\"Narrative Structure in Comics\" by Barbara Postema

August 30, 2017 | Autor: Vincent Haddad | Categoria: Comics Studies, Comics, Comics/Sequential Art, Comics and Graphic Novels
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This article was downloaded by: [Vincent Haddad] On: 30 April 2015, At: 10:16 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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Narrative structure in comics Vincent Haddad



Wayne State University Published online: 29 Jan 2015.

Click for updates To cite this article: Vincent Haddad (2015): Narrative structure in comics, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, DOI: 10.1080/21504857.2015.1009924 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21504857.2015.1009924

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Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 2015


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Narrative structure in comics, by Barbara Postema, Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology Press, 2013, ix + 172 pp., US$29.95 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-933360-95-9 If Barbara Postema’s Narrative Structure in Comics is any indication, RIT Press’s new Comics Monograph Series promises to offer first-rate scholarly work for both newcomers and veterans in the field. Postema offers a smart, lucid dissection of the art form, starting from the single panel up to entire page layouts and long-form narratives. Restrictive delineations of genre and prestige, like graphic novels, newspaper comics, superhero comics, etc., are not upheld by Postema, as she uses an eclectic group of examples for her analysis, from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (1950–2000) to Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons (2002). In doing so, she explains how the form, in its many manifestations, has pushed the creative boundaries of narrative structure and necessitates a methodology that meets comics on its own frontier. Postema takes a ‘loosely semiotic’ approach to the study of comics, and her conclusions are heavily indebted to the work of Roland Barthes (1978; 1975). She argues that the process of reading comics is primarily a process of reconstructing fragments to make meaning: details in previous panels become important (again)…. Consequently, the creation of action in a comic is an intricate and continuous negotiation and (re)consideration of various panels at the same time, based on visual information that panels, as signifying syntagms, provide. (p. 66)

The book then follows a steady progression of elemental analysis building up from the single panel to sequences of panels. In Chapter 1, ‘Draw a thousand words’, Postema studies single panels, illustrating how ‘comics images signify by establishing a code of economy, in which certain details are left out so that other details become all the more important’ (p. 2). In Chapter 2, ‘Concerning the inbetween’, she argues that the layout of the page, and its structure of frames and gutters, needs to be looked at separately from the panel. As she shows, ‘panels, by means of frames and gutters, combine on the comic page to create a synergy that goes beyond the content of the single panel and makes something new’ (p. 28). Postema positions herself strongly alongside other comics scholars like Scott McCloud that see the gutter ‘as the operative principle in the creation of meaning out of sequences of panels’ (p. 48). Chapter 3, ‘All in a row’, analyses the role of the sequence in creating temporal and narrative codes. Through an in-depth panel-bypanel breakdown of Jason Little’s Shutterbug Follies (2002), Postema elucidates the significance of ‘iconic solidarity’, or the interdependence of panels and images. Chapter 4, ‘Combining signs’, provides the most thought-provoking and argumentative section of this book. Rather than privilege language as the primary mode of narrative generally, Postema argues that comics are an image-based medium, employing the textual and the verbal only as a ‘supporting tool’: ‘It is symptomatic of our culture’s regard for the linguistic that the verbal register in comics is so often elevated to equal standing in comics, on a par with the visual register’ (p. 80). The final chapter, ‘Show and tell’, puts the entire methodological framework together, offering close readings of some atypical comics pages, including an entertaining

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Book Review

reading of Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes (1985–95). Here, Postema shows that it is precisely once we take all of these separate elements seriously, we can begin to recognise how, ‘comics always raise the sense that these things were chosen, were arranged; that the marks one reads came from the author’s/artist’s hand (even when comics are often created by committee, “assembly-line” style)’ (p. 121). In this way, comics necessitate active participation on the part of the reader and constantly call attention to its mediation through the artist. Postema’s final analysis of this ‘total’ experience poses some questions for further work. On the one hand, she suggests that, because ‘auditory and visual representations are more mediated in comics than they are in the cinema, more reliant on codes … comics can never be as immersive as film’ (p. 80). Yet, Postema later suggests that it is precisely the ways that comics ‘foreground the processes of narration and invite the reader to participate’ that make comics ‘so engaging, so immersive’ (p. 125). Immersion, for Postema, is contingent on the centrality of making meaning of gaps and fragments, for better or for worse. Lambert Wiesing (2010, 87) defines an immersive image as ‘that kind of image that has the viewer believe that the thing displayed in the image is actually present’. ‘Immersive’, then, refers to the total sensory experience of a work of art. As such, it might be worthwhile to consider that our experience of the comics art form, while heavily indebted to the process of making meaning, is not exclusively so. Further analyses of colour, poetic language and artistic style might be aided by philosophical approaches other than semiotics: namely, phenomenology, image theory and/ or affect theory. These fields may allow scholars to pick up where Postema has so conscientiously left off, further attempting to articulate that elusive experience of being ‘drawn in to’ comics. Narrative Structure in Comics presents the reader with two significant assets: a systematic explanation of how narrative is constructed; and a coherent synthesis of much of the recent scholarly work in comics studies. The latter has become more and more necessary with the burgeoning of recent monographs, and one of Postema’s many achievements in this text is efficiently outlining and demarcating a multitude of theoretical approaches to comics. Narrative Structure in Comics would dovetail well with, for example, Jared Gardner’s most recent book Projections: Comics and the History of Twenty-first-century Sotrytelling (2012), as an exciting pedagogical alternative to the oldie-but-goodie texts that appear on many college syllabi. Postema’s monograph is an important text, a cogent exploration of how we make meaning of fragments and a very worthwhile read for anyone closely analysing comics today. References Barry, Lynda. 2002. One Hundred Demons. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch Books. Barthes, Roland. 1978. Image Music Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill & Wang. Barthes, Roland. 1975. S/Z: An Essay. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: Hill & Wang. Gardner, Jared. 2012. Projections: Comics and the History of Twenty-first-century Storytelling. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Little, Jason. 2002. Shutterbug Follies. New York: Doubleday. Wiesing, Lambert. 2010. Artificial Presence: Philosophical Studies in Image Theory. Translated by Nils F. Schott. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Vincent Haddad Wayne State University [email protected] © 2015, Vincent Haddad http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21504857.2015.1009924

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