semiological currents, as the bulk of factory production in the first half of this century was at the service of the military (either directly or indirectly), imbuing much of what factories produced with a deathly erotic quality. This is nowhere clearer than in the production of children's' toys, trinkets and novelties [6]. Industrial design, petro-chemical application and toxin recipes fuelled everything from giant gas chambers to toy gas stoves; from stretched-skin lampshades to vacuum-formed lampshades; from scarred radiated human flesh to soft vinyl doll flesh. Both Allied and Axis forces were engaged in this morbid interplay between the military and the leisure industries before, during and after both World Wars, making it hard to look at the celluloid and plastic dolls of this century and not be haunted by the industrial context of their production.

When one looks into the eyes of these Golem children - these boiled baby replicants, these petro-chemical spawn, these shell-shocked baby-boomers - one can feel tinges of a mournful and ghostly past (an effect widely exploited by film makers and photographers [7]). In an unsettling way, dolls of the last 100 years replay that mix of the baby's gaze with the cadaver's gaze, lending them a quality which is both cute and spooky. In perfecting the industrial processing of celluloid and its application to doll manufacture, the Germans not only defined a dominant Euro-cute aesthetic, but also initiated ways in which that cuteness could be fused with a legacy of sorrow. It then follows that whenever and wherever images of cute appear in a post-war environment, ghosts of the past are likely to be exhumed, repressed or disguised. This is particularly clear when one looks at how the Japanese and the Americans imported and modified this aesthetic, each in their own way.

Sad eyes & postwar traumatization

Astro Boy (1954); E.T. (1982); Margaret/Walter Keane painting (c.1968)

As numerous cultural purists have argued, the so-called 'decline' of Postwar America culture is reflected in the spread of kitsch [8]. While most critics of kitsch are 'concerned' with the ideals of classicism and how America's accelerated mass-production of commodities denigrated these formal ideals, it is often neglected that most of the iconography of kitsch is rooted in a transplanted European culture traumatized by the events of WWII [9]. That garden gnome in a New Jersey suburban garden could well be a soothing therapeutic symbol of pre-war rural sentimentality - one that knowingly yet silently acknowledges the sorrowful legacy contained behind the luridly painted visage. Here in Australia, most so-called kitsch is similarly the result of a domestic re-invention of the home by European families building a new future in a new land. Why they should care about the origins of Greek classicism and the Italian renaissance is beyond me. This is not to say that "kitsch is cool", but rather to point out that if such sentimentality has its origins in the early 20th century coalition between military purpose and domestic bliss, then these artefacts resound with that 'strange fecund morbidity' in a post-war environment.

In ways too complex to be fully covered by this article, postwar Japanese culture has consistently been attracted not to the 'old world' qualities of European culture, but more precisely to the American transplantation of those ideals. Or to put it another way: MGM's version of Paris, Disney's version of Bavaria and even the Metropolitan Opera's version of Tuscany have great romantic appeal to the Japanese. Interestingly, Japan was the largest producer of celluloid dolls worldwide between the early 10s and the late 30s, most of which bore the ubiquitous stamp "Made In Japan", and many of which ended up in the hands of American and Australian children. It is then perhaps not so great a co-incidence that the origins of the Japanese toy industry as a mass-production operation (one that would grow immensely after WWII) lie in their replication of this Europeanized aesthetic of 'cute'. When one places the early manga of Osamu Tezuka within this Euro-cute trans-cultural production of baby-biomorphs, his pre-war drawings of robot children, European princesses, pirate boys and jungle animals are then more symptomatic of a complex merging of western aesthetics with eastern perspectives than the mere idolization and mimicry of Disney's pioneering work [10].

