Perspective Police!: The Defense

Joost Swarte comic from The New Yorker
Joost Swarte comic from The New Yorker

David Chelsea is reading: Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein

Kim Thompson of Seattle, Washington comes to the defense of Joost Swarte, whom I took to task in my last blog post for his inconsistent use of horizontal oblique projection in a recent New Yorker piece:

Ah… but the million dollar question is, if you integrate the “fixed” panel into the ENTIRE PAGE, does it work as well?

Try posting the whole page with your “fixed” panel in it and I think you’ll find that your “mistake” is a narrative necessity to keep the space visually coherent and graspable from panel to panel, and full adherence flattens it out too much and disrupts the narrative. (Each panel needs SOME signifier of “depth.”) Besides, aren’t both isometric and horizontal-oblique inherently irrational enough (neither is what the human eye sees) that the added irrationality of the perspective floor and bottom of the lamp become moot? Maybe you aren’t seeing the forest for the trees — or the ground below the trees that comprises the forest because you’re looking at it from a horizontal-oblique perspective.

–Kim Thompson

Original panel
Original panel


That is a valid aesthetic defense, but my problem with aesthetic arguments is that they are cultural constructs subject to the winds of fashion, whereas the rules of perspective- and of variants like horizontal oblique projection- derive from the geometry of vision, which is fixed and immutable. That each panel needs SOME signifier of “depth” may be valid today, but a newfangled style of deliberate flatness could come along tomorrow to toss that aesthetic rule in the waste basket.


David Chelsea.

My corrected version
My corrected version

A valid rebuttal, sir. And there are of course many cartoonists who DO embrace that flatness. The problem in this strip, of course, is that setting aside the last panel the four other panels do contain depth and the variation in POV itself is visually disruptive enough that an additional violation of the reader’s sense of space might cause the whole strip to fall apart.



Well, let’s try the full strip with the new panel:

Got an example of iffy perspective to show? Be a whistleblower! Send an e-mail to me at davidchelsea(at)comcast(dot)net and include Perspective Police! in the subject line.