by Nicoletta Mandolini, Alessia Mangiavillano, Giorgio Busi Rizzi and Eva Van de Wiele
Lecture by Prof. Ivan Pintor Iranzo
Prof. Ivan Pintor Iranzo’s lecture defined comics as a way of approaching images, juxtaposing and arranging them. At the same time, they express concepts and material forms. He then attempted to disentangle the complex, multiform nature of the medium.
Human beings have the ability to imagine and at the same time resist using their imagination, which is central to comics reading: when reading a comic, there is a threshold to pass, as we enter a liminal zone thanks to our imagination. Imagination and the ability to filter out or single out what is substantial help people cope with the continuous visual stream provided by social media. Comics are different from this continuous feed of visual data, since the medium relies on our ability to imagine things that are not shown.
Similarly, Pintor Iranzo engaged with silence and gesture in comics. Taking as a reference the cosmology of air, water, fire and earth in Gaston Bachelard’s poetic epistemology, Pintor Iranzo suggested that comics is the medium of air as it needs our eyes to become animated in order to mean something. Moreover, comics allow us to ‘know’ and ‘understand’ by virtue of their panoptic effect. At the same time, comics are a matter of rhythm, which is the reason why they are not a social but rather a solitary experience (as opposed to cinema). Rhythm is not only important when reading, but also when making comics. Baudoin, for example, usually performs comic drawing while improvising on music. Other artists, like André Michaux, tried to learn and then imitated Chinese logograms (Hanzi), animating the line. Similarly, Bastien Vivès’s rapid sketches in Polina and Joann Sfar’s mobile lines are reminiscent of Rodolphe Töpffer’s fluid lines. This fluidity is hence another essential element of comics, since the reader’s eyes create kinetic potential. And this kinetic potential in turn further complexifies the relation comics have with time: Pintor Iranzo observed that comics are reminiscent of other arts (for example architecture, as one can see from Schuiten’s production), but are quite different from prehistoric cave paintings. This is probably due to the difference in the nature of the two, as Leroi-Gourhan’s anthropological fundamental distinction between “mythograms” and “pictograms” shows: the cave paintings do not reflect time, they are mythograms, while comics with movement bring time into the equation and thus must be read as pictograms.
Lastly, Pintor Iranzo mentioned other peculiarities of comics: their impurity—in the same sense that Alain Badiou attributed to cinema—and their relation with history and memory. Pintor Iranzo noted that intertextuality—the “impure” contamination of all arts—is at the core of all media, especially of comics, for they take ‘everything from everywhere’, thus embodying the absolute impurity. Then, as the art historian Aby Warburg in Mnemosyne arranged images (and, consequently, concepts) by juxtaposing them, Pintor Iranzo proposed to rethink stories and histories in comics. He referred to Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening, Igort’s Quaderni Giapponesi, Pajack’s Uncertain Manifesto and William S. Burroughs’s essays, all of which retrace history based on some images. This tradition stems from Gustave Doré’s L’Histoire de la Sainte Russie, a very avant-garde take on comic essays. Even more complex is the relationship comics weave with memory: not only as a theme, but concerning the reader’s process of accumulating memory through their reading of comics.
Such an impure, fluid nature, poised between concreteness and abstraction, time and absence of time, imagination and limitations on the imaginative process, makes comics the multiform object they are.
For those interested in further reading: link.
Lecture by Prof. Inge Lanslots and Prof. Natalie Dupré
Lanslots and Dupré started by offering a round-up of how comics have been used in the classroom and which approaches to comics have been adopted. Comics are used in classrooms to improve cognitive skills, interpersonal skills, first or foreign language skills, to stimulate creativity, to build interdisciplinary projects, to study history and cultural memory. A recommended read for everyone wishing to engage with comics and graphic novels in education is Stephen E. Tabachnik’s Teaching the Graphic Novel (2019).
