- What Happens When Nothing Happens: Boredom and Everyday Life in Contemporary Comics by Greice Schneider
Greice Schneider’s What Happens When Nothing Happens is the latest installment in Leuven University Press’s Studies in European Comics and Graphic Novels series. The series launched in 2014 with the excellent The French Comics Theory Reader (Ann Miller and Bart Beaty, eds.) and has maintained a steady output of two books per year. Each of these books is a distinctive object: printed on heavy, glossy paper, they immediately suggest gravitas (while the weightiness has a certain pleasure in an era of increasingly digital reading, one does not want to carry these books around any longer than necessary). The ample full-page black-and-white illustrations, in Schneider’s volume in particular, do something at least resembling justice to the medium in question—the only failing here is that analysis pertaining to color is not really helped by the black and white.
What Happens When Nothing Happens is divided into four unequally subdivided parts. Part One, “The Relationship between Comics and Everyday Life and Boredom,” [End Page 398] has three chapters, including a “brief history of boredom,” a “panorama” of boredom and the everyday in comics, and finally a taxonomy of four approaches towards the everyday. This first part represents what Schneider characterizes as her first direction of approach to the issue of boredom and everyday in comics: the historical. While the book does have an introduction, it is relatively short and, in fact, the first two chapters in part one do much of the work that one might normally expect to see in an introduction, in a more leisurely fashion. In the first chapter Schneider gives an overview of boredom and “all the vast vocabulary of subjective malaise that surrounds it—ennui, melancholy, tristesse, Langeweile, acedia, sloth, dullness, ordinariness, routine, alienation, banality, skepticism” (43). She asserts that the diversity of these terms, their “ambiguous mechanisms” (absence and overload of stimuli both being seen as triggers, elongation, and contraction of temporary experience, etc.), and their universalist, ahistorical pretenses have hidden the fact that boredom is a modern phenomenon. In the second chapter, the historical panorama addresses on the one hand the variety of formats of comics art (strips, floppies, webcomics, graphic novels, etc.) and how these mediate the possibilities for representing/exploring boredom. On the other hand, Schneider points to various thematic strong points or positions vis-à-vis to boredom, and underlines the coincidence between the emergence of underground, then independent/alternative, comics, and an increased focalization upon the mundane, the everyday, and the ordinary (as opposed to the extraordinary lives of superheroes in escapist mainstream comics). Chapter three diagrams (literally: there are diagrams) four approaches towards the everyday and their relationship to each other. The axes of this main diagram run from ironic to serious (I believe “earnest” is actually what is intended here) and from positive/enchantment (“strangeness: turning everyday into something special”) to negative/disenchantment (“boredom: everyday is about sameness and lack of meaning”), resulting in quadrants of “observational humor” (ironic and positive), contemplation (serious and positive), ennui (serious and negative) and derisive humor (ironic and positive) (64). Schneider includes lists of artists who exemplify these characteristics (75), and considers specific examples in order to illustrate how they function. It is of course the case that none of these approaches are “pure” and individual artists and texts often deploy multiple approaches—the stakes here are rather to provide a rationalized method for understanding the possibilities.
Part Two, “The Ambiguity of Boredom in Terms of an Aesthetic Phenomenon,” contains only one chapter, dedicated to the “poetics of boredom.” The direction of approach here is characterized as aesthetic. Again, diagrams are ample: here Schneider charts the relationship between boredom and interest, and the paradoxes/dynamics of boredom (wherein both redundancy and variety can provoke boredom). Like the history of boredom in chapter one, this theoretical overview is primarily synthetic, a panorama of what Schneider proposes to be relevant models. As such, the second half of the chapter...