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  • [ Background noise ]

  • >> Hello, hello.

  • So most people upon learning that I study graphic novels,

  • which is highfalutin term for comic books,

  • graphic novel is really just a comic book

  • that takes itself seriously.

  • Most people upon learning that, and maybe stifling some ridicule

  • or laughter, may not realize that comic books have grown up.

  • In comic books, it is my argument

  • that we have unique opportunities

  • for seeing the social, and by that, I mean the way

  • that comic books often depict a single figure

  • in proximate relationship to depictions of community.

  • But before we get to anything so romantic and abstruse

  • and grandiose as that, most people want

  • to know about the movies.

  • Hey, wasn't that one film, From Hell,

  • originally a graphic novel?

  • It was. Wasn't that one movie, A History of Violence,

  • originally [inaudible] yes, yes again, it was.

  • It turns out that are a lot of movies that take graphic novels

  • as their templates, and some of us who know comics

  • and graphic novels quite well are sometimes a bit disappointed

  • when we see that even those scenes in the films

  • that are the most poignant to see are taken directly

  • from the comic book on which they're based, leads us to ask,

  • why is it that so many films these days are based on comics?

  • I think one answer has to be

  • that comics provide incredible opportunities

  • for identification.

  • We heard a talk earlier that suggested

  • that the human brain is ideally trained to recognize mind

  • in faces, comic books love to give us the doll face,

  • and imbue the doll face with mind

  • because we don't just have images, we also have words,

  • and the words are usually accorded

  • to some kind of mind activity.

  • However, another reason is a practical one, the problems

  • that anyone might encounter

  • in telling a story pictorially have already been solved

  • in the graphic novel.

  • All right.

  • Let's start with iconic abstraction, this is a panel

  • from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics,

  • which is primer that tries

  • to help us understand how comics make meaning,

  • why they are meaningful.

  • Scott McCloud suggests

  • that realistic depictions actually detract

  • from our ability to, to take meaning from comics,

  • that he'd be -- he, he wouldn't be as convincing an avatar

  • if he drew himself more realistically,

  • and that is because he's drawn himself like a cartoon

  • that we tend to give him authority.

  • This again, has to do with the way we love to see,

  • narcissistic-ally perhaps, faces in just about anything,

  • any sort of ordinary object.

  • The comic though, is there to suggest that it is

  • in the most cartoonified kind of face that we are able

  • to see a reflection of the face that we might have

  • in our mind's eye of ourselves, and that we are so good

  • at projecting the face onto the two dots and the line

  • because it is there that we find our mind's eye reflection

  • of ourself.

  • As exemplification, let's move to the first panel

  • of Marjane Satrapi's wildly successful autobiography,

  • Persepolis -- something else, something else that's important,

  • the, these books are called graphic novels,

  • but they're usually not novels, they're often based

  • on autobiographies, and, you know, most people try to not lie

  • in their own autobiography,

  • this is about Marjane Satrapi's experience of growing

  • up during the fundamentalist revolution in Iran in 1980.

  • First panel just says, this is me, we are to take the cartoon

  • as an immediate reflection of the author artist.

  • Interestingly, the second panel,

  • and I want to give you the whole page from which

  • that first panel's taken, the second panel situates

  • that cartoon avatar of the author

  • in an individual panel all to herself, alongside another panel

  • of her peers, is it not interesting that in

  • that other panel of her peers, what we seem to get --

  • perhaps because of the veil are other girls

  • who in their seriality look

  • like indistinguishable versions of our author.

  • So, here the comic is able to train our eyes

  • to recognize individuality, despite seriality,

  • to see the individual despite her drawn indistinguishability

  • from her peers.

  • In the first panel, what we have is a fantasy of immediacy,

  • we are not supposed to see this image of the,

  • the cartoon as a representation of the author,

  • not at all, this is the author.

  • The fantasy in the second panel of course, is,

  • is that the photo real media,

  • the photograph is somehow subordinate to the,

  • the properties of reflection that we get in the comic book,

  • so it upends our normal understanding of a hierarchy

  • of arts, where the photograph would be able to contain,

  • to convey something that is transparently objective,

  • and the cartoon is just so obdurately mired

  • in the artist's subjectivity.

  • But we have a suspicion of photography in a lot of comics,

  • this might be some sort of [inaudible] in war

  • between media, but in Persepolis, we have a moment

  • where the father goes out to photograph events related

  • to the Islamic Revolution, so he is there with camera in hand,

  • capturing history as it happens,

  • poor Marjie's 10-years-old, she can't go

  • to the demonstrations, she can't be on the sidelines of history

  • as it occurs, but in her book, the one we know,

  • we've never heard of her father, or we've seen his photographs,

  • they're not famous, her book is,

  • his photographs are transubstantiated into the stuff

  • of cartoons, and it is only on that level

  • that they bear meaning.

  • We have similar suspicion of photograph

  • in Art Spiegelman's enormously popular graphic novel

  • about his father's holocaust survival, Maus, in which most

  • of the graphic novel depicts human beings

  • as anthropomorphic mice,

  • except for a few exceptional photographs that are inserted

  • in the panels, this is one

  • of Father Vladek looking far too

  • salubrious in a camp outfit that doesn't seem to associate

  • with our own understanding of what people look

  • like wearing this outfit, he was indeed a survivor,

  • but why does he look so healthy?

  • Why so clean?

