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Towards Day 6: Growing Up Graphic

Anne Dalke's picture


class discussion notes by mkarol and by maht91

I. coursekeeping
* naming
one another
* signing-in sheet
* still need Amanda to sign up for a conference; Amanda & SandraG to sign up for notetaking
* today's notetakers are Marina & Maggie
* am putting up links to your notes from my course pages; good (competing?) archive of what "actually" happened!
* webpapers due by 5 p.m. tomorrow
* instructions for preparing and posting your webpaper-as-a-portfolio (NOT in the course forum) are accessible @ top of home page; e-mail if you have problems w/ this process

* for Tuesday: read the first 1/2 of Rebecca Solnit's Field Guide to Getting Lost; continue to think about FORM (what would it look like visually? what effect would it have, if so represented? would you feel more "directed"? less lost?? is prose therefore more appropriate???)

* as transition, think/talk about maps as representational forms
see, in Fun Home: p. 126, 140, 144, 146

II. While passing around Scott McCloud's instructional texts .... I asked you all to come prepared today to do/lead us all in some close reading, following Art Spiegelman's observation that "people don't even have the patience to decode comics ... comics have become one of the last bastions of literacy" 

EVD: I feel as though I should be reading at the pace that Bechdel would be thinking it as though its a stream of memories ... attempting to follow her timeline of events accurately .... I'm wondering how Bechdel would want the book to be read.

Since English is my second language, I found that the combination of words and pictures was very helpful....


SandraG: seeing her be so open about her fathers faults bothered me .... The entire situation seems surreal to me.

smacholdt? jaranda?  platano?

(my pages 220-221)

Is drawing -- as a form of representation -- inherently fictional?


III. What happens to such close readings,
if we place the form of Bechdel's work
in its long historical context?

Consider, for example, Aya's discussion of William Morris's work on the 1896 Kelmscott Chaucer.

See also
* illustrated Bibles
(this is from The Holkham Bible, a “celebrated picture-book”/ collection of illustrated Bible stories modernised to appeal to 14th-century Londoners)
* Hieronymus Bosch (15th c. Netherlandish painter)
* Pieter Brueghel the elder (16th c. Netherlandish painter)

cartoons that incorporated verbal content, such as Hogath's 18th c. sequence, The Harlot's Progress (punctual, framed moments in an ongoing narrative)

"Before it's projected ... film is just a very very very very slow comic" (McCloud).

Which of these generic forms (note: none are autobiographic) seems to you to operate most interestingly as an ancestor to Bechdel? What do these comparisons highlight about what Bechdel is doing? How has she intervened in and altered the various traditions?

direct influences: Charles Addams and Wind in the Willows

ckosarek: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is brimming with literary reference ... in an effort to tell her "own" true story. And many of her allusions are not cited ... perhaps Bechdel's work is making a larger point about collective knowledge than Shields' work is ....

IV. Let's look more closely @ the use of words, particularly @ the representation of multiple voices/thoughts/"mind-sets."

Is/how is Bechdel "doubled" in this form? Does she often think one thing and say another? How is her "doubleness" represented?

Some additional critical imput

Nancy K. Miller, "The Entangled Self: Genre Bondage in the Age of the Memoir." PMLA 122, 2 (2008): 537-548.

"autographics"/"graphic memoirs"
what do readers look for in life stories?

The tangled relation of self to family stories and settings .... is further layered ...

the female autobiographical self ... goes public with private feelings through a significant relation to an other .... the other provides the authorizing conditions for self production .... "Isolate individualism is an illusion" .... Autobiography's story is about the web of entanglement in which we find ourselves .....

The reader ... is the autobiographer's most necessary other .... You conjure the reader to prove that you are alive ....


Hillary Chute, "Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative." PMLA 123, 2 (2008): 452-465.
Comics -- a form once considered pure junk -- is sparking interest in literary studies ...The field hasn't yet  grasped its object or properly posed its project ... we need to go beyond preestablished rubrics ... to reexamine the categories of fiction, narrative, and historicity ....

Comics might be defined as a hybrid word-and-image form in which two narrative tracks, one verbal and one visual, register temporality spatially ... through its progressive counterpoint of presence and absence: packed panels (also called frames) alternating with gutters (empty space) .... comics doesn't blend the visual and the verbal -- or use one simply to illustrate the other -- but is rather prone to present the two nonsynchronously; a reader of comics ... also works with the often disjunctive back-and-forth of reading and looking for meaning.

