Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Style, Voice, and Ellipsis in Short-Form Graphic Narratives by Elizabeth Macfarlane

Elizabeth’s presentation concludes the second block of presentations at Inkers and Thinkers, which focused on Graphic Representations in comics. Elizabeth’s presentation featured a close examination of our keynote speaker Bruce Mutard’s work, presenting an interesting opportunity  where the academic and creator were in the same room.


Abstract –

The concepts of style and voice are well-established in literary criticism, and are of particular import to scholars writing within the often hybridised discipline of Creative Writing in the academy. This paper examines the question of how the concepts of style and voice in comics might differ from or parallel what we understand style and voice in prose to mean. I argue, via Thomas Bredehoft and Elisabeth El Refaie, that ‘style’ in comics is closely linked to the artist’s body, thus always temporally ‘available’ in the text as a traceable movement, a moment in time and space.

As El Refaie notes, the autobiographical avatar, the drawn self, without the avatar having spoken anything at all, “tells” us so much about voice, mood, tone and character. She writes similarly on the “performance” of authenticity in autobiographical comics, making the crucial distinction between expressions “given,” and expressions “given off”, the former being verbal communication, the latter nonverbal. El Refaie would like to argue that one could read the style of the visual representation itself in comics (as opposed to the written dialogue or narration, or indeed the content of the narrative) as a version of expressions ‘given off’. It’s a method and contention that has its counterpart in literary criticism in deconstruction, practitioners of which will look for the ruptures, the contradictions, the fissures in a text, the places where it gives itself away unconsciously.

The paper then closely examines and compares two short-form texts, Bruce Mutard’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’ and Adrian Tomine’s ‘Echo Ave’ articulating the similarities and differences between their style and voice as expressions “given off”. Both stories are cinematic in nature, in that they don’t necessarily partake of any ‘tricks’ with the form. They don’t use emanata or sound-words, and characters are drawn with a level of realism, they aren’t caricaturised. It’s mimetic telling, there are no narration boxes and no jumping around in time or chronology. Two seemingly minor differences between the two stories’ respective styles – their use of panel grids, and shading – prove with close reading to establish key divergences in how the narratives are perceived.


Bio –

Elizabeth received her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Melbourne in 2008. She is currently a lecturer at the University of Melbourne in the School of Culture and Communication. Her area of research focuses on contemporary Australian autobiographical comics and graphic novels as well as the works of J. M. Coetzee.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014: The Land is Alive by Bernard Caleo

The second presentation in the second block, on Graphic Representations, is from creator, academic and documentary producer Bernard Caleo titled The Land is Alive. On the day Bernard’s presentation was a crowd favourite, bringing an infectious energy and passion for comic books and comic book studies to the symposium. Throughout the day Bernard also sketched the presenters and aspects of their talks and these sketches can be viewed here.


Abstract –

In the graphic novels ‘Blue’ by Pat Grant (Giramondo, 2012) and ‘The Long Weekend in Alice Springs’ by Josh Santospirito (San Kessto Publications 2013), the Australian settings in which the narratives are set (the former coastal, the latter desert) are vital spatial determinants of meaning. They give more than a backdrop to the stories. The stories are embedded in landscape. Each of these author artists has developed a visual/verbal/design language specific to their graphic novel, able to be differentiated from the rest of their body of work. This graphic-novel-specific language is developed to sculpt a local fictional landscape. The quality of line, degree of cartooning (versus more figurative drawing) , layout of pages, colour versus black-and white, progression of panels and choice of wordless sequences and other aspects all advance a vision of country as inescapable and determinative of character and event.

In this paper I will present an analysis of the structure and design of individual pages and page sequences by Grant and Santospirito and argue that the form of comics gives their audience a reading experience of landscape significantly different to novel, film or music.

I will also consider the influence of repeated readings of these works upon my own comics practice in the construction of landscape in my comics pamphlet series ‘MONGREL’ (2012 – ongoing, Cardigan Comics), and the Melbourne 1888 based narrative ‘The Devil Collects’ currently being developed with historian Alex McDermott as part of a State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship.


Bio –

Bernard’s Honours thesis was called ‘Tintin in the Territory of Narratology’(University of Melbourne English Department , 1994). He was the editor and publisher of the romance comics anthology ‘Tango’ (Cardigan Comics) from 1997 – 2009. In collaboration with documentary film maker Daniel Hayward he made the feature documentary ‘Graphic Novels! Melbourne!’ (Aisle 5 Pictures/ Cardigan Comics, 2012) which they have presented locally and overseas in 2013. In 2014 he is a Creative Fellow at the State Library of Victoria, working on a historical comic with Alex McDermott, and will be an Arts Victoria funded ‘Artist in Schools’ at Fitzroy High School, running a comics studio for a group from years 8, 9 and 10 in term 3.


#ResistComics Kickstarter

At Inkers and Thinkers 2014 Can Yalcinkaya presented a paper on his involvement with the comics anthology #ResistComics. The recording of Can’s speech will be released soon, detailing much of the background of the project and the wave of protest in Turkey in the Summer of 2013. In the meantime the Kickstarter to help fund the printing of the book and payment of the artists is now live.

#ResistComics will be a 96 page publication of comics, illustrations, a short story and an article on comics and politics. The anthology collects stories based on experiences of the Gezi protest by writers and artists from Turkey and around the world. A particularly interesting story focuses on the plight of street animals during the Gezi resistance. The page explains the Gezi resistance and its crossover to art:

“Gezi was about reclaiming public spaces across Turkey. With art and with political action. Art was an important part of the Gezi Resistance, because cities aren’t just physical spaces. They are not just buildings and roads, streets and parks. Cities are imaginary places, or places of imagination, too. The meaning of cities emerge in thought, in songs, in novels and poems, in art and of course in comics. #ResistComics is our little effort to reclaim our cities in the imagination. “

As always backers have access to some great rewards including posters, original artwork, and a script workshop. With 15 days left the project is almost at it’s goal of $5,000 and further stretch goals will be announced if they pass that amount. It is great to see a project discussed at Inkers and Thinkers now well on the way to becoming a reality.

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