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Comics and Language

Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form

Hannah Miodrag

Publication Year: 2013

It has become an axiom in comic studies that "comics is a language, not a genre." But what exactly does that mean, and how is discourse on the form both aided and hindered by thinking of it in linguistic terms? In Comics and Language, Hannah Miodrag challenges many of the key assumptions about the "grammar" and formal characteristics of comics, and offers a more nuanced, theoretical framework that she argues will better serve the field by offering a consistent means for communicating critical theory in the scholarship. Through engaging close readings and an accessible use of theory, this book exposes the problems embedded in the ways critics have used ideas of language, literature, structuralism, and semiotics, and sets out a new and more theoretically sound way of understanding how comics communicate.

Comics and Language argues against the critical tendency to flatten the distinctions between language and images and to discuss literature purely in terms of story content. It closely examines the original critical theories that such arguments purport to draw on and shows how they in fact point away from the conclusions they are commonly used to prove. The book improves the use the field makes of existing scholarly disciplines and furthers the ongoing sophistication of the field. It provides animated and insightful analyses of a range of different texts and takes an interdisciplinary approach. Comics and Language will appeal to the general comics reader and will prove crucial for specialized scholars in the fields of comics, literature, cultural studies, art history, and visual studies. It also provides a valuable summary of the current state of formalist criticism within comics studies and so presents the ideal text for those interested in exploring this growing area of research

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-11

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Introduction

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pp. 3-14

The term “comics” has come to be used, within the Anglophone industry, as a non-count noun that collectively refers to the drawn strip medium’s various subcategories. It subsumes, but is not reducible to: children’s comic books, which first took off when newspaper strips were sectioned into supplements, and which were increasingly aimed at a juvenile audi-...

PART ONE: Language in Comics

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pp. 15-25

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CHAPTER ONE: Arbitrary Minimal Units in Krazy Kat

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pp. 17-40

Comics critics’ default justification for asserting that comics are a literary form is that, like prose fiction, they tell stories. Time and again, “themes, plots, and characterisations” (Lombard et al. 1999: 23) are emphasized in discussions of comics’ literary properties. Their parity with verbal literary forms is couched in terms of generic narrative attributes or, even more ...

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CHAPTER TWO: Langue, Parole, and Constraint in the Cartoons of Lynda Barry

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pp. 41-58

Lynda Barry’s cartoons possess the kind of strong characterizations, poi-gnant plots, and grim themes that resonate with Anglophone comics critics’ content-focused criteria for literariness. However, like Herriman, her work is ill-served by a conception of the form that sidelines textual content, and ignores the truly literary formal features of language. Barry’s ...

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CHAPTER THREE: Language in Context: The Spatiality of Text in Comics

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pp. 59-80

Thus far, the focus has been on comics’ incorporation of literary writing, and how those literary qualities depend on mechanisms specific to the linguistic system. This approach has been used to show what is lost by the habitual sidelining of comics’ language. However, while it has been demonstrated how comics can achieve the same verbal prowess as prose ...

PART TWO: Comics as Language

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pp. 81-91

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CHAPTER FOUR: The Hybrid Question: Interaction or Fusion?

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pp. 83-107

By way of introduction to the widely accepted epithet that “comics are a language,” this chapter tackles the issue of “hybridity” and explores the various ways critics characterize the conjunction of words and images in comics. The French critic Aarnoud Rommens, reviewing the essays collected in The Language of Comics, complains that the hybridity debate is ...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Comics as Network

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pp. 108-141

Sequentiality features nearly universally in critical attempts to nail down a definition of the comics form, as alluded to in relation to Simmonds’s networked compositions. This emphasis stems from Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art (1985), for though Eisner posited comics as one particular kind of sequential art, subsequent expansions of his definition, such ...

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CHAPTER SIX: Sequentiality as Realism

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pp. 142-166

Conceptualizing comics in terms of linear sequencing does not provide quite the scope it is often credited with for differentiating comics from other narrative media. Nor does this understanding of the form offer a sufficient basis for explicating how we read and process these texts. As Watchmen and Metronome have shown, any demarcation of the relation-...

PART THREE: Images as Language

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pp. 167-177

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Asterios Polyp and the Structure of Visual Images

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pp. 169-196

Much reference has been made to the broad analogies critics often make between linguistic and visual signification. There exists a marked critical drift towards framing the distinctions between visual and verbal as some-how specious. Both the simplified, abstracted pictorial style of cartoon drawing and the comics medium’s disparate non-pictorial elements (such ...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Style, Expressivity, and Impressionistic Evaluation

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pp. 197-220

Alongside narrative breakdown, panel composition, and page layout, Harvey identifies style, or “the highly individual way an artist handles pen or brush” (1996: 9), as the fourth of comics’ graphic threads. He also notes that style is the “most illusive” (1996: 152) and hardest to account for of these elements. He states that “describing a style is about as far as criti-...

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CHAPTER NINE: Composition: Continuity, Demarcation, and Nesting

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pp. 221-245

The final aspect of the formal framework set forth here considers compo-sition in comics, namely the ways in which the form integrates individuated panels into a larger whole. Doing so involves a certain resurrection of issues touched on in Chapter Five, addressing the relationships between panels’ contents and their frames, and also between those panels and the ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 246-252

The preceding arguments have sought to expose the problems inherent in many of the stock assertions that are widely made about the formal makeup of comics. These prevailing assumptions have become engrained as the basis for understanding this hybrid medium in formal terms and the use that it makes of the visual and verbal signifying modes. It has ...

Notes

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pp. 253-256

Bibliography

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pp. 257-266

Index

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pp. 267-272


E-ISBN-13: 9781621039556
E-ISBN-10: 1621039552
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617038044

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Comic books, strips, etc. -- Criticsm, Textual.
  • Graphic novels -- History and criticism.
  • Comic books, strips, etc. -- Authorship.
  • Discourse analysis, Literary.
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