Interrogating and analysing narrative structure through comic books
How can the structures of graphic narratives help us to interrogate, analyse, and ultimately ground stories of ourselves and our world? By not relying solely on verbal or visual language, but the complex interplay between multiple signification strategies, comics open up possibilities for transcending the limits of any single linguistic mode and more fully enunciating the complex layers of superimposed truths that make up our lived experiences. In this doctoral project, I utilize media-specific analysis of graphic narratives and interrogate the multi-modal communication strategies inherent in comics. The result is a multidisciplinary construction of the structural and semiotic modes of comics as an enactment of contemporary narrative ideals that privilege reader-centric, subjective constructions of meaning. My submission consists of four chapters of written research, to be submitted at the end of January, and a collection of autobiographical narrative works that will form an exhibition which will be shown at the time of the viva in April. The presentation of the textual material is an inseparable component of the content, and a piece of practical work in itself. The chapters can be read in any sequence; for the purposes of this abstract, I will discuss them in alphabetical order. My practice work challenges the traditional use of comics-specific affordances, such as panel borders, gutter, use of space as time, and other verbo-visual techniques by remediating them outwith book and digital book-like objects we associate with graphic narratives. Each chapter in the dissertation is its own book-object that enacts the content as well as relates to the larger body of practice work. Childhood Memoirs—Autobiographical Approaches The use of multiple signification strategies allows for communication that transcends the limits of textual or verbal language and can allow a creator to enunciate what may be unspeakable or incomprehensible, such as moments of trauma. I pay special attention to how subjectivity is presented in graphic memoirs within this context, as the drawn nature of comics allows for shifts in the status of the author/narrator that are unique to the medium. Comics as a Synthetic Medium—A Very Short Introduction The ‘introductory’ chapter contextualizes my research and comics studies more generally within non-binary, non-hierarchical concepts of rhizomatic knowledge structures that utilize the concept of text in the Barthesian sense as a mode of communication rather than solely lexicographic writing. In comics, text and imagery can actively oppose each other, creating a space where new meaning can be synthesized from this tension. This is Derrida’s deconstruction, Benjamin’s inclusion of cultural production in literature, or Barthes’ writerly text. Each utterance on a comics page may convey multiple levels of independent meaning, making it unique among narrative media. By examining the semiotic and structural theories presented by Barthes and Derrida, as well as Benjamin, Deleuze, Witgenstein and others, I develop the case for a comics-specific theory of trans-medial, subjective, deconstructed communication. Mapping the Journey—The Cartography of Autobiography In this chapter, I analyse the mythology of the supposed inductive system of representation in mapping and explore how including a secondary visual semiological system, that of the map, within the primary system of comics impacts reader perception of truth through verifiability. I also explore the intersection of non-representational theory within geography and authentication within autographics. Media Specificity of Non-traditional Graphic Narratives The focus of this chapter is on the impact of disseminatory (re)mediation on the medium of graphic narratives. I assert that neither digital nor print is superior to the other, but deliver different experiences to the reader. Through close analysis of the formal qualities inherent in digital and physical representation of comic content, I articulate the qualities unique to each distribution strategy and theorize ways that creators can take advantage of the media at their disposal. The practical element of my submission takes the form of a collection of objects that utilize a variety of graphic narrative structures outwith traditional comics forms in order to explore facets of my childhood memories. The exhibition will be constituted of several lanterns, dioramas and dolls’ houses, as well as some printed material. I attempt to ground my memories in architecture and place, while aware that the sense of solidity this lends my recollections is a false sense of objective security. To counteract any attempt to present a wholly unified and reliable narratorial self, I present the same places and memories through various angles and media. I make explicit some of the dissonant ‘truths’ myself and other members of my family were presented with, as an attempt to consciously confront the fragility of utilizing such collectively constructed memory to construct a stable self-image.