'Solve and coagula': Alan Moore and the classical comic book's spatial and temporal systems

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Abstract:

This article starts from the neo-formalist assumption that any fictional narrative comic book is governed by three systems: a system of narrative logic, a system of time and a system of space. In conventional comic books, both the system of time and the system of space are subordinated to the system of narrative logic, which demands clear causality and easily comprehensible linearity. For comics creators, achieving this dominance represents a particularly difficult feat, since the overwhelmingly spatial disposition of the medium has to be overwritten by narrative cues in order to prevent the reader from becoming aware of his or her highly abstract constructive activity; if not done properly, there is a considerable risk that mise-en-page, artistic style and/or material and diegetic space will take centre stage in the reader's attention instead of the action. The work of Moore and his collaborators, however, often turns this classical predisposition for action on its head; in comic books such as Watchmen or A Small Killing, the system of comics space (both material and diegetic) comes to dominate the systems of narrative logic and diegetic time by various metafictional means. In Moore, these self-reflexive operations often tend to have a have a didactic dimension. In constantly alerting the reader to another layer of meaning generated by the quasi-diagrammatic spatial features of the comics medium, an ontological rift is opened between the respective comic book's diegetic world and the reader's perspective. Moore will thus always draw our attention to the fact that many of his narratives cue two different fabulas: one, usually severely limited in scope, assembled by the diegetic characters, and another, much more far-reaching, fabula that is constructed by the reader. To provide an example for the many potential uses of this narrative strategy, sample pages from Moore and Oscar Zarate's A Small Killing (1991) are analysed.

Keywords: METAFICTION; NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE; SPACE; TIME

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/stic.2.1.105_1

Publication date: July 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work. 
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