The Paratextual Apparatus of Patrimonialisation – Part 2/3
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. 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.