Approaches to comics start traditionally by defining comics as a medium. This “rage for definition” and the “anxious throat-clearing about how to define its object” (Charles Hatfield) can maybe be turned into something fruitful and engaging when trying to come up in class with “working descriptions” (Hatfield 2009) or “prototypical definitions” (such as Baetens and Frey’s, or Diereck and Lefèvre’s) as they allow for exceptions. Lanslots and Dupré invited the students to comment on and give examples for Baetens and Frey’s parameters of a prototypical definition of graphic novels (including matters of content, audience, graphic style, format, authorship, seriality and distribution). The summer school participants were also invited to discuss panels and pages of graphic novels, such as David B.’s L’Ascension du haut mal; Spiegelman’s Maus; and Legendre’s and Planellas’ Zigeuner, resulting in a lively discussion on form (suspension between pages, background versus foreground, body frame, frameless panels, temporality).
The second part of Lanslots and Dupré’s workshop was devoted to intermediality and haptic visuality. On the one hand they built on Rajewsky’s theory of intermediality to discuss intermedial references in comics such as the use of photographs, intertextual references to Western literature (e.g. drawing of books, poems, epic and its contemporary versions). Finally, Lanslots and Dupré rearranged the group into three subgroups to study the intermedial use of photographs in one of three suggested graphic memoirs: Lemelman’s Mendel’s Daughter and Two Cents Plain; and Sansone and Tota’s Palacinche. The conclusion of this task was that Rajewsky’s intermediality should be complemented with a material approach such as the one presented by Laura Marks in The Skin of the Film (2000). Marks’s idea of haptic visuality, namely that cinema has tactile aspects making a connection of visual contact with the spectator, can be applied to what these photographs in comics achieve, according to Lanslots and Dupré.
Interview with Fumettibrutti by Nicoletta Mandolini (Researcher at Universidade do Minho, Portugal)
Nicoletta Mandolini, who specialises in gender studies, interviewed the comics artist Fumettibrutti (Josephine Yole Signorelli). Signorelli started off as an underground artist in the comics’ scene of Bologna after studying at the Academy of Fine Arts there. Italian editor Feltrinelli offered her a contract on the basis of her comics published on social media. This resulted in a first graphic novel in 2018, entitled Romanzo esplicito (Explicit Novel). Due to the success of this first volume, two more parts were added to her ‘autobiographical’ trilogy: Storia della mia adolescenza trans (History of My Transgender Adolescence) in 2019 and Anestesia (Anaesthesia) in 2021. This last graphic novel will be translated into French. Mandolini focused on gender issues such as the representation of sexual desire or the imposter syndrome of women and on the genre of graphic memoir. The video of the interview is available here.
Round Table on Diversity in Italian comics by Alessia Mangiavillano (PhD candidate, Coventry)
In order to engage, as scholars, with comic artists, the summer school also encompassed a virtual round table, on diversity in Italian comics. The guests of the round table were comic artists actively involved in contemporary Italian productions and avant-garde collectives. They discussed the topic of diversity through different perspectives: production, genres, formats, collaborations, wages and also gender differences on the Italian comics scene.
The main question posed to our speakers was “How do you live and interpret such diversity?”, to which everyone offered an interesting answer.
Josephine Signorelli (Fumettibrutti), one of the most original and controversial voices in the field of Italian comics, reflected on her position of transsexual author and how her autobiographical works contribute to expand narratives about transsexual people. Lelio Bonaccorso, a prolific comic artist who has experimented with different genres and collaborations, spoke of diversity as a core value of inclusivity and something that offers opportunities to enrich narratives. Francesca Ciregia gave her contribution as spokesperson of Moleste, a young collective of women who denounces gender discrimination and inappropriate behaviours in the comics industry. Claudia Palescandolo, chair of MeFu (Mestieri del Fumetto)—an association that investigates the economic situation of comics creators in Italy—highlighted the fact that diversity in wages is not a positive point and that it needs to be addressed formally. There was also an interesting discussion regarding diversity and freedom in rearranging grid, gutter and panels. Claudia spoke about the possibility of breaking the rules of the page, something that she defined as “anarchic” in the spirit. Francesca provided examples of diverse ways to proceed when assembling the comics and Lelio referred to the Commissario Spada, a comics series published in the 70s that featured innovative graphical creations. Fumettibrutti reflected on her specific format, the Instagram 4-panel grid, realising that she is quite confident with that at the moment and stating that perhaps one day she will venture to experiment with other formats. Finally, Stefano “S3keno” Piccoli, founder of the renowned ARF! comics festival in Rome, shared some anecdotes from his 30-year experience in the comics industry. Piccoli spoke about complex dynamics that move the industry from within, including challenges of single comics artists and the role of publishing houses, giving to the audience all the opportunity to see the bigger picture concerning diversity in Italian comics.