Tezuka's eyes are best viewed through his non-human characters - robots (like Astro Boy) and animals (like Kimba) which, originating before the hysteria of Hirohito's Japan, deflect elegaically to a pre-war nostalgia while incongruously projecting to an optimistic future. While Disney's work had by the 50s grown progressively more idyllic, Tezuka's work grew equally more sombre and reflective. And as these tangents arced away from each other, Disney's eyes became more realistic, while Tezuka's more sharply defined their iconic appearance. This is to say that both extended the prewar Euro-cute aesthetic and both were developing a certain retro-sensibility, but each was performing in virtual opposition to the other. Compare, for example, Disney's The Jungle Book (1960) to Tezuka's Astro Boy TV series (1963): the former features modernized drawings of an old world epoch; the latter features nostalgic 'cartoony' illustrations of a futuristic society. As postwar Japan rebuilt its demilitarized industries during the occupied period (1945-52), Tezuka established himself as the major manga artist of the time, influencing manga and animators up to the 70s and beyond. This is worth noting because it is Tezuka's take on the retro eyes - as inherited from the Americans and the Europeans - which largely defines the 'look' of most Japanese manga and animation to this day.

This 'look' connotes a certain sadness typical of much postwar kitsch. But when one reflects upon the Japanese national psyche and the wartime traumas it has suffered (the deposition of a God-Emperor and the recovery from a nuclear holocaust among other things) the sad eyes of Tezuka and his progeny can be interpreted in a unique way. To do this, however, a diversion must be made to the therapeutic and healing effects (so typical of most kitsch) generated by the wide-eyed refugee waif paintings of Margaret and Walter Keane. On a number of occasions, this American husband and wife team attributed their inspirations for these paintings to the sight of French and Italian children wandering around in the rubble left in the wake of the Allied forces' confrontations with the Axis throughout Europe. These children - thin, drawn, sometimes emaciated, often clutching deteriorated teddy-bears and the like - 'cried out' to the Keanes. Partially utilizing and partly defining the postwar culture of kitsch, the Keanes impregnated their paintings with a mix of the maudlin, the mawkish and the moronic. Nonetheless, these paintings were incredibly popular, and became key accoutrements in the postwar loungeroom, resounding well into the 60s [11]. I would argue that the Japanese have in a confounding way appeared to embrace this particular Americanized therapeutically-designed version of Euro-cute; that they have been attracted to the hyper-iconic status of these grotesque figures which 'cry out' in sad-eyed silence; and that the Japanese have been able to imbue these postwar signs with a mystical resonance which remembers the past by appropriating images designed to aid in forgetting the past [12]. In a final erasure of the western caricatures of the 'slanty-eyed yellow devils' which populated American wartime propaganda [13], Japan's post-apocalyptic culture violently keeps its eyes open.

Once one accepts the trans-cultural conduit of tear ducts which flow between America and Japan (each traumatized by their own and each others' legacies which cycle through their current internationalist operations), the issue of the Japanese being the sole promoters of the big-eyed look becomes diffused. Those same eyes - apart from echoing their lineage from the semiotic continuum of cute bimorphs - have been bred in many other instances: between Liza Minelli's Liza With A Z and Danny LaRue's Piaf; between George Harrison's The Concert For Bangladesh and Stephen Speilberg's E.T. ; between Modigliani's Seated Nude and Jeff Koons' Puppy. Some heartfelt, some exploitative, some ironic - all these images continue the cute tradition, albeit a battered and overcoded one.

Big eyes and emptied signifiers

Gall Force (1983); The Jazz Singer (1927); Goo Goo Eyes doll (c.1960)

But not all big eye motifs are on the verge of overflowing in melodramatic tears. The Japanese have in fact far surpassed this by their hyper iconic application of cute - a symbolic dimension now often referred to as kawaii. As with so much western symbolism appropriated by the Japanese, most instances of cute in Japan over the last decade have emptied the iconography of most of its referential effect. This means that the stylization and image-referencing of cute is applied to things which westerners could never view rationally as having anything to do with cute. Examples here range from the mod, compact, pseudo-Bakelite design of the Figaro cars; to the high-pornographic content of adult-kid manga like The Eros, Bloomagazine and Bizarre Collection; to the girlish voices used in CMs advertising banks and insurance companies. Specific to Japanese animation, the kawaii character designs of Sonada Kenichi (particularly the Gall Force AOV series and also the Bubblegum Crash and Bubblegum Crisis AOV series [14]), Yuzo Takada (both the manga and anime for 3 X 3 Eyes) and Clamp (Tokyo Babylon and X) are in a universe adjacent to yet separate from Tezuka's world. The 'cute babes' that populate these modern animations exhibit complex and well-grounded character traits in the line of Sigourney Weaver' in Alien, Zoe Tamerlis in Ms 45, Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue Steel and Jennifer Jason-Leigh in Rush - all while looking like a genetic fusion between a Baywatch extra, a Barbie doll and a Care Bear. To put this is a clear light, imagine Drew Barrymore cast as the leader of a new Russian military dictatorship or Keanu Reeves starring in a biopic of Jean Paul Satre. Modern Japanese animation has no qualms about dislocating iconic resonance from the character body, and in fact uses this as a stylistic device peculiar to the weird narrative logic of its animation.

