in Writing

Beyond sequence

After reading Neil Cohn’s 2013 paper Navigating Comics, I was going to write a piece about the big sequential pitfall in most comics scholarship, but through no effort at all I came upon Tamryn Bennett’s Comics poetry: Beyond ‘sequential art’ (pdf link) which pretty much sums up my thoughts:

While there’s no doubt narratology has formulated useful ways of understanding comics, it must be recognised that sequential narratives are but one piece of the comics puzzle. By concentrating on narrative elements scholars have often overlooked fundamental features of form, privileging ‘story’ and ‘reading’ over all other experiences and interpretations of comics. The danger of this narrative colonisation is the critical neglect of emergent comics that don’t fit sequential formulas as well as a lack of alternative modes for comics analysis.
[…This study proposes] an alternative theory of comics; a theory capable of analysing a spectrum of comics, be they narrative, non-narrative, multi-linear, simultaneous, experimental, abstract or poetic.

That’s more or less the entire introduction there, and I’m looking forward to finishing the article. Let’s see what Bennett has to say about text in comics…

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  1. I’ve actually spoken with Neil specifically about abstract comics. I get the sense that he’s interested but that he kind of lacks the hook to really know whats going on behind them, and he likes to know whats going on.
    He drew me a little sketch once, kind of “Neil Cohn’s abstractest comic.” It basically adhered to his semiotics using symbols in the place of (representational) pictures. I think he’s spent a lot of time and energy on syntax and not really immersed himself in any alternatives to sequence (like some of us have done, maybe) so he isn’t quite able to break away from that line of analysis.
    To his credit, he does admit to seeing “something” there, he just can’t see yet what that simething is. He does make a point to rhetorically separate the idea of “comics” from his focussed, linguistic view of sequence.
    Neil’s a good guy. One of my favorite comics peeps.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading this article.

  2. Oh, what kind words from Tym! (He’s good people too)

    Actually, I think a lot about “experimental” comics. This also gets at a big difference in what I’m studying. I technically do not study “comics”—I study the visual language that comics are written in. Thus, I’m not making an inclusive theory that needs to describe all aspects of “comics” but rather I’m describing how the system of visual communication operates that is used in comics.

    Because of that, I’m mostly interested in investigating normative patterns, and experimental comics are by nature non-normative. By definition, these works usually “break the rules” and I’m more interested in studying the rules themselves. (Though, seeing how they are broken is often interesting)

    As a comparison, we recognize that poetry is usage of English where the rules are allowed to be broken. Elements in them that may be ungrammatical or non-normative language-use are usually accepted within the context of being poetic. We suspend our judgements due to context. But, if forced, we can recognize that they are indeed non-normative. Linguists aren’t basing their theories of language to be inclusive of poetry through.

    I think experimental comics often fall into that category. They are great examples of creative and expressive visual language-use, but are interesting precisely because of their non-normative, rule-breaking quality.


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