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The Comics Patrimonialisation of Woodcut Novels

The Paratextual Apparatus of Patrimonialisation – Part 2/3[1]

by Jean-Matthieu Méon

 

 

Woodcut novels form a genre of graphic narratives that emerged in Europe at the end of the 1910s with the works of the Belgian Frans Masereel. It was later explored and expanded by several European and Northern American artists, among whom the American Lynd Ward was one of the most influential (Beronä). If the genre waned in the 1950s, its influence has been claimed by diverse artists, especially in the comics field. In recent years, key works of the genre were reprinted in France and they are considered important elements of comics’ heritage.
The three parts of this article analyse this current comics valorisation of decades-old woodcut novels. The theoretical model of patrimonialisation (Davallon) helps to shed light on this process, which relies on a specific relationship with the past, made of both rediscovery and reinvention (part I). The editorial paratext of the current reprints plays here a central role. It’s a means to equate “woodcut novels” and “graphic novels” and to bring together distinct fields of artistic creations (part II). The symbolic stakes of this patrimonialising process are important: for comics and for their publishers, it’s part of a quest for legitimacy and for an artistic autonomy that Masereel and Ward could embody (part III).

 

 

The patrimonialisation of woodcut novels as comics heritage is based on a double movement: a temporal shift—from the present to the past—and a contextual one—from one field of cultural production (comics) to another (fine arts) [see part I]. The first operator of this patrimonialising process is the reprints of the woodcut works. Reprinting these woodcut novels, and distributing them in bookshops and comic shops, is a first bridging of the temporal and sectoral gaps but the paratext (Genette) of these reprints is also an essential aspect of this process. The paratext helps establish the double continuity between past woodcut novels and contemporary comics, creating a double “suture” (Davallon 114), between periods and between fields. As we’ll see, it also makes the suture seamless, thus naturalizing the result of the process.

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Posted by on 2021/05/17 in Guest Writers

 

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The Comics Patrimonialisation of Woodcut Novels

Patrimonialisation as Retcon? – Part 1/3

by Jean-Matthieu Méon

Woodcut novels form a genre of graphic narratives that emerged in Europe at the end of the 1910s with the works of the Belgian Frans Masereel. It was later explored and expanded by several European and Northern American artists, among whom the American Lynd Ward was one of the most influential (Beronä). If the genre waned in the 1950s, its influence has been claimed by diverse artists, especially in the comics field. In recent years, key works of the genre were reprinted in France and they are considered important elements of comics’ heritage.

The three parts of this article analyse this current comics valorisation of decades-old woodcut novels.[1] The theoretical model of patrimonialisation (Davallon) helps to shed light on this process, which relies on a specific relationship with the past, made of both rediscovery and reinvention (part I). The editorial paratext of the current reprints plays here a central role. It’s a means to equate “woodcut novels” and “graphic novels” and to bring together distinct fields of artistic creations (part II). The symbolic stakes of this patrimonialising process are important: for comics and for their publishers, it’s part of a quest for legitimacy and for an artistic autonomy that Masereel and Ward could embody (part III).

Wordless woodcut novels created in the Twenties and the Thirties are enjoying a renewed editorial and critical interest in France. Six “novels in pictures” by Frans Masereel have been reprinted by Martin de Halleux since 2018 and L’Éclaireur, one exhaustive slipcase set of all six of Lynd Ward’s “novels in woodcuts”, was published by Monsieur Toussaint Louverture in 2020 (see list of works cited). But for one exception (in Walker’s anthology), this is the first French edition of Ward’s woodcut novels and only a few of Masereel’s books had been reprinted as individual books in the preceding years by small literary publishers. On the occasion of these reprints, both bodies of works have been praised as forerunners of the modern graphic novels—if not as graphic novels in their own right. Both of them were also selected for the Angoulême festival award dedicated to comics’ heritage: Masereel’s Idée was nominated in 2019 and Ward’s L’Éclaireur won the award in 2021. The place of these works in the history of comics thus seems formally established, as one more milestone in the form’s past. Jean Davallon’s communication approach to heritage (patrimonialisation) offers a heuristic model to describe this process of (re)insertion of woodcut novels in comics history. It also helps to understand its internal logic as well as its specificity: the retrospective look at the past here is as much one of rediscovery as one of reinvention.