While the recent explosion in the production of Japanese animation and its growing popularity in the west have dredged up the standard flip views of the wacky Japanese [15] and their collisions between the cute, the serious and the unreal, cute lineages have been submerged within American animation which are equally crass, confounding and questionable. The most obvious example here would be early sound cartoon characters whose designs were cute caricatures of blackface vaudeville entertainers (remembering that the success of sound cinema was routed directly to the popularity of Al Johnson's blackface routines [16]). This was primarily signified by the bug-eyes - a theatrical device employed by many early black comedians. Here the eyes were used in physical performance to connote a certain possessed quality, as if the body is containing an energy (sexual, emotional, adrenaline, etc.) which is ready to burst forth in an orgasmic explosion, giving us the notion of 'eye-popping' entertainment [17]. Come the Civil Rights era in America, problems associated with racial stereotyping emptied the early sound cartoon characters of their cute appeal: those little black Sambo-bears and those tiny blackface grasshoppers were re-interpreted as images that trapped Afro-American culture in a time warp which halted their self-empowerment. Specifically, the white pop-eyes of the African face comes from a long-standing notion of the black in the jungle - camouflaged, dark and mysterious, his white eyes eerily starring out from the dark (hence the early derogatory slang 'spook'). These images - from

Goggle eyes and sexual control

Tex Avery - Red Hot Riding Hood (1943); Basil Wolverton - Common Types of Barflyze (1952); Ed Roth - Wild Child (1969)

The sad-eye, the big-eye, the wide-eye, the bug-eye and the pop-eye all underwent grotesque transformations in American animation and illustration during WWII. In the pioneering illustrations of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett for various wartime Warner Bros. shorts, wolves (of the oversexed Hollywood variety) and archetypal Warner Bros. characters (especially Daffy Duck) were often depicted with their eyes literally overtaking their bodies in a surrealistic figuration of an ocular come shot [18]. Parallel with these famous characters ran the outlandish work of Basil Wolverton and his 'Wolvertoons' [19]. Like a carnival side-show display of film noir neuroses and para-alcoholic states of mind, the 'Wolvertoons' were hideously deformed caricatures of the iconography promoted by Norman Rockwell and his idyllic ilk, many with flapping tongues, petrified teeth and eyes which look more like breasts and peni than they do eyeballs. Through a proliferation of these bodily contortions, the 'deprived' wartime male - high on bromide yet aroused by metal - was effectively being sexually re-conditioned to sublimate sex drives while engaged in killing for his country. Planes were designed like metallic mammaries, adorned with perverse transmogrifications of Betty Grable, Lana Turner and Veronica Lake, rendered in cartoony extremes and emblazoned on gun turrets and even the bombs themselves [20]. Leather jackets also carried an array of grotesque designs which ironically mocked yet sardonically promoted this bizarre realignment of the sex drive, mixing sex and death symbolism from tattoo catalogues with cartoon iconography of the day [21].