... the strongest genre in the field: nonfiction comics ....  the problem of representing history .... the ability of comics to spatially juxtapose (and overlay) past and present and future moments on the page ....

... the form confronts the default assumption that drawing as a system is inherently more fictional than prose and gives a new cast to what we consider fiction and nonfiction .....

the comics page ... is a material register of seriality, a narrative architecture built on the establishment of or deviation from regular intervals of space....

Cartoon comes from the Italian word cartone, meaning cardboard, and denotes a drawing for a picture or design intended historically to be transferred to tapestries or to frescoes ... "with the coming of the printing press, 'cartone' took on another meaning. It was a sketch which could be mass produced. It was an image which could be transmitted widely."

Smolderen ... rejects sequence as the defining property of comics and analyzes the "swarming effect" in single images from illustrated Bibles and Bosch and Brueghel up through children's books.

Harvey counters, ..."the essential characteristic of 'comics' ... is the incorporation of verbal content .... Harvey's history is located in figures including Hogarth, Gilray, Rowlandson, and Goya.

The form of comics always hinges on the way temporality can be traced in complex, often nonlinear paths across the space of a page .... comics works "choreograph and shape time" .... the specificity of how this is accomplished ... locates what is most formally interesting about comics.

Panels ... "a general indicator that space and time are being divided" -- are the most basic aspect of comics grammar, because "comics panels fracture both time and space, offering a jagged, staccato rhythm of unconnected moments"; they alternate on the page with blank space....

A comics page ... is highly conscious of the artificiality of its selective borders, which diagram the page into an arrangement of encapsulated moments ... the gutter "plays host" to what is "at the very heart of comics .... what's between the panels is the only element of comics that is not duplicated in any other medium."

Hogarth's importance to comics .... A Harlot's Progress ... represents punctual, framed moments in an ongoing narrative ...extending ut pictura poesis from poetry to the modern genre of the novel: he introduced a sequential, novelistic structure to a pictorial form.

Even in early incarnations, comics was understood as an antielitist art form ... marked form the beginning by its commodity status ... both a mass-market product and influenced by avant-garde practices, especially those of Dada and surrealism .... in the late 1930s ... "wordless novels" appeared: beautifully rendered woodcut works ... that almost entirely served a socialist agenda and incorporated experimental practices associated with literary modernism...

as a form that relies on space to represent time ... comics becomes structurally equipped to challenge dominant modes of storytelling and history writing.

"different media interact with each other to produce a more permeable and multiple text that may recast the problematics of representation and definitively eradicate any clear-cut distinction between the documentary and the aesthetic"

Spiegelman publicly and successfully fought The New York Times to get his book moved from the fiction to the nonfiction best-seller list ..... the non-transparency of drawing ... lends a subjective register to the narrative surfaces of comics pages ... productively self-aware in how they "materialize" history....

An awareness of the limits of representation ... not only specific to the problem of articulating trauma but also ...a "condito sine qua non of all representations" ... in its insistent, affective, urgent visualizing of historical circumstance ...

three of today's most acclaimed cartoonists ... work in the nonfiction mode .... This is not a coincidence .... graphic narrative ... in its experimentation with the artificial strictures of the comics form -- [calls] our attention to the ... "textualization of the context" ... with its manifest handling its own artifice, its attention to its seams. Its formal grammar rejects transparency and renders textualization conspicuous...

The most important graphic narratives explore the conflicted boundaries of what can be said and what can be shown at the intersection of collective histories and life stories .... an everyday reality of women's lives, which, while rooted in the personal, is invested and threaded with collectivity ...

the compounding of word and image has led to new possibilities for writing history that combine formal experimentation with an appeal to mass readerships ...the problematics of what we consider fact and fiction are made apparent by the role of drawing .... Comics contain "double vision" in their structural hybridity, their double (but nonsynthesized) narratives of words and images.

.... comics as a form requires a substantial degree of reader participation for narrative interpretation ... the form can place a great demand on our cognitive skills ...beg rereadings and deliberately confused narrative linerarity ... spatializing the verbal narrative to dramatize or disrupt the visual narrative threads ellipses into the grammar of a medium already characterized by the elliptical structure of the frame-gutter-frame sequence.

The history of "the gaze"
From John Berger's 1972 Ways of Seeing:

"A woman ... is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself ... she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman ... Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another ... women watch themselves being looked at...this determines ... the relation of women to themselves ... she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight" (pp. 46-47).

class discussion notes by mkarol and by maht91