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Adam Kroopnick

3. Mar. 2009

Final paper Abstract Scott McLoud's discussion of iconic imagery and how elements of comics and levels of abstraction dictate how well we map on to the characters calls upon an interesting parallel to an idea older than Shakespeare.  The more abstract a face, the more easily we place our own features and our own experiences on a face.  It reflects a tendency on our part to place ourselves within these constructed and artificial roles, or, as Shakespeare said it, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..." (As You Like It, 2.7).

This idea is of course nothing new, and provides the fodder for many a budding English Major's opening paragraph. Fiction has always provided a meaningful reflection as to how we construct our own lives around roles that we see ourselves in, and how this interplay affects our ability to connect into the larger society.  With comics, this element is taken a step further, however.  The art at first makes it seems easier to map into this other world, to explore the construction of our own lives via entering into this explicitly fictional dimension.  However, the art also makes us more separate.  It is not the ultimate abstraction, and although Wolfgang Iser's reader-response criticism still plays a part, the presence of artistic characters instead of ultimately abstract letters provides an added barrier in this interplay between explicitly fictional characters and our own semi-fictional lives.

This barrier is at its most explicit in _Concrete,_whose artificial body opposes the

wordy and engaging dialect, which in a novel would serve to further humanize him.   While Concreteprovides the most obvious example of this, this element is also evident in Allison Bechdel's novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.  A memoir, the story deals with each character's feeling of alienation, and strangely, how that feeling of alienation and separation caused a warming in the relationship between father and daughter.  In her passages discussing her journal, Bechdel's separation from her past also becomes an important element of alienation. She is drawing her former self, in a sense creating an image of her former self, much like a memoir does. The art provides another window into this, for a creator and the created can never exist on the same level.  This element of the creator and creator informs the artistic depiction of Doctor Manhattan, who is now alienated and separated by his new status as a creator, a god, and mistrusted by mortals.

      This idea of alienation and separation, which takes pains to oppose the implication of Shakespeare's quote as placing fictional character and human character on the same level, is firmly rooted in the history of comics.  The comics industry was in part started by alienated people's attempts to escape from Europe, as dealt with in Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Comics were often derided as dangerous diversions, providing a violent fantasy world whose opponents claimed would seduce people into believing in this opposite world.  As such comics have focused on alienation and separation, and the inability to escape completely into this fictional world, or into new lives. Comics offer a new exploration of this age old interplay between fiction and reality and how, while not separate, there is never a full escape from one narrative into the other.

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2 Comments

  1. Unknown User (bck1)

    I like this. You're attacking the issue from a few different levels, which has the potential to dish out one heavy paper. First you've got an analysis on the two-dimensional level of creation, the artistic techniques used to manipulate perception of icons and identification with faces. It would seem to me that you will be doing plenty of research on graphic design in order to weigh out some of the factors that go into the creation of a figure such as Bechdel's self-drawing and Concrete. Second, you've got a third-dimensional approach through the reader which will allow you to discuss all that world-mapping and the links between fiction and reality. This part can become pretty thick when dealing with separation/alienation within the text and what it means for readers outside the text (like your European emigrants). Something I'd like to see you grapple with would be why amongst the "added barrier in this interplay between explicitly fictional characters and our own semi-fictional lives," that comics are becoming more and more popular. Good luck.

  2. From a theoretical perspective, I think this is an interesting issue in its own right, and when applied to some given graphic novel(s) surely will raise some productive new questions.  I'm somewhat leery of what it will take to bring Chadwick, Bechdel, Moore and Chabon into the same essay -- might be a loss of focus, and tacit questions as to why these particular texts.  I'd encourage you to see that each, in concert with the issues raised in your first two paragraphs, has the effect of refining your topic in somewhat different ways; each probably points toward a constellation of texts that may not necessarily include your original list of four.  To take only one example: Concrete.  Chadwick's premise of a radical Cartesian dualism -- trapped in/empowered by an "alien" body -- seems to evoke a generally sympathetic meditation upon the humanist tradition.  Yet knowing your ecocritical proclivities, I'd also point out that a lot of the works in this series meditate upon the in-human, and not simply in order to reaffirm the human.  The story arc contained in Concrete Volume 5: Think Like a Mountain starts getting into deep ecology; The Human Dilemma (which I haven't read!) seems to get into the politics of population control.  So Concrete lets you get at "alienation" from one particular angle and, whether supplemented by addition Chadwick texts or not, also points toward particular theoretical works.  And of course, the reading subject isn't banished from any of these four angles.  Let me know how things are progressing....