(In) between word and image : reading comics

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Rain Newcomb (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site: http://library.wcu.edu/
Marsha Baker

Abstract: In this thesis, I explore what it means to read a comic. Because comics combine words and images, reading a comic involves discovering the various relationships between two forms of language that create