Just as cute was used by both Japan and America under the guise of a healing postwar kitsch, these violent, gross and blatantly offensive images on bomber planes and bomber jackets were similarly reworked in a postwar environment. And once again, their grossness partially disguises what for many must have been an unsettling confusion between sex and death, between arousal and adrenalin. Biker gangs constituted the first substantial subculture to incorporate this imagery in their demilitarized social rituals, transferring those excessive ocular cartoons onto their regalia, thereby extending the stereo-optical binary iconography of skull eye sockets, nipple-bared breasts and vein-ridden eyes. As other machine-obsessed subcultures spread from the 50s into the 60s (particularly hot rod street racing) eyes went beyond the early popping proportions and became symbols of a hysterically detonated domain of unbridled hedonism and orgiastic destruction. Hot rod artists like Ed Roth, Robert Williams, Eric Von Dutch and Mouse Kelly [22] collectively developed a parade of monsters, ghouls and - the dominant moniker - Weirdos, who were mutated into their monstrously customized and modified cars. Looking at these immensely popular car decals, T-shirts and model assembly kits now, the spectre of a traumatized rabid male ominously looms over their cartoony appeal. Perhaps that is why the puerile comic image of the kid sporting his cheap 'X-Ray Spex' has become such a baby boomer icon, figuring as it does a disturbing yet naive depiction of cartoonized lust [23].

If one is conscious of these heady recipes of cheesecake, rocket fuel, chrome and saliva, and one can follow their seepage from the dried up genetic image pool from which cute iconography and cartoon physiology spring, then one should be able to see how even American cute is not as simplistic as it might superficially appear. Perhaps it is for these reasons that most children's cartoon imagery in America since the 70s has been so insipid and tasteless - because their iconography is deliberately emptied of all the associations and connotations which had already been subverted by a psychotically predisposed postwar culture. In this late postwar environment, the baby is situated so as to be guarded from all the lineages discussed above, and the most economic means of doing this is to present the baby with a vapid, dried-up signification of cute - one which is uncannily similar to the hyper iconic status of the Japanese emptied signifers of cute. Some 70s cartoons are sublime in their emptiness: Josie & The Pussycats, Scooby Doo - Where Are You?, Rocket Robin Hood and The Partridge Family: 2200 AD, just to name a few. The parentally concerned 80s and the environmentally friendly 90s extend this American emptiness, from Bobby's World and Barbie & The Rockets In Outer Space to Captain Planet & The Planeteers and The Rug Rats. Most of these TV cartoon shows are set in void locations of people-less streets, which uneasily echo the devastated urban landscapes of Europe and Japan during WWII [24]. Their character designs perfunctorily allude to realist physiognomy but end up creating cadaver-like hulls with severely economic animation in the faces and eyes [25]. These are the bastard children of Walter and Margaret Keane's waif paintings; these are the oppressively neutralized images that comprise the bulk of modern western animation.

Reflecting eyes and psychological imprints

Richard Bernstein - Grace Jones - Fame (1978); Riyoko Ikeda illustration (c.1965); Hajime Sorayama Sexy Robot 22 (1985)

For those who decry that technology and humankind need to be combined in a democratic way, no more forceful example exists than the photo-shadows left in the wake of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts - projections of light energy so great that human bodies caught unaware left their pulverized ash shadows frottaged onto surrounding concrete walls at the very moment their bodies were vaporized. Prefiguring a number of experimental chemical/mechanical/electronic processes of incorporating the artist's body in the registering, graphing and recording of the artist in a variety of media, those atomic ghost shadows are true snuff art (following the slang etymology of 'snuff' meaning the expulsion of a candle's wick). Much postwar art and entertainment explores these connections between creation and destruction - sometimes intuitively, sometimes conceptually, sometimes ignorantly.

While we have looked at the symbolic, iconic and semiotic images expressed through a range of ocular depictions, there are base technical effects which carry the ghostly and haunting qualities of human figuration discussed above. Shortly after Ed Roth et al had created their mouth-foaming eye-bulging Weirdos, 70s fashion photography exploited effects whereby flash lights were used to register a kind of 'techno-sparkle' in the eyes of the vixen-style model. In a perverse replay of the animated twinkle in Tinkerbell's dewy sex-pot eyes [26], these disco vamps prowled like cats on heat before the camera, bearing their retinas to the blinding flash of photographic bulb bursts. Just as Mary Shelley's Baron Frankenstein harnessed lightning to animate his creation, so too was the spark of electricity visually encoded in the eyes of these haute couture femme fatales. Recalling a popular horror film device of evidencing the possessed human through its glowing eyes, the deadly is mixed with the erotic in much 70s fashion photography [27], giving us a pubescent sexual take on the baby/cadaver conflation. Yet again, a presence within the eye - some captured kinetic zap of energy - is employed to portray a dynamic moment, an erotic eventfulness of the human image somehow becoming animated.

