“The Comics Medium’s Dominant: A Narratological Perspective” – A Conference by Steven Surdiacourt (KUL)

The ACME Speaker Series Presents:

“The Comics Medium’s Dominant: A Narratological Perspective” -      A Conference by Steven Surdiacourt (KUL)

 Thursday, 23 April at 17.00. Location: Séminaire media (S. media), Bâtiment central (A1), Etage 2.

(c) Jamie McKelvie, page from Young Avengers, Marvel.

 In my paper, I will address the issue of the comics medium’s dominant, the problem of determining, in Roman Jakobson’s (1987 [1935], 41) words, which form of organization is the “focussing component” that “rules, determines, and transforms the remaining components” and thus “guarantees the integrity of the structure.” My starting point is the subquestion of the specificity of storytelling in graphic narratives, the question of what defines the articulation of narrative meaning in the medium of comics.

 I will show that comics are commonly understood as torn between the unifying forces of sequentiality and the centrifugal forces of segmentivity and tabularity. This has two important consequences. Firstly, by equating narrative and sequence, it obscures some of the most interesting aspects of storytelling in comics, aspects that set it apart from other medial forms of narration. Secondly, and even more importantly, this understanding both leads to and perpetuates the idea that comics are inherently defective, that the medium is not very well suited for storytelling as it continually threatens, due to its very form, to distract the reader, to interrupt the sequence.

 As I will argue however, the problem lies not with the medium itself but with the dualist conception of narrative representation that commonly underpins the theoretical reflection. It can be resolved by endorsing a new and radically different understanding of mimesis, dubbed “dual-aspect mimeticism” by Stephen Halliwell (2001). This different conceptualization of mimesis, based on the idea that the form and the content of the representation are inextricable, allows for a much more dynamic understanding of the comics medium’s dominant, which, in turn, enables a more accurate description of storytelling and, most crucially, a more favourable appreciation of the medium’s representational capacities.

The ACME Speaker Series is organized by the Comics Research Group ACME (http://www.acme.ulg.ac.be/) and sponsored by BeIPD-COFUND ULg.