The second block of presentations at Inkers and Thinkers 2014 focused on Graphic Representations, the way comics can be used to represent violence, creative voice/style, and the landscape. The first presentation in this block was from Jeanne-Marie Viljoen looking at representations of violence in Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story with comparisons between the graphic novel and animated film.
Exploring comics’ unique combination of art and text allows them to represent what would otherwise be ‘invisible’.
Representing experiences of war and conflict in comics allows depictions of what has escaped from memory and is sometimes considered too horrific to represent. Comics, with their unique combination of words and images, radically blur the boundary between experience and representation. Comics are not the only medium that does this. Just as in film, in comics one is able to simultaneously experience the “‘nowness’ and ‘hereness’” of the self-conscious reading process as well as “the assault” on one’s senses as one experiences the extreme events depicted through the medium (Sobchack 2009: n.p.). This paper will explore this notion by examining Folman and Polonsky’s graphic novel representation of the Lebanese War in 1982 and the infamous ensuing Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp massacres, Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story (Folman and Polonsky 2009). This example is used because of the potential of image-rich comics to “intensify and make more self-conscious the ways our eyes and minds interact with whatever’s on the page or screen” ─ comics are both performative texts that construct experience of the moment and simultaneously draw attention to their own construction (Hatfield 2008: 130). This paper will also scrutinize the animated documentary, another representational form which attempts to cross the boundary between experience and representation. The additional power of the animated documentary to show what was hitherto thought of as ‘invisible’ to concealed from live action film – subjective emotions – (Honess Roe 2011:217) is also considered. However, this paper argues that comics, innovatively used as a combination of images, words and sequencing ─ do more because they involve the embodied reader actively in the story-telling. This paper contends that when reading a comic the reader is knowingly constructing the story that he/she is experiencing in an intense image-rich way that is not constrained by the ordinary linear logic of books. In the vein of the pre-eminent cultural critic, Edward Said, this paper will posit a position that urges readers to consider political comics as rich repositories from which to advance their knowledge of the experience of war and conflict. Following Said’s remarks in his memorable introduction to Joe Sacco’s comic Palestine, this paper declares that “[c]omics play[ed] havoc with the logic of a+b+c+d and they certainly encourage[ed] one not to think in terms of what the teacher expects[ed] or what a subject like history demands[ed]” (Said, cited in Sacco, 2003 ii). The reader’s feeling on reading the comic becomes part of the representation itself. Thus, this paper suggests that comics allow one to think beyond what is expected and show what is ‘imperceptible’ in some other representational forms. Comics broaden one’s repertoire of experience and representation in a way that is particularly useful in the representation of war and conflict when trauma has obliterated experience or it has become ‘unrepresentable’ because it is so horrific.
Jeanne-Marie Viljoen is a PhD candidate at the University of South Australia at the Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding in the School of Communications, International Relations and Languages.