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.

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