- Closing the Open SignificationForms of Transmedial Storyworlds and Chronotopoi in Comics
Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotopos offers a unique and often underappreciated perspective on the relation between depictive space and depicted temporal structures.1 Such relations in turn govern genres and take part in the convergence of stories toward transmedial storyworlds. On the following pages I will focus on Marvel’s transmedial universe as developed from comic books in order to make three points: first, a chronotopic view yields special insight into the negotiations of storyworld building; second, it showcases some of the operations employed in the historical process that assembles transmedial storyworlds; and third, in comic books it brings into contrast shared spaces alongside shared characters as particular intermedial traces in transmedial storyworlds, with chronotopic markers closing the typically open signification of the spatial domains in comic panels. [End Page 55]
Storyworlds and Chronotopoi
In Amazing Spider-Man #8 (1964), Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko begin the issue’s second story with a splash page divided into two vertical spaces. The first space (on the left-hand side of the page) shows Spider-Man from the back, crawling up a wall that also serves as the separating line between the two pictures. He is gazing around a corner to observe the second space (on the right-hand side of the page), which contains Johnny Storm, the “Human Torch” from the Fantastic Four comics, in a fancy car and surrounded by groupies. This initially appears to be one scene, with Spider-Man peering around a corner into the more famous and beloved super-hero’s life. But at closer inspection, the two spaces are collocated in a strange spatial warp of dimensions that disassembles the large macro-panel into separate images, and each is drawn from an impossibly different perspective from the other. The headline shouts that “Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!” and the splash panel repeats that promise by opening Spider-Man’s space toward the Torch’s storyworld, as the protagonist is poised on the threshold. The story is one among many that contribute to a joint universe across Marvel publications, a standard which was still undergoing creation in these defining years of the three artists’ work. (That shared diegetic world, while an interesting intertextual artifact, is not necessarily transmedial, of course; I will get to that in a bit.) The page negotiates the rules by which the two series will relate to one another for the extent of this adventure, acknowledging that an encounter between these two heroes is not (yet, in 1964) a matter of course. This negotiation is depicted as the merging of two spaces, each marked by one of its central characters.
This treatment of converging stories and emerging transgressive storyworlds elegantly conveys a somewhat complex set of genre rules for the following plot. It also poses some narratological questions. If the main intent of the convergence is that these characters may meet, how is this idea related to the striking depiction of spatiality—when there are no other significant landmarks, and the only markers of each space that we recognize are in turn these characters themselves? Why, in other words, is the introduction of a possible event between two characters [End Page 56] an issue of space? How does the possibility of the event depend upon a specifically spatial concept of the joining of storyworlds?
The most obvious answer seems to be that the two protagonists, who usually inhabit different places in some sense, are now placed within a shared space in which they might run into each other, possibly one created by combining the two original realms. But those merged spaces are not identical to the usually depicted space of each comic, which is a fictional New York in both cases and lacks any mutually exclusive restrictions. Instead, these newly distinctive spaces for each protagonist appear only now, in order for their merger to take place.
The concept of storyworlds as story-spaces recurs often in discussing their creation and intermedial or transmedial interconnection, and is neither restricted to visual media nor consistently interpreted as mere metaphor. In an interview with Henry Jenkins, Mark J...