Japanese animation since the late 80s has elevated these kind of ocular effects to a para-calligraphic art form in its own right. While their manga throughout the 70s explored a vast range of illustrative techniques (particularly in women's and girls manga [28]) which painted the eye as a whirling centre of dizzying cosmic passion, later Japanese animations mobilized these frozen moments of giddy sensations. One of many examples that comes to mind is the long AOV series Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory which contains many dramatic moments where a face is thrust forward in extreme close-up. Frame analysis reveals that in these intense moments the white of the character's eyes (and sometimes the pupil shine) minutely vibrates between two almost identical positions, generating the effect in real-time of the eyes becoming slightly moist and reflecting light as facial muscular contractions hold back an emotional outpouring. This device is used in countless animations - sometimes with acute realistic effect (as in Tombstone For Fireflies, Only Yesterday and Mermaid Forrest); others times with hysterical abstraction (as in Vampire Princess Miyu, Fight! Iczer-One and Legend Of The Overfiend). The realistic mode conveys life by means of a character withholding bodily movement - the opposite of the baby who mobilizes itself to project consciousness; the abstract mode is a crazed hyper-speed trip to the eye, replaying Hitchcock's tunnel from drain to dead eye in Psycho and compressing the classical denouement of his graceful glide into a split-second glitch of graphic kineticism.

Like those glamorous 70s models and their fluorescent eyes, much Japanese animation uses eyes like a camera - ie. it is as if the eyes have taken a snapshot of the energy contained within themselves. This is in a sense a technological re-interpretation of the romantic notion that the eyes are the soul of a person. The modern eye may have in a sense become 'soulless', but in another sense it has become a beacon for that other terrain, a new world brimful of what could be termed a 'post-human energy'. Examples are many. The modern sex-zombies who people Robert Palmer's video clips ("Simply Irresistible" and "Addicted To Love": paeans to consuming desires) have flashed-out eyes overloaded by studio lights: through their extreme objectification they harshly reflect the glazed eyes of consumers trapped by consumption and desire. The mirrored-sunglasses of the new model terminator in T2 - Judgement Day show an illusory swirl of a chrome-plated reality we presume is the other side of the camera he looks into: cyborgs like him automatically reflect 'us' on the other side of the camera, stranded in an unreal world of endless computerized texture-mapping. And predating both these examples by almost a decade, we have Hajime Sorayama's 'hyper illustrations': a series of Varga-style neo-porno pin-ups where flesh is rendered chrome, and the eyes are reduced to enclosed neon tubing in a hyper-objectification of the female form inspired by Fritz Lang's Maria in Metropolis [29]. The point is all these seemingly 'soulless' eyes sharply illustrate the world we inhabit, and they do so in an uncompromisingly de-poeticized way. These are biomorphic cameras that never lie.

Look deep into the eyes of Astro Boy: what is reflected in those strange abstract ovals which pretend to be Japanese eyes? Stars? Studio lights? Atomic flashes? The white light of death? Are those op-blobs pure effect or traces of a postwar post-apocalyptic psyche? Just as most test film footage of atomic detonation tests goes negative when the intensity of the blast burns the chemical surface of the film, these eyes likely reflect those aforementioned vaporized humans and their concrete shadows. Astro Boy - typical of Tezuka's pseudo-naive and politically-resonant characters - was forever questioning his own existence, asking about his parents and where he came from. Along with his Neo-Tokyo brethen, he inhabits a world where 'people' are synaptic charges and dynamic impulses, and 'machines' possess their own life-force and carry humanistic traits. The eyes of Astro Boy et al accordingly are less a reflection of the `inner human', and more a projection of the 'post-human'.

