This special issue assembles an international group of scholars to explore emerging connections between comics studies and narrative theory—two fields which, until the last five to ten years, have developed largely in parallel, without much cross-fertilization or even interaction. The signs of this new convergence of scholarly interests and research practices are unmistakable. Recent meetings of the Modern Language Association, the American Comparative Literature Association, and the International Society for the Study of Narrative have increasingly featured papers and sessions on the intersections between scholarship on narrative and research on comics and graphic novels. Further, recent publications have featured narratologically oriented work by analysts of graphic narrative, including Jeanne Ewert's and Erin McGlothlin's path breaking studies of Art Spiegelman's Maus, Pascal Lefèvre's analysis of "Narration in Comics" in the inaugural issue of Image [&] Narrative, Teresa Bridgeman's work on bande dessinée, and Richard Walsh's discussion of "The Narrative Imagination across Media" in Modern Fiction Studies' special issue on "Graphic Narrative" (2006). In Francophone scholarship, there is a longstanding tradition of studying comics using semiotic concepts, which are part of the foundation for contemporary narratology. This tradition reached something of a culmination in Thierry Groensteen's recently translated monograph The System of Comics (discussed by Craig Fischer and Charles Hatfield in this issue). Yet for all of these incipient cross-disciplinary connections, the present issue is the first of its kind: a sustained, multi-author study organized around the question of how ideas from contemporary narrative theory can be brought to bear on graphic narratives, and how, reciprocally, the richness and complexity of narratives told in words and images might pose challenges to existing models of story. We use the term graphic narrative theory as a shorthand for the new, hybridized field of study in which questions of this kind are central, and which the essays gathered here collectively work to promote.
In this introduction, we provide context for understanding the ongoing disciplinary reconfiguration—the continuing expansion of interest in storytelling via words and images—that has made this special [End Page 3] issue possible. Synopsizing the major lines of inquiry pursued by each contributor, we highlight questions that will require further investigation as comics scholars and narrative theorists work to open new avenues for exchange on graphic narrative theory. Our aim is to foster more dialogue of this sort, facilitating new ways of engaging with what has become, cross-culturally, one of the world's most vibrant and compelling forms of narrative practice.
Graphic Narrative Theory's Two Trajectories of Development
The study of graphic narratives and research on narrative theory: it seems like a natural fit! Aren't these two made for each other, as the specific case is made for the general category, the local practice for the broader protocols that enable and regulate it? In fact, the situation is more complicated, and characterizing the scope and aims of the present issue requires sketching out a brief history of the two fields at whose intersection graphic narrative theory has emerged. In both fields, longer trajectories of development have set the stage for the convergence of texts and traditions exemplified by the present issue.
Scholars working in the field of narrative theory have come to recognize the need to diversify the corpus of narrative texts—the range of storytelling practices—on the basis of which they seek to develop accounts of what stories are, how they work, and what they can be used to do. To quote Gerald Prince, in his discussion of how a focus on female-authored texts might impact work in narratology, "it can be argued that a modification of the narratological corpus [e.g., an inclusion of more texts by women]…may effect the very models produced by narratology; and, should it turn out that such a change does not lead to an alteration of the models, the latter would be all the more credible, all the less open to negative criticism" (78). As part of this broader reassessment of the way theories of narrative are based on specific corpora of stories, and how the stories included therein...