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Narrative, language, and comics-as-literature

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Comics are persistently labelled a kind of literature, but so-called literary treatments of the form are often questionable, focusing on story, content and themes. The fact that comics tell diverse, interesting stories makes them no more 'literary' than film, opera or, indeed, soap opera. It seems perverse for scholars bent on demonstrating the efficacy of visual storytelling to claim that it is storytelling which makes comics literary, thus aligning narrative in general with the verbal medium. This article sets forth a more scrupulous framework for approaching comics as literature. Through a close analysis of various examples, this article challenges the habitual sidelining of text within comics. It demonstrates: first, how comics can be heavily dependent on text; second, how that text can be properly – that is formally – literary; and, third, how the medium can deploy the linguistic element of its content in ways that create literary, textual effects that are in fact unique to the comics medium. In carefully distinguishing between elements such as theme and plotting, which are common to all narrative media, and these truly literary devices, this article ultimately concludes that in order for the comics medium to be given its due as a potentially literary form, proper attention needs to be paid to the way it incorporates literary language. In service of theoretical precision, critics must not confuse narrative properties with literary ones, but must rigorously insist on the correct frame of reference in order to promote serious academic study of this diverse and complex narrative form.
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Keywords: comics; formalism; language; literature; logophobia; narrative

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Leicester

Publication date: 2012-01-05

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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