  • Because after his camp experience, he went to a place

  • where they, there was a photography studio, and he,

  • he donned a survive --

  • a camp outfit and had his picture taken,

  • this was his commemorative photograph of his experience.

  • Art Spiegelman has transformed the lie that the,

  • that the photograph engenders here into his comic memoir.

  • But why the suspicion of photography within comics?

  • To answer, I want to go back to the movies.

  • One of my favorite recent heroes, think Batman

  • with even more psychosis,

  • Rorschach from Alan Moore's Watchman.

  • Very interesting thing about this character, he wears a mask

  • that is made of some sort of a high tech fugitive substance,

  • where the pattern that we see on that mask is constantly moving.

  • In the comic, however, the pattern on Rorschach's face,

  • which really is kind of like a Rorschach test ink blot, right?

  • Is -- we know it's supposed to move,

  • but because of the limitations

  • of the comic medium, it never does.

  • We can only ever experience the pattern on Rorschach's mask

  • as a still image, but it has power

  • because of that, nonetheless.

  • Its power, I would argue, is for the pattern on the image

  • at any one time in a, in a panel in the comic book

  • to visually echo other patterns,

  • other images we've seen elsewhere in this comic book,

  • for instance, this one pattern called the,

  • the Hiroshima Lovers, which becomes a graffiti image

  • that you see in the background in so many panels of,

  • of the world of the Watchman,

  • think about what this represents,

  • these are lovers clasping one another amidst certain disaster.

  • The mask can reference this other image of these lovers,

  • in a way that the movie never can,

  • that's why we call it the movies, it's, it's a cinema

  • of motion, all our eyes see when we see the Rorschach figure

  • in the movies is how the mask is constantly moving,

  • the pattern is always changing, ooh, lava lamp.

  • Ooh, lava lamp is very safe, what's not so safe?

  • Is to be put in a precarious position of someone

  • who is taking a Rorschach test, the comic book wants

  • to make me a patient of its own psychoanalytic penetrative test,

  • I become its test subject in order to read it.

  • Cinema? Passive spectator.

  • Comic? Something else.

  • But not only do graphic novels spur us to engage more actively

  • than film, they also allow us to see social relations

  • and abstractions through their complex interplay

  • of words and images.

  • Now, to excavate the implications of that I want

  • to return to the first two panels

  • of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.

  • Remember, the first panel says this is me when I was 10

  • in 1980, it's kind of our readerly contract,

  • we enter into in this graphic novel, this,

  • this is what we have to willingly suspend, that --

  • disbelief that that is not the author, we,

  • we want to engage in that fantasy, after all,

  • it is that fantasy which becomes our entree

  • into the world of this comic.

  • Second panel though, has some interesting information

  • in the caption, which I want to dissect, it says,

  • you don't see me in this photo,

  • I'm on the far left, I'm not there.

  • I want to ask, oh really?

  • Why don't I see you?

  • Unless I am being trained at the moment

  • of encountering this panel to observe

  • and impute almost sacred force to the,

  • the gutter that separates one panel from the other.

  • So, of course in the other panel, I, I sure do see you,

  • you just told me this is you when you were 10,

  • so there you are, and in this photo, in the caption you say,

  • you don't see me on the far left, well, there you are

  • on the far left, but I'm supposed to act

  • like I don't see you because the gutter has now this metaphysical

  • magical power to make me unsee what I obviously see.

  • But even if I don't -- you want to break, want to transgress

  • from the Latin literally to cross over a line,

  • if I don't want to transgress or violate that rule,

  • why is it that the second panel wants to give me ever

  • so slightly the indication of someone cut off on the far left?

  • Don't I see you there?

  • Comics, because they're constructed

  • of two symbol systems, word and images,

  • constantly juxtapose these two symbol systems

  • against each other, creating unique and inimitable effects--

  • and inimitable effects, yes.

  • Here's another one where the claims

  • of the picture unmask the claims of the text,

  • it's from Art Spiegelman's Maus,

  • it's a moment very poignantly

  • where the survivor father is telling his son all what is left

  • of the photos, interestingly it comes in a panel

  • that shows us cascading down to the floor a monument

  • of photographs, but the poignancy of this is to suggest

  • that that monument of photographs is all there is,

  • the photographs of people, the actual people no more.

  • But I look at, at the way page explodes with photos,

  • images of photos, cartoon images of photos,

  • and then once again I'm prodded to ask,

  • are photos really all that's left?

  • Hasn't Art Spiegelman comic artist, second generation,

  • survivor in a way, son a survivor, captured

  • and revivified what the photograph can never really

  • convey in this comic.

  • Palestine, by Joe Sacco.

  • Joe Sacco is a journalist and a cartoonist,

  • he goes to Palestine, he wants

  • to collect stories doing some fic descriptive ethnographic

  • field work, good old fashioned anthropology, but he's going

  • to draw up his results in not

  • so good old fashioned comic book form, there's a moment

  • where he suggests that every time he encounters militarist

  • action on the street that makes him afraid, he rushes off

  • into a taxicab and escapes the scene of imminent violence,

  • but it is in those taxi, taxicab escape moments

  • where he encounters unique intimacies

  • with others in the cab.

  • As he says here, I love the now and then intimacies

  • with fellow passengers, the shared candy, the anecdotes

  • about prisons and beatings, once a student

  • of electrical engineering pressed me on scholarships

  • in the States, well, I don't know, he says, really I could,

  • I could find out, my dad's an engineer, and the,

  • the person that is there says, yes, whatever you can do,