Performativity Conference – I’ll be a Respondent

On 24-25 May I’ll be one of the respondents at the Performativity Conference 2019, an event organized by the Narratives of Culture and Identity Research Group. Though I am a founding member of this group, I could not take part in organizing this event because of my really intensive work on the 15th International Comics Festival at Budapest.

However, I am really happy to be able to take part as a respondent, and I cannot wait to hear the inspiring papers. Book of abstracts and schedule are available here.

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The Geometry of Interdimensional Travel: Trips to Alien Lands in Jesse Jacobs’ Comics – Abstract for Comics and Travel conf @Oxford

Moving Images: Comics and Travel (conference)
5 July 2019
Oxford Comics Network
University of Oxford

Traveling to other dimensions, mapping alien lands, and exploring the unknown both within the the mind and in one’s (new) environment are common topics of SF comics, yet in Jesse Jacobs’ comics these topics are handled in very different ways. In By This Shall You Know Him (2012), Safari Honeymoon (2014), and Crawl Space (2017), neither space nor creatures are static, they are constantly in a state of becoming. Their morphing is paradoxically simultaneously organic and mechanical, it is actual and hallucinatory.

I argue in my paper that the never-ending morphing of biological and constructed forms is just as important in exploring the motif of travel as is an actual narratable and verbally constructed story (of gods practicing creation in By This, of a couple exploring a jungle in Safari, and of a new dimension in one’s washing machine in Crawl). I use close reading to analyze the organic changes of alien life forms’ bodies and alien dimensions, and I show that these transformations are guided by the changes of panel design and by the geometry of the page, and not simply by a plotline.

In Safari Honeymoon and Crawl Space, travelling does not simply happen in space or between dimensions, it also takes place within different forms of creatures who are constantly in transition. Jacobs’ amazing visual logic uses repetition, sequencing, isolation, morphing, as well as playing with representing multidimensional spaces and reinterpreting what makes a figure a figure. In his most recent work, Crawl Space, colour is added to this experimental visuality, by which Jacobs does not simply represent the journey or psychedelic trip of the characters, but invites readers to think of comics narratives and narration in new, not easily verbalizible ways.

The paper relies on secondary works by James Elkins, Jared Gardner, Simon Grennan, Charles Hatfield, among others.

Lynda Takes the Line for A Walk — Abstract for the Transitions 8 Conference

Lynda Takes the Line for A Walk: Attitudes and Philosophies of Drawing in Lynda Barry’s Comics

Transitions 8, 10 November, Birkbeck, University of London (detailed program)

Lynda Barry’s What It Is (2008), Picture This (2009), and Syllabus (2014) are not simply educational or self-help books on making comics, they reveal Barry’s theory about drawing and about creation. In my presentation I examine what Barry’s explanatory texts, creative exercises, and autobiographical comics inserts reveal about her philosophy of drawing.

In her exercises designed for either students or readers to engage in making drawings, Barry emphasizes the importance of bodily engagement in thinking and in creation. This idea appears in comics scholarship as well, but, unlike scholars, Barry thinks of the line as a trace of one’s personality. This way Barry engages in an ongoing discourse on the authenticity/conventional nature of the line in comics. Authenticity in non-fiction storytelling has become possibly the most overinvestigated term in the study of comics autobiography and journalism, but the relationship between the line and the drawer and the line and the story has not been studied that much.

While approaching Barry’s work, I reach back to theories of drawing by Jan Baetens, Hillary Chute, Jared Gardner, Simon Grennan, Philippe Marion, Nick Sousanis, and parallel theories in contemporary approaches to drawing in contemporary art, namely by Karen Kurczynski, Elizabeth A. Pegram, Katherine Stout. Philip Rawson’s Drawing and Laura U. Marks’ recent article “I Feel Like an Abstract Line” have shaped my understanding of the line and provide the starting point of my analysis of Barry’s work.s

As the title of the presentation hints, I believe Barry’s idea of drawing a line is closely related to that of Paul Klee. I will show that, similarly to Klee, Barry considers the line as a partner of the drawer. I also offer close readings of some of the drawing exercises Barry designed for her students and for the reader, and these pages will serve as prompts to illustrate the already mentioned theories on the nature of the drawn line.

