Comics and Haptic Reading: Bodies in Joe Sacco’s The Great War – Abstract

Birth, Death, and Rebirth: (Re-)Generation as Text
8–10 June, 2017
University of Bucharest


 The starting point of my presentation is the realization that comics is a medium of embodiment, and comics creation, as well as comics reading, are constituted by bodily performances of the artists and readers. On the example of Sacco’s unusual graphic narrative, The Great War (2013), which narrates one of the most brutal battles from the first world war, the battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916, I examine the ways in which Sacco’s visual representation of the events of a single day relies on the haptic and bodily involvement of the reader. The Great War is not a comic per se, as the textual component is printed in a separate booklet, and the units of the visual narrative, rather than being separated by panels, flow seamlessly into each other. The increasingly violent action of the battle is presented as a seamless visual narrative in the format of a folded mini-panorama, while the format itself serves as an obstacle to the fluency of reading: the accordion-like structure is not that easy to handle as is turning the page of a book, the materiality of the pages has to be dealt with. In the analysis I show the importance of the formal traditions that Sacco is diverging from – the 19th century panorama, the comic strip, the graphic novel, –  and argue that the new format does not only make the reader conscious of his or her body during reading, but, more importantly, due to the reader’s bodily performance during reading, it creates an actual embodied connection with the thousands of represented bodies that are being destructed in the battle.


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