One of the activities planned was also a visit to the Brussels Comics Art Museum
Workshops on Comics Studies
Each of the five organisers (see image below) coordinated a thematic workshop lasting five hours. Alessia Mangiavillano (Coventry University) investigated comics and migration; Eva Van de Wiele (Ghent University) discussed comics and children’s literature; Dario Boemia (International University of Languages and Media, Milan) retraced the history and characteristics of comics journalism; Nicoletta Mandolini (Universidade do Minho) reflected on comics and gender studies; and Giorgio Busi Rizzi (Ghent University) contextualised digital comics in the contemporary mediascape.
Finally, the last day of the school saw Filippo Fontana (École supérieure des arts Saint-Luc Bruxelles) conducting a workshop on comics drawing, seen as a productive process that gains from the contrainte system.
Organising a summer school on campus in such a complicated period and moving from these premises necessarily involved a certain level of risk and unknown outcomes. The School took place when it was supposed to happen and managed to carry on almost exactly as it was planned (deepest apologies to those who, living in the UK, could not attend). We hope to have done something useful for the growth of every participant and to be able to repeat the experience in the near future.
Almost all lectures (most in Italian, one in English) can be viewed on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SummerSchoolAIPI
Giorgio Busi Rizzi is BOF post-doctoral fellow at Ghent University, with a project investigating experimental digital comics. He obtained a joint PhD in Literary and Cultural Studies at the Universities of Bologna and Leuven, analysing aesthetics and nostalgic practices in graphic novels. He is a member of the comics research groups ACME, La Brèche, ComFor and CSS. His contributions have appeared in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics; Between; H-ermes; and in the volumes Comics Memory: Archives and Styles (Palgrave 2018) and Bande à part: Graphic novel, fumetto e letteratura (Morellini 2016). He is interested in comics studies, narratology, digital humanities, humour theory and humour translation.
Nicoletta Mandolini is FCT researcher at Centro de Estudos de Comunicação e Sociedade of the University of Minho (Portugal), where she is carrying out a research project on the use of graphic narratives in the broad area of feminist activism against gender-based violence (www.sketchthatstory.com). Previously, she was FWO Postdoctoral Researcher at KU Leuven (Belgium) and a PhD student at University College Cork (Ireland). Funded by the Irish Research Council, her PhD project on narrative representations of feminicide in Italy is published in the monographic volume Representations of Lethal Gender-Based Violence in Italy Between Journalism and Literature: Femminicidio Narratives (Routledge 2021). In addition to other articles on the figuration of sexist abuse in Italian literature and media, she co-edited the volume Representing Gender-Based Violence. Feminist gazes between criticism, activism and writing (Mimesis 2018). She is an active member of the CASiLaC Violence, Conflict and Gender (UCC) research group, which she coordinated from 2016 to 2019.
Alessia Mangiavillano is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University (UK). Her research investigates the production process of comics conveying migrant stories and voices from the Mediterranean area produced by, or in collaboration with, humanitarian organisations. She contributed to the forthcoming volumes Against Translation: Global Comics History and Memory (Routledge, 2021) and Comics and Migration (Palgrave, 2021). She is interested in comics studies, ethics of knowledge production on migration and human rights storytelling. Alessia also studies comics and colouring at the International School of Comics in Florence.
Eva Van de Wiele is working as a PhD student on the ERC project Children in Comics. She is also a member of the 20cc research group. Her doctoral thesis focuses on seriality, reader loyalisation and the spread of (inter)national comics in early Italian Corriere dei Piccoli and Spanish TBO. She has published in Cuco and Tebeosfera and reviews comics for 9ekunst.nl. She has presented papers at the international comics conference of Zaragoza (May 2019), TORCH Comics (July 2019), Alicante (March 2021), Cambridge (June 2021) and the childhood conference in Tampere (May 2021). She hosted a comics workshop on Holocaust comics at the Antwerp Summer School on Children’s Literature (July 2019) and organised a conference (22-23 April 2021) on girlhood in comics.
All five organizers of the Summer School (Giorgio, Dario, Nicoletta, Eva and Alessia) are also part of an early-career researchers group on Italian comics, SnIF.