barry what it is 157

“Postmortemistical” Look: The Memory of Things and the Traces of Personhood in Roz Chast and Ben Katchor — Abstract

Here is the abstract of the paper I’m going to present at the Ninth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference, Retro! Time, Memory, Nostalgia, @Bournemouth University, UK, 27-29 June 2018
“Postmortemistical” Look: The Memory of Things and the Traces of Personhood in Roz Chast and Ben Katchor

The paper investigates the ways personal relationships and memories are organized around objects and things, and how these are rearranged once the object/thing is no longer possessed by a person (due to death in Chast’s memoir, and due to abandonment in Katchor’s strips). Objects are represented in both examined comics, that is, in Roz Chast’s memoir about her last years with her parents and their deaths, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury, 2014) and Ben Katchor’s collection of strips, Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer: Stories (Little, Brown and Company 1996), as sites of a conflict between personal memory and an apersonal and atemporal existence.

In the paper I argue that in both Chast’s and Katchor’s comics, things and objects (cf. thing theory) exist in a limbo, and are used to investigate personality and personhood in scenarios of absence. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? introduces the idea that objects, such as hairbrushes, bankbooks, photographs, and forgotten everyday objects play important and multiple roles in facing the frailty of memory, dementia and death. Things, for example old color pencils found in a drawer, represent both the past and the present, they simultaneously stand for deep personal connections and fond, and are accumulated junk the existence of which indicates future problems (can it be touched? can it be thrown away?). Likewise, Ben Katchor’s Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer asks questions about the meaning of objects/things left behind: they exist simultaneously in a vacuum of interpretation and in the actuality of physical space. The things and objects are left behind, forgotten, stored, reserved, measured, bulked and sold, but most importantly, they are looked at and represented. The paper investigates the “postmortemistical” look (Chast) that frames these objects for the reader of the comics.

The paper utilizes questions raised by thing theory (Bill Brown and Jane Bennett), and it also builds on the materiality of living and the idea that even everyday and banal places preserve memory (reflecting on Pierre Nora’s concept). As far as methodology is concerned, I use close reading and compare recurring tropes.

knipl

 

Comics Scholarship in Hungary: Edited Volume is Out

It is difficult to place Hungary on the map of comics, and it is almost impossible to locate our output in the field of comics scholarship.

As far as comics artists are concerned, some of them did find their place in Dark Horse’s or DC’s outsourced projects as pencillers or inkers, but in general Hungarian comics are not translated into English.
As far as comics scholarship and the academic research of the medium is concerned, it turns out that a lot is done at various universities, mainly at departments of “Media and Communication.” Here, some courses are offered, but there is no systematic program.

Last year’s conference, organized by Ferenc Vincze was a big breakthrough in comics scholarship: it was the first time that some of the researchers who work in isolation could meet and exchange ideas. We have come from a multitude of backgrounds: I have a background in English and American comics and literature, others come from French studies, galleries, media studies, popular culture studies (especially music).

The volume based on this conference is the first collection of comics scholarship in Hungary. I can’t wait to read it!
I contributed with an article on Gergely Oravecz’s Blossza. This is an amazing strip series: for 100 days, Gergely was drawing a strip a day about his life. In the first part of the article I show some instances of ironic authentication (Charles Hatfield term) at work in Blossza, so we can say that I am not saying anything radically new about comics diaries, but the term has not been used in Hungarian, and I thought it is utterly important for Hungarian readers to know about it and to be able to approach non-fiction comics through the simultaneous filters of irony and authenticity.  I also emphasize instances when the daily rhythm of the diary project is ironically undermined within the strips themselves.

In the second part of the article, and I really enjoyed writing this part, as it is close to my dissertation, I show ways in which the quality of the line contributes to the meaning of the strip. I show one such wordless strip at the end of this blog entry.

If you speak Hungarian, you might find this collection of essays interesting.