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Posted by on 2021/05/10 in Guest Writers

 

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The Intermittent ComFor Update for January 2021

By Lukas R. A. Wilde

Whereas Natalie Veith remarked that nothing much had happened or changed during the months before her last ComFor update in early October, unfortunately that statement does certainly no longer hold. The German COVID-19 stats were still exceptionally good around that time, but it has become painfully clear now that we have squandered the relative advantage we had. An early “light lockdown” turned into a stricter one in December and the infection numbers were rising dramatically around New Year’s; they are now only gradually falling after all public life has been shut down. A general (legal) work-from-home order remains a mere recommendation from all our discordant state governments, however. Universities, of course, have long settled for online activities entirely, just like in most other countries around the world. The screens and interfaces of our online platforms and tools feel all too familiar by now, for better or worse. As one of the organizers of October’s (8th–10th) annual Comfor Conference on “Comics & Agency” (together with Vanessa Ossa and Jan-Noël Thon), conducted entirely via Zoom with around 140 registered participants and 45 presenters, I was certainly not only excited about the high quality of papers and discussions despite all circumstances, but also surprised by the lack of technical problems, even in comparison with earlier live events where there’s always a missing Mac adapter, an unreadable USB device, or a PowerPoint presentation that just won’t open right. The same is probably true for classes, at least it has been for mine. There’s again a great amount of teaching on comic books going on in German Universities (as well as in Austria and Switzerland). As usual, ComFor has published a list of comic-related classes on offer during our winter term on its website.

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Posted by on 2021/01/29 in ComFor Updates

 

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The Intermittent ComFor Update, as of October 2020

by Natalie Veith

Generally speaking, not too much has changed since Stephan’s update in July. Obviously. Most of us are still working from home and we feel the walls slowly closing in on us. Many comic-related events that had been planned for the summer were cancelled or rescheduled. Under different circumstances, the teaching period of the winter semester would start right about now, but most German universities have postponed it for another few weeks to accommodate for the delayed beginning of classes during the summer semester and the difficulties related to scheduling exams. During countless hours on Zoom and other video conference tools over the past months, we have all had ample opportunity to satisfy our voyeuristic drives and take a peek at the interior of our colleagues’ and students’ homes; say hello to various pets, parents and friends interrupting the calls; and realise that there are some students whose name we only know but whose face we have never seen because they do not own a webcam (as opposed to remembering their faces, but not having a clue what their names are, as is usually the case). Maybe it is the knowledge that we are all in this together – though spatially apart – or it is because, given enough time, people get used to anything, but in one way or another, we are all settling into this crazy situation and accepting it as the new normal.

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Posted by on 2020/10/10 in ComFor Updates

 

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Comics Forum 2020 Cancelled

Unfortunately, we have decided not to run a Comics Forum conference this year. The cancellation of Comics Forum, an event series that has run for ten instalments without interruption is not something we take lightly. In brief, the reasons we have made this decision are as follows:

  • The original theme proposal and CFP text were produced early in 2020, before a wide range of globally significant events took place. We are not confident that the focus of the event as written is adequate to respond to these events in a meaningful way. The questions were being asked in a very different context to that in which answers would have been given.
  • Recent events in the field of comics-scholarship specifically have compounded this problem and made clear that any attempt to respond to deep-rooted structural problems in the field would need to proceed from a broader base than was incorporated into the CFP as written.
  • Given that some of these recent events have highlighted the ways in which (in particular) more junior academics might be penalised for speaking out about structural inequalities, we have a responsibility to ensure that the spaces we create for discussion do not perpetuate such harms. Our plans for digital presentations do not do enough to ensure this type of safeguarding is possible, and we are not prepared to rush through an alternative approach.
  • Similarly, although the move to a digital context presents many opportunities, it also creates more general areas of risk around safeguarding and moderation. Given the theme of the conference and the possibility of harm coming from these areas, we are not confident that we could adequately protect participants from or prepare participants for adverse consequences arising from the event (we are including the organising team as participants here). To be clear: this is not an indication that we regard any of the proposals we received as particularly problematic, but we are aware that interpretations vary widely in online interactions and this presents some risk.

Comics Forum has always sought to offer an open and productive space to start and continue conversations on important topics, but its greatest impact has been outside the event itself in the relationships that persist. We have no doubt that these relationships will continue to prosper without an event this year.

Over the next year, we will be keeping a close eye on events both within Comics Studies and beyond and considering how we can best engage with the important work of developing the field in future.

The Comics Forum 2020 Organising Committee
Harriet Kennedy, Ian Hague, Maggie Gray, Olivia Hicks

 
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Posted by on 2020/09/14 in Comics Forum 2020, News

 
 
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