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William Morris and the Graphic Narratives

AyaSeaver's picture

 My favorite description of William Morris actually occurs on his wikipedia page where someone/ones have described him as an "English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement"

Two artistic movements, three professions and a radical political associate. Morris was definitely a busy man. He was a poet but also a printer and I have always said that if I could get enough money together I would buy his Kelmscott Chaucer. What I think is important about his version of Chaucer (he didn't write the text after all) is the way he presented the text.

 Morris didn't even illustrate all of it, he did the decorations and another artist did the illustrations. I think though, that looking at pages from it we can see that the amount of decoration applied to the text is extreme. Printing it and selling it is a huge undertaking ( the folio society most recently undertook a printing of it in 2002 and as far as I know it has yet to sell out.


Graphic narratives are definitely different than illustrated texts and illuminated manuscripts but I don't think we should overlook their similarities. In both instances--here at least--the visual and the textual are planned and integrated together. There have been some instances where the visual pictures presented, say on the cover, of a text are *completely inaccurate. In cases like Alice in Wonderland when they have an immense control over the style of illustrations, the use of color in it then something is occurring that is far removed from ornamentation. Blake’s revision of his engravings can be studied with the same care as the study of the revision of his poetry can.


From the medieval scribes to Alice in Wonderland there is an intertextual treatment not only of texts but of different forms within the text. The inclusion of images within illuminated manuscripts and books sets the way for stories like Fun Home  where television, song, other texts, graphic images, family photographs, historical photographs and maps are all integrated into a visual-textual narrative

What this reveals, I think, the level to which we are all ready to experiment play with and incorporate narrative in different ways, visual ways. And, these different forms have their own paths within each other. 

An example of a page from the Kelmscott Chaucer 1896. What is interesting to me is that modern graphic-narrative writers will use similar gutter styles, bordering and framing techniques. 


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