Like the baby is the cadaver; like a doll is a corpse; like the model is a zombie; so are Japanese cartoon characters signs of a potential existence in the post-human domain. Their eyes exist in a realm well beyond much of the cute semiotics, postwar iconography and ocular morphology we have traced thus far. These eyes are a new terrain: neither east nor west; neither human nor inhuman. Using retinal fetishization as ground zero, they are worlds into which narratives propel us, hurtling us via simulated camera movements across sequenced cels composed of pen and ink. In a flight of unbridled fantasy, these trips to the eye pass us into the unfathomable energy which we assume is somehow at the centre of the throbbing orb. Therein we enter a domain full of scintillating abstractions - moments when characters suddenly emote their very materiality, recalling similar cine-visceral effects like the chalky light on Dietrich's cheekbones; the cancerous growl of John Wayne's voice; the pulsating sweat on Sylvester Stallone's back; the glycerine tangibility of Juliet Lewis' lips. Animation - by virtue of its hyper-graphic status - foregrounds experiences of pure dynamics, and its eyes are the conduits for our transformation into its world. And as the baby locks its ocular sensors on the eyes of the voice that attracts it, so too can we pass through to the post-human domain of animation by locking our gaze on the eyes of a cartoon character.


1 These views are based on a straightforward yet oft overlooked observation of the body's reception of sound not only through the ears but also via certain organs and bones. Inside the mothers womb, the developing baby receives the sound of the mother's internal organs and fluid movement through its own body, not unlike how we 'hear' the movements of others underwater in a swimming pool. Many sensations, impressions and memories of certain frequencies, rhythms and spatialities which we experience as adults can be traced back to the pre-conscious assimilation of sound in the womb.

2 For a sampling of the look and design of these characters see Jeff Lenburg, The Encyclopedia Of Animated Cartoon Series, De Capo Press, New York, 1981; and Denis Gifford, The Great Cartoon Stars, Jupiter Books, London, 1979.

3 For views on the childhood domain of viewing cartoons see Sen Crawford, "Saturday Morning Fever", The Illusion Of Life - Essays On Animation, Power Publications, Sydney, 1991; and Irving Gribbish's Storming The Ramparts Of Childhood elsewhere in this publiction.

4 See Romy Roeder, Celluloid Dolls: Diddums, Cuties and Other Cuties, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986; The Berkeley Pop Culture Project, The Whole Pop Catalogue, Plexus, London, 1992; and Robert Heide & John Gilman, Cartoon Collectibles: 50 Years Of Dime Store Memorabilia, Doubleday & Company, New York, 1983. 5 Even in Australia, all three designs were a staple of fairground prizes up to the late 70s, by which time Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese bootlegs of Hollywood-related merchandise swamped the fairground circuit.

6 See Gil Asakawa and Leland Rucker, The Toy Book, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York, 1992; and Robin Langley Sommer, "I Had One Of Those" - Toys Of Our Generation, Bison Books, London, 1992.

7 Popular current exponents include the stop-motion animation of the Brothers Quays and the daguerreotype-style photography of Joel Peter Witkin.

8 See Gillo Dorfles, Kitsch, Universe Books, New York, 1969.

9 This is consistently filtered between the lines of Jane & Michael Stern's The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, Harper Perennial, New York, 1990, and the companion volume Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Harper Perennial, New York, 1992. A lot of postwar gun-ho invention mentality was born of the new spirit many Europeans felt as they gratefully dove into America's great melting pot. Heat-sealed into the fabric of postwar American consumerism, their European aesthetics became malformed - sometimes outrageously deformed like a factory-defective plastic doll with scarred flesh. Proponents of so-called 'bad taste' are neither smart, clever cute, ironic nor perverse. Mostly, they are gross yet sincere.

10 See Osamu Tezuka, catalogue from the 1990/91 touring exhibition of Tezuka's work first held at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

11 For a brief profile of the Keanes, see Jane & Michael Stern's The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, Harper Perennial, New York, 1990. For paintings by the Keanes and their many imitators, consult your local Good Will or Salvation Army second-hand store.

