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Comics and Narration

Thierry Groensteen

Publication Year: 2013

This book is the follow-up to Thierry Groensteen's ground-breaking The System of Comics, in which the leading French-language comics theorist set out to investigate how the medium functions, introducing the principle of iconic solidarity, and showing the systems that underlie the articulation between panels at three levels: page layout, linear sequence, and nonsequential links woven through the comic book as a whole. He now develops that analysis further, using examples from a very wide range of comics, including the work of American artists such as Chris Ware and Robert Crumb. He tests out his theoretical framework by bringing it up against cases that challenge it, such as abstract comics, digital comics and sh?jo manga, and offers insightful reflections on these innovations.

In addition, he includes lengthy chapters on three areas not covered in the first book. First, he explores the role of the narrator, both verbal and visual, and the particular issues that arise out of narration in autobiographical comics. Second, Groensteen tackles the question of rhythm in comics, and the skill demonstrated by virtuoso artists in intertwining different rhythms over and above the basic beat provided by the discontinuity of the panels. And third he resets the relationship of comics to contemporary art, conditioned by cultural history and aesthetic traditions but evolving recently as comics artists move onto avant-garde terrain.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-7

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Translator’s Foreword

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pp. vii-13

Bande dessinée et narration: Système de la bande dessinée 21 published in the original French in 2011, is the long-awaited follow-up to Thierry Groensteen’s seminal Système de la bande dessinée, written in 1999,2 in which he embarked on the project of defining the fundamental resources deployed by comics for the production of meaning and aesthetic effects. By making underlying systems vis-...

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pp. 3-8

The System of Comics, published in the original French in 1999 and in English translation in 2007, set out to theorize the foundations of the language of comics. This theory was macrosemiotic in its scope: it was not concerned with the details of single images, but with the articulation of images within the space of the page and across that of the book as a whole. The principle of iconic solidarity ...

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Chapter One. Comics and the Test of Abstraction

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pp. 9-20

It is in the nature of experimental works that they shift the boundaries or contest the usual definition of the medium to which they belong. This general rule is particularly applicable to comics, and I have already discussed the difficulties it poses for researchers (see Système 1, 17–21; System 1, 14–17).In that first volume, I did in fact refuse to give a complete and analytical defi-...

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Chapter Two. New Insights into Sequentiality

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pp. 21-42

Several authors who have tried to apply the concepts defined in System 1 to a particular comic or to a larger corpus have taken me to task for the fact that they could not find in it adequate tools to describe certain specific mechanisms that had caught their attention. This does not surprise me as System 1 was never intended to be a textbook offering a ready-to-use analytical grid. And neither did ...

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Chapter Three. On a Few Theories of Page Layout

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pp. 43-50

It was established in System 1 that page layout is, along with breakdown, one of the two fundamental operations of the language of comics—it comes into force at the level of the panels, defining their surface area, their shape, and their placement on the page. In other words, it establishes the relative position and proportions of panels that are co-present on the same page and assigns compat-...

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Chapter Four. An Extension of Some Theoretical Propositions

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pp. 51-78

In System 1, I devoted myself at some length to the description and examination of the basic units of comics language: the balloon, the panel, the strip, and the page, analyzing how they are deployed and interact with each other; the actualization of these units in the spaces, frames and sites of the album makes up what I have proposed to call a spatio-topical system. When I drew out those observa-...

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Chapter Five. The Question of the Narrator

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pp. 79-120

I consciously and deliberately left aside the question of “different instances of enunciation” in the first volume of The System of Comics.2 I will now introduce it here. Moreover, it has to be said that up until now, comics theory has had very little to say on the subject. This near-silence may be read either as an acknowledgement of the difficulty of the question when applied to the Ninth Art, or as a sign that it has not so far...

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Chapter Six. The Subjectivity of the Character

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pp. 121-132

We usually describe as “behaviorist” a narrative in which the knowledge that we can have of characters is limited to their actions and their words and in which we are denied access to their thoughts and feelings. As the Finnish researcher Mikkonen has observed, this is still the most common type of narrative in comics— and he cites...

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Chapter Seven. The Rhythms of Comics

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pp. 133-158

Everything that has duration contains music, just as everything that is visible contains graphic design and everything that moves contains dance. Duration, whether short (a three- or four-panel strip) or long (a 300-page graphic novel), is a natural dimension of comics narrative, as it is of any other narrative. Consequently, so is “music.” And since comic art is distinguished by its capacity for converting time into...

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Chapter Eight. Is Comics a Branch of Contemporary Art?

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pp. 159-176

In this final chapter, we are going to leave the domain of semiotic or narratological analysis and move onto the terrain of sociology of art, art history, and cultural history. It would undoubtedly be worth developing the following reflections into a full-length essay. However, it seems appropriate to include them in the present volume, since, as we shall see, they will ultimately lead us back, by another route, to the question of narration...


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pp. 177-196

Index of Themes

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pp. 197-200

Index of Names

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pp. 201-205

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039396
E-ISBN-10: 1621039390
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617037702

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Comic books, strips, etc. -- History and criticism.
  • Narration (Rhetoric).
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