 

szépirodalmi figyelő

szépirodalmi figyelő címlap

3 ábra.jpg

Spaces of Indecision: Interpreting Foreign Language Texts in Contemporary Non-Fiction Comics – Abstract

Comics Forum 2017
Comics and Space
Leeds, 21-22 Sept 2017

 

The presentation examines the challenge the readers face when encountering textual elements in comics that are written in a language inaccessible to the reader: such textual parts create spaces of indecision in the surface of the page, and entice the reader to improvisatorially decipher their relationship to the more easily accessible parts. These textual bits appear either in speech bubbles or in caption boxes, which indicates that they are meant to be part of the symbols that “tell” (Hatfield 40), but as they are undecipherable as language, their status as commentary is made uncertain. At the same time, they are not purely part of the symbols that “show” (Hatfield 40): they are not visual in the same sense as the drawn images in the same panel are, or in the same sense as textual bits appearing in the drawn sections (eg. street names) are. Such textual bits exist in a limbo, and I argue that they take part in the redistribution of both actual physical as well as cognitive space between textual and visual.

These textual sections not only frustrate the reader’s expectations about the roles of text and image in comics, they also question the usual spatial division between the two in a given panel or on a given page. They introduce a productive uncertainty in the experience of reading comics, the reader has to decide to what extent such elements are “decoration” and to what extent they are “language”. The works of comics journalists productively build on this limbo, for example in Rolling Blackouts Sarah Glidden does not give the translation of all textual elements. Multilingual comics artists refuse to translate all their text. With the rise of an increasingly multinational comics market and with contemporary comics non-fiction’s interest in the stories of non-English-speaking communities, such elements become more and more frequent.

I will show instances from Miriam Katin’s work where Hungarian and English text compete for space over the page, and make the reader conscious of the similarities of drawing and writing. I argue that especially in Letting It Go, Katin deliberately establishes such similarities over the surface of the pages, constantly shifting what brings the narrative forward and what is decoration. At the same time I will also show that the Hungarian text is not purely decorative – the archaic representation of these textual bits in both of Katin’s memoirs creates a special private space of memories and belonging for the protagonist and her mother, both living in exile.

 

Reference

Hatfield, Charles. Alternative Comics. An Emerging Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.

The Ethical Stakes of Style: Crosshatching and Testimony in Joe Sacco’s Comics. Abstract.

Documenting Trauma: Comics and the Politics of Memory
A Symposium hosted by the TORCH Network

University of Oxford, 22.06.2017

Joe Sacco’s reportage has often been studied in ethical frameworks, as his comics have shed light on both the background of journalistic work and on the creation of narratives in the comics form. Sacco’s comics contribute to human rights discourse and the narratives have played important parts in revealing the complexities of armed conflicts for a Western public.

In my paper I read Sacco’s comics on the Bosnian War and study the connection between style and ethical engagement in the narratives. I explore the capability of drawing style to express engagement and compassion with the pain and vulnerability of the Other, and argue that Sacco has a compulsive relationship to drawing, which supersedes his often mentioned meticulous attention to detail. I show that the role of crosshatched backgrounds in Safe Area Goražde (2000) and The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo (2003) create a different temporality for both the artist and the reader, the temporality of dwelling (Diprose). I show that the heavily crosshatched haptic surfaces foreground the labour of the artist, and represent his embodied presence in the work. The haptic surfaces are just as important in panel compositions as the figures giving testimony, and are expressive of an intensive, laborious and time consuming engagement with both the materials used for drawing and, more importantly, with the traumatized person who is being drawn. In the close readings of certain panels and page structures I also rely on Norman Bryson’s theory of the logic of the gaze, as well as on Laura U. Marks’ now classic investigation of haptic visuality, and ultimately show that style, and not only the choice of topic or the nature of narratives, can be representative of ethical issues.

 

Literature

Bryson, Norman. Vision and Painting: The Logic of The Gaze. Macmillan, 1983.

Diprose, Rosalyn. “Corporeal Interdependence. From Vulnerability to Dwelling in Ethical Community.” SubStance, vol. 42, no. 3, 2013, pp. 185-204.

Marks, Laura U. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Duke University Press, 2000.