Scott McCloud’s articulation of the universality of cartoon imagery (‘when you enter the world of the cartoon—you see yourself’ ) has come under much scrutiny during the years since Understanding Comics first ushered the medium into the spotlight among academics. I am partial to this growing collection of perspectives that seeks to complicate the idea that comics naturally invite readers into their worlds. Gillian Whitlock, in her reading of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, offers one such complication; ‘there can be no simple universality in the associations produced by cartooning across very different relationships’ (977), she writes. Even a cursory survey of the tools, topics, and stylistic and generic choices that cartoonists have employed in their work reveals that comics do not make us all one in our experiences; instead the form (as with any form) exhibits a proliferation of divergent approaches to life—some that pull us in with their imagery and others that seem determined to alienate. Additionally, universalizing claims tend to neglect the medium’s capacity to help readers “re-see” known events or experiences with new points-of-view. Of course, another problem with universalism is that what we understand as a universal worldview tends to be dictated by those who have the power and voice to control the world’s goings-on.
Tag Archives: Scott McCloud
Jason Lutes’ stunning graphic novel, Berlin: City of Stones, captures a response to the woodcut novel that represents a common reaction by many readers who first open one of these books. In this case, the book Mein Stundenbuch (Passionate Journey) by Frans Masereel is targeted by the character Erich, who is having a heated discussion about objectivity and emotion with his friends. The panels display Erich as he pulls the book from his friend’s coat pocket. In a manner of disgust, Erich presents the book as an example of emotionalism. His attitude changes when he opens the pages and becomes engrossed in the pictures.
‘Chercher dans le Noir’ – the gap as motif in Caboto by Lorenzo Mattotti and Jorge Zentner, by Barbara Uhlig
There have been many attempts at arriving at a definition for the comics medium. One of the defining elements in many of these definitions is the sequential arrangement of panels, arranged spatially adjacent to each other and separated out by the empty space surrounding them, the so-called “gutter” (see for example Kunzle 1973:2, Sabin 1993:5, Haymann and Pratt 2005:423). Thus one of the constituent elements of comics is the gap. In order to be able to follow the fragmented story told in the individual images, the reader has to mentally fill in the gaps, a process Scott McCloud called ‘closure’ (67). Both narrative and temporality are created in the gutter. In other words, the gutter is the major place for meaning making. This inter-frame gap has been extensively treated in research (i.e. Barnes 2009, Low 2012, Miller 2007). R. C. Harvey demonstrated in his 2001 essay ‘Comedy at the Juncture of Word and Image’ that the same principle of closure also applies to the gap between word and image in that the reader has to link both to be able to fully understand the panel. Finally, Barbara Postema showed in her dissertation Mind the Gap that gaps can be found on every level in comics: in image, page layout, sequence, image-text combinations and the narrative itself (3). She illustrates that according to Wolfgang Iser, the gap is an integral part of all fictional narrative as it ‘is always a matter of leaving openings to draw readers on’ (Postema 2011:5). This implies that gaps are responsible for engaging the reader, who must produce inferences to construct meaning in a narrative. The prime example for this is the crime story – the reader is left trying to figure out who the murderer is by interpreting the hints provided by the text and filling in the information gaps. While in literature this procedure is often invisible, the gaps in comics are often very noticeable, like the aforementioned inter-frame and word-image gaps. However, gaps can also be used to create narratives in which the gap explicitly takes on a thematic role.
This is exactly what happens in the comic El Cosmógrafo Sebastián Caboto: Trazar un Mapamundi (1992), in which Lorenzo Mattotti and Jorge Zentner apply the logic of the gap to the story itself. It is an account on the Italian explorer Sebastian Cabot who sailed to America shortly after its discovery by Columbus. Unfortunately, our knowledge of him is very patchy, his biography ‘nebulous’ (10). While gaps are something most biographers have to deal with to a certain degree, the ones Mattotti and Zentner are confronted with are particularly large. This may have influenced their decision to not smooth them over to create one harmonious, consistent story as is often done in fictional reconstructions of the past but to put its fragmentary nature at the center of their narrative, thus using the comic’s gutter structure to reinforce their own fractured narrative.
Navigating the Post-9/11 Mental Space Architecture and Expressionism in In the Shadow of No Towers by Aletta Verwoerd
On September 11, 2001, Art Spiegelman, son of Auschwitz survivors and renowned author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus (1992), found himself on a “ringside seat” to the attacks on the WTC (Spiegelman, 2004: p. 2). This was it; the moment his parents had anticipated when they taught him “to always keep [his] bags packed” (Spiegelman, 2004 ). Personal life and world history collided once again on Ground Zero and, after years of writing and illustrating for The New Yorker – though never combining the two disciplines – the cartoonist returned to the medium that he considers to be ultimately his own: comix.
Spiegelman’s second opus In the Shadow of No Towers (2004) contains ten large-scale cardboard pages, each with an eclectic collection of images and frames: comic figures from the dawn of the twentieth century feature prominently in the autobiographical story that is further built on references to popular culture, including the author’s familiar ‘disguise’ as a mouse. Produced in the two years right after the attacks, the shape of the towers is frequently mirrored in both single panels and in page structures. All together, the book provides a nearly surreal report of life in lower Manhattan; the neighbourhood in which the absence of the Twin Towers was ultimately present. Further, in order to do justice to “oversized skyscrapers and outsized events” (Spiegelman, 2004) the templates are extraordinary in size; each of them designed to precisely fill a full newsprint page, in colour.
There are lots of ways philosophy and comics might be related. There are comics about philosophy and philosophers (Action Philosophers, Logicomix); other comics might be said to address philosophical issues without really being about philosophy or philosophers (Dinosaur Comics is sometimes like this); there is philosophy through comics — philosophical works that use comics to popularize philosophical ideas (see the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series); there are philosophically minded comics authors (Moore, Morrison and Ditko come to mind); and of course there are philosophers such as myself who like comics. (Philosophers in my department are well-known in the Leeds comics shops!) The philosophy of comics is something entirely different from all of these – it consists in the investigation of the philosophical questions raised by comics themselves.