Contextual images, part 2

6) Rodolphe Töpffer, from The Story of Albert. Cartoonists turn to Töpffer, a Swiss teacher, to bypass the superhero’s monopoly on fatherhood. In Print magazine, 1988, Spiegelman writes, “Töpffer observed that, when you repeated a cluster of signs, it became possible to further simplify those signs, counting on the reader to recognize the image from its context . . . In The Story of Albert, 1845, Albert drinks a toast to Health, then to Liberty, then to Equality, Fraternity, the Death of Tyranny, and so on, until the images and text all dissolve into drunken squiggles” (62). Image source.

7) Cubistic portrait on Luba on the back of Blood of Palomar (1989), the Fantagraphics volume which contained Human Diastrophism. My scan.

8) Walter Gropius, Bauhaus Manifesto (1919), with a woodcut by Kin-Der-Kids creator Lyonel Feininger. Translation of the manifesto’s opening salvo: “The ultimate aim of all creative activity is a building!” Image source.

9) Thomas Rowlandson, Six Stages of Mending a Face (1792). Image source.


Contextual images, part 1

I showed these images in class to establish precedence, context, and family resemblance. They might help jog your memory about some of the fundamental tensions we’ve investigated this term between 1) form & content, 2) the impersonal & the authoritative, 3) word & image, 4) representation & metaphor, and 5) art & commerce.

1) Benjamin Franklin, Join, or Die political cartoon (1754). Image source.

2) The Bill-Poster’s Dream (1862). Image source.

3) R. F. Outcault, The Great Bull Fight in Hogan’s Alley (1896). Image source.

4) The Bird’s Head Haggadah (c. 1300). Image source.

5) Art Spiegelman, from Lead Pipe Sunday (1989). “The Bastard Offspring of Art and Commerce murder their parents and go off on a Sunday Outing,” says the caption. Image source.


Here are a few posts about our most recent readings.

Thierry Groensteen’s theory of braiding from The System of Comics: “Contrary to breakdown and page layout, braiding deploys itself simultaneously in two dimensions, requiring them to collaborate with each other: synchronically, that of the co-presence of panels on the surface of the same page; and diachronically, that of the reading, which recognizes in each new term of a series a recollection or an echo of an anterior term” (147).

Synchronically: for this dimension, you would use McCloud to speak about the transitions between side-by-side, adjacent panels in a tier and on a page.

Page 4 then page 23:

Diachronically: think of the recurring, almost selfsame image of the apartment in Asterios Polyp; the peaches and that fateful street corner in Jimmy Corrigan; and the floating corpses and sweating bodies in Human Diastrophism.

Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen, who write the forward to System, write that these “non-narrative correspondences” are image-based (ix): images travel through time to unite disparate and distant events and temporalities. Braiding results in the “densification” of meaning, Groensteen says (147).

Speech balloons

•Will Eisner: “The balloon is a desperation device. It attempts to capture and make visible an ethereal element: sound” (Comics and Sequential Art 26).

•John Updike: “that two-dimensional irruption into the panel’s three-dimensional space, invisible to its inhabitants and yet critical to their intercourse” (“Cartoon Magic” 40).

•Douglas Wolk: “comics aren’t just more visual than prose; they’re less verbal. Comics can get across the image of a physical setting or person or object or any other visual phenomenon much more easily than prose—they can just show it—but dialogue, or anything nonvisual that needs to be described or explained, takes up an awful lot of space very quickly in comics form. More than 150 words or so on a six-panel page, and things start to look pretty crowded” (Reading Comics 25-6). Left: Why won’t you let me see what the drug store looks like?

•David Carrier: they are “visible to the reader but do not lie within the picture space containing the depicted characters. . . . The speech balloon is a great philosophical discovery” (The Aesthetics of Comics 4). He continues, “Comics thus solve the problem of other minds only at the cost of dissolving it. The balloon must be attached to something, whether person or alien, capable of thinking. Car tires go ‘Screech’ and bombs ‘Boom!’ but only beings capable of thought . . . can have balloons attached to them” (32-33).

Left: In the second panel from the first story of One Hundred Demons, we notice Lynda’s grandmother’s Tagalog exclamations. If the speech balloon is opaque and blocks our view of the environment, then these exclamations (for the moment) are doubly opaque: their meaning is obstructed.

Some resources

1) To get you thinking about cause and effect (and timing): Ed Piskor on clever single panels at Wizzywig Comics. Remember the criss-crossing of time signatures in this David Lapham panel?

2) To get you thinking about movement: Matt Seneca on a notable Gasoline Alley page.

In comics, sequence is time: one can quibble about how much time passes within the panel borders of a single image, but single frames are basically still, animated only by the context the images flanking them provide.  But in the vast majority of comics, sequence leads to a total or near-total spatial dislocation.  As characters movements in space are tracked in sequence, their surroundings become completely different from panel to panel.  Movement is comics is most often accomplished by a flickering through different backgrounds, ones we understand to have some connection to one another, but can’t actually piece together.

3) To get you thinking about grids and full pages: Frank Santoro at Comics Comics. This is about 3×3 grids, which we haven’t really seen, but the idea of “a center image focus” could be useful. Democratic grids are those that insist on equal size for all panels.

Coming of age

You can read Peter Schjeldhal’s assessment of how graphic novels have “come of age” here. This New Yorker piece is from 2005, the year Eisner died and works such as Harvey Pekar’s The Quitter, Dan Clowes’ Ice Haven, and Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang were published. Schjeldhal begins with Jimmy Corrigan, “the first formal masterpiece” of the medium, then he makes the case for the importance of the kitchen in Maus, and finally, as he takes on more and more creators, he becomes dismissive. Still, the writing is great throughout, especially his energetic first paragraph:

Avant-gardes are always cults of difficulty . . . by which a rising generation exploits its biological advantages, of animal health and superabundant brain cells, to confound the galling wisdom and demoralize the obnoxious sovereignty of age.

What are they?

This 2 pager by Jessica Abel called “What Is a ‘Graphic Novel’?” will really help you out. I heartily encourage your clicking. I like that Abel calls comics “a nested system” because their information is stacked. Our list of terms is expanding: “emulsion” (Brunetti), “closure” (McCloud), “iconic solidarity” (Groensteen), and now “nested system.”