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Demonstrating discours: Two comic strip projects in self-constraint

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There has been a trend in comics narratology to focus on the analysis of structures or systems of enunciation, or what Émile Benveniste terms histoire or 'what is told'. Instead, this article will approach comics narratology as the relationship between histoire and discours: between 'what is told' and 'telling to' after first outlining a summary of approaches to narrative, which group around a difference in focus on histoire relative to discours or on histoire alone. Following Barker, it will consider the enunciator, enunciatee, context and medium to be topics affecting both the form and content of what is expressed, bringing alterity to bear on the semic analysis of structure. To demonstrate the importance of this relationship, it will analyse two comic strips: Seth's Clyde Fans Book One (2004) and Matt Madden's 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (2007).This analysis will scrutinize the ways in which two different types of self-constraint are utilized by Seth and Madden in order to produce their strips. Seth employs a rule in Clyde Fans, which can be summarized as nothing un-American, nothing post-1959. This rule represents both a social identification of the experience of pre-1959 America with a specific canon of images and technologies, and articulates Seth as a subject submitting to constraint by this perceived canon. Similarly, Madden's 99 Ways to Tell a Story represents a self-aware project that seeks to apply 99 different constraints to a single script. However, unlike Seth, Madden's self-constraint derives from self-observation, or an attempt to adopt the perceived social position of a generalized other in each of his drawings, represented by both drawing style and genre .Both these works demonstrate ways in which social constraint represents self-constraint in the expressive form of the strips themselves. This analysis is not possible considering histoire alone. These examples demonstrate how the relationship between the physical form of the strips, the semic level and subjective constraints at the level of discours contribute to their meaning. This suggests an alternative approach to comics narratology, from the point of view of the relative consideration of histiore and discours, rather than approaches that consider histoire alone, which have dominated comics narratology in the last two decades.
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Keywords: Madden; Seth; comic strips; discours; histoire; narratology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Artist

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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