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Register in the guise of genre: Instrumental adaptation in the early comics of Grennan & Sperandio

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The method of analysis of communications registers outlined by linguists Douglas Biber and Susan Conrad, begins with the identification of what they call the ‘situational characteristics’ of a register. These characteristics are as much social as material. They claim that before a register can be identified or expressive content considered, the analyst must undertake a sociology of the text. Following Biber and Conrad, this article will describe ways in which readers’ expectations of the content of comics, or comics’ genres, are an underlying characteristic of the ‘situation’ of comics as a register. It will propose that, unlike other registers, the apprehension of the comics register as a genre constitutes an ongoing process of adaptation in which the influence of prior knowledge destabilizes rather than stabilizes the register. To do this, it will analyse the adaptation by artists Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio, of specific examples of cover art from EC comics of the 1950s in the covers of their comics. Rather than comparing the original covers with their adaptations as expressive form, this analysis will discuss how the adapted cover images represent the instrumental use of the relationship between comics genres and comics as a register, in which the artists self-consciously conflate the two in order to manipulate the ‘situational characteristics’ in which each comic is read. This approach demonstrates the productive instability of the comics register itself: that is, the register’s availability to adaptation. Evidenced by local newspaper headlines of which they are the topic (Bradford Telegraph and Argus 1996, Eastern Daily Press 2005), Grennan & Sperandio’s comics appear generic in order to adapt the register, and in doing so communicate well outside comic genres. There is no horror, romance, crime, autobiography, confessional or super power in them. Rather, their content constitutes oral history, museology or education. Considered as examples of register, these are comics with ulterior motives. The comics register allows and disallows sets of specific expressions, which are quite different from, although affected by, the sets of expressions allowed and disallowed by comics genres. The overlaps between register and genres (or between the ‘situational characteristics’ and the expectation of content), engender adaptation, parody, appropriation and non-sequiturs. This article will argue that these relationships are formed at the level of register as much as genre, so that each new set of ‘situational characteristics’ of readings, is an adaptation of the register that productively destabilizes genres, and that this is a definition of adaptation itself.
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Keywords: Craig; Grennan & Sperandio; adaptation; genre; register; style; typification

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Grennan & Sperandio

Publication date: 2013-04-01

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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