12 A lateral reference should be made here to the ongoing tradition of the Takarazuka Review in Osaka - an all-women theatrical troupe whose musical scenarios are grossly melodramatic and dripping with 'old world charm'. Immensely popular with women of all ages (for reasons beyond the scope of this article) the stage make-up for the Revue's members is about as close as you can get to human cartoon characters, with outrageous amounts of mascara, false eyelashes and eye pencil work, hysterically fixing all gaze potential to the eyes. (Interestingly, the male characters are often more grotesque than the female characters - a complete reversal of the drag-monster-hag depictions popular with male gays and heteros alike.) See also Rosemary Iwamura, From Trussed-Up Porn Star etc., Continuum Vol.? No.?, 1993 and her article Blue Haired Girls elsewhere in this publication.

13 See Edward Boehm, Behind Enemy Lines: WWII Allied/Axis Propaganda, Wellfleet Press, Secaucus, 1989; and Anthony Rhodes & Victor Margolin, Propaganda - The Art Of Persuasion: WWII, Angus & Robertson, London, 1976.

14 See the interview with Kenischi Sonada elsewhere in this publication.

15 This is best represented by the Anglophile 'wit' of Clive James and his repeated 'looks' at contemporary Japanese society and its `crazy' television.

16 For a full account of the effect Al Johnson's popularity had on the success of The Jazz Singer, see Alexander Walker, The Shattered Silents: How The Talkies Came To Stay, Harrop, London, 1986.

17 'Bug eyes' also have a long history in jitterbug dancing and scat-style jazz - music and dance styles which peaked during the war years. Essentially conveyed through the passionate performance and consumption of music, both these popular forms are 20th Century takes on the bodily frenzy induced by voodoo ceremonies. Vastly different from the European Christian religious practices and customs which accompanied the importation of African slaves into America, voodoo-based rituals and similar Afro-American celebrations are typified by high-key states of possession. Comedic excesses in black vaudeville made liberal references both to black pop music of the time as well as voodoo iconography, thereby extending the lineage of wide-eyed craziness.

18 See Steve Schneider, That's All Folks! The Art Of Warner Bros. Animation, Henry Holt & Company, New York, 1988.

19 See Wolvertoons: The Art Of Basil Wolverton, edited by Dick Voll, Fantagraphic Books, Seattle, 1989.

20 Ian Logan and Henry Neild, Classy Chasy: American Aircraft 'Girl Art' 1942-1953, Mathews Millar Dunbar, London, 1977

21 An early Warner Bros. depiction of the infernal Gremlin was directly based on the Kewpie doll (Russian Rhapsody 1944).

22 See Robert Williams, The Lowbrow Art Of Robert Williams, Rip Off Press, San Francisco, 1989; Ed Roth & Howie Kuston, Confessions Of A Rat Fink - The Life & Times Of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Pharos Books, New York, 1992; Laguna Art Museum's Kustom Kulture: Von Dutch, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Robert Williams & Others, Last Gasp, San Francisco, 1993; and Stanley Mouse, Freehand: The Art Of Stanley Mouse, SLG Books, Berkeley, 1993.

23 See Mario Lippa & David Newton, The World Of Small Ads, Hamlyn Publishing Group, London, 1979.

24 These 'adult-less' cartoon scenarios were also typical of the postwar era of Dr. Spock-type child psychology where parents where always heard but never seen. From Charlie Brown and Nancy & Slugo strips to Warner Bros. shorts likeFeed The Kitty and It's A Dog's Life.

25 Most of the 70s Hanna Barbera cartoons like Scooby Doo Where Are You? feature characters who have no white dot, spots or ovals in their eyes: absolute cartoon cadavers.

26 See the interview with Buichi Terasawa and his comments on Tinker Bell elsewhere in this publication.

27 This disco-vamp iconography reached a zenith by the late 70s and can be readily viewed in Richard Berstein's cover designs for Andy Warhol's Interview between 1975 and 1979. See Richard Bernstein, Mega-Star, Indigo Books, New York, 1984.

28 See Frederik L. Schodt, Manga! Manga! The World Of Japanese Comics, Kodansha International, Tokyo/New York, 1983/86.

29 See Hajime Sorayama, Sorayama Hyper Illustrations, Bijutsu Shuppan-Shan Ltd., Tokyo 1989.

Text © Philip Brophy 1994. Images © Respective copyright holders