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The Comics Patrimonialisation of Woodcut Novels

Turning an Entre-deux Situation into a Third Position – Part 3/3[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 terminological instability in designing Masereel’s and Ward’s books in their current paratext—and the ambivalences it produces— [see part II] can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, this instability reflects the processual nature of this patrimonialisation, consisting in the collective production of an equivalence between woodcut books, and graphic novels and comics. The equivalence is initiated by the publishers, reinforced by its critical reception and then re-appropriated by the publishers. On the other hand, the instability also reflects the symbolic tensions that the editorial paratext tries to manage and to overcome. According to these paratextual indications, the woodcut books are to be seen as comics without being comics, as graphic novels without being ordinary graphic novels, as “wordless novels” but not only, as past works but “modern” and, as such, still relevant. What is at stake here is distinction—within or without the comics field.

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Posted by on 2021/05/24 in Guest Writers

 

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Symposium Report for “Drawing Gender: Women and French-language Comics”

by Morgan Podraza

French Comics Poster

During the weekend of 28–29 February 2020, scholars from France, Belgium, the United States and the United Kingdom came together for “Drawing Gender: Women and French-language Comics,” a symposium presented and sponsored by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in partnership with the Department of French and Italian at the Ohio State University. Framed by the events surrounding the 2016 Angoulême International Comics Festival in which the nominations for the Grand Prix included all men and happening in coordination with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum’s exhibit “Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art,” the symposium was dedicated to the representation of and contributions by women in comics within the Francophone world. Thus, central discussions during the symposium were concerned with not only bringing the work of women to the foreground but also calling attention to the ways that women’s experiences and identities are conveyed through such work. Importantly, these conversations also highlighted and engaged with artists and works that expanded beyond the boundaries of any one identity—including a range of languages; nationalities; sexual and gender identities; and social and cultural backgrounds—in order to further emphasize the incredible contributions of creators who have not been historically canonized.

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The International Bande Dessinée Society: February 2015 by Lisa Tannahill and Chris O’Neill

Welcome to the second edition of the International Bande Dessinée Society column, a look back at developments in the world of bande dessinée (francophone comics) scholarship and research.

No retrospective examination of the year in bande dessinée can overlook the tragic events of January 2015: the shooting at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The events and their ramifications have been discussed endlessly in the press, and discussion of the political or wider global effects of the attack is far beyond the remit of this column. However, the deaths of Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb), Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu), Bernard Verlhac (Tignous) and Philippe Honoré represent a huge loss for not only Charlie Hebdo but the wider world of bande dessinée. Several of them were key figures in the development of post-war bande dessinée and wider visual culture in France. For example, Cabu and Wolinski’s work appeared in Charlie Hebdo from its beginnings in 1969 as well as its predecessor Hara-Kiri. Cabu and Charb, along with economist Bernard Maris, who was also killed, were instrumental in the resurrection of Charlie Hebdo in 1992 (publication had ceased in 1981). It is this incarnation which continues to the present day. Charlie Hebdo represents a particularly French tradition of satirical cartooning which lost many of its most important figures in the attacks. If you would like to know more about Charlie Hebdo and its place in French culture, Berghahn has published an informative blog post by Mark McKinney (University of Miami, Ohio) at their site, as well as making available two articles from European Comic Art: a history of the journal and its politics, as well as an interview with Cabu.

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