Seminar Essay Proposal: The Form of the Graphic Novel
For our seminar essay, we will be examining the form of the graphic novel. In order to do so, we will break it down into its component parts. We will explore the theory behind form, look at the significance of word abstraction, discuss the notion of the picture plane, and create a glossary of terms associated with graphic novel form.
We will establish now form works on a theoretical basis across the broad concept that is comics. Form is essentially the overall construction of comics, which includes, but is not exclusive to, character, story, graphics, the written word and panel sequence. It is the sum of all of these parts that comprises the form of what makes a comic or graphic novel. Some critics, such as Neil Cohn, have approached the idea of form in comics by presenting it as visual poetry that has a psychological impact on the reader. This is achieved through specific layout and, for McCloud and Eisner, this is intrinsic to the construction and progression of the story. Therefore there must be an orchestration that occurs in order for a comic to succeed in communicating its desired effect. We plan to examine how various theoretical ideas of visual rhyme, construction, and psychology all come into play in the form of the comic.
In order to better understand the significance of the written word to the form of the graphic novel, we will look at the relationship between abstract words and the reader and how the form of comics, with its inclusion of images, impacts and influences that relationship. We will include a discussion on the reliance that words in graphic novels have on pictures in telling the story. We hope to show that words do not stand alone, but instead their meaning relies on the relationship between words, images and the reader. A graphic novel can certainly have many literary devices (such as allegory, symbolism, simile and metaphor), however these devices are not recognizable solely through the words or solely through the images. Again, it is both the graphic art and written word that form a perfect balance for the reader to be able to have a literary experience. We will look specifically at word choice, the crafting of words and image together, as well as the crafting of words as image (for example "BIFF!", "BANG!", "POW!" in comics such as Batman).
We will look at the creative process undertaken by writers and illustrators to create a work that effectively communicates a story, referring to McCloud's text Making Comics to outline the creative choices available to amalgamate word and image to convey meaning. Our discussion will include Anina Bennett’s Visual Thinking concept. We are interested in “the visual choices made by writers and artists — what's shown and not shown, and how it's depicted,” as well as how this process creates a different literary form from the conventional prose novel, and why authors chose it as the medium with which to convey their story.
Throughout this examination of the abstract nature of words we also intend on answering the big questions: can graphic novels be considered literature; does the introduction of images into the story telling process take away the pure abstraction of the words and render them more concrete – therefore making the work itself not strictly literary, and therefore not literature?
In order to understand how an artist uses the two dimensional page to represent three dimensional reality, we will examine the concept of the picture plane, which McCloud defines as "The window through which reality is perceived through art.” We will explain McCloud's Pictorial Vocabulary Triangle. We will discuss the idea of reality to abstraction, an example of this being the transition of photographs to cartoons. We will also use examples from our primary texts to compare two dimensional to three dimensional images on the picture plane and prove which method is more effective. This summary will also include an extensive look at the background of the picture plane and the theories of its use within comics.
Through the use of the terms and definitions we have on hand for analyzing the Graphic Novel, we intend to produce a detailed glossary replete with examples from the texts we are studying throughout the semester. We believe that a thorough glossary would be beneficial for the in-depth analysis and interpretation of the Graphic Novel. Furthermore, the inclusion of visual comparisons of familiar works to expound these definitions will aid greatly in close readings of other works of a similar nature. The words that would be found in this sort of illustrative glossary would be bolded in the work being read beforehand, informing the reader that the term can be found in the glossary for supplementary explanation and example. For example, if one is to examine and define the term (and use of) “bleed” and its importance to the graphic novel frame in relation to how Miller uses it in Dark Knight Returns versus the way Spiegelman uses it in Maus then its importance to the medium becomes increasingly apparent. The visual model and the definition together are meant to create a stronger and more user-friendly way of accessing the culture and words associated in the comic realm.
Ultimately, we hope to collectively create a document which exhaustively examines all aspect of the graphic novel’s form, and its significance to the communicative ability of the genre.
See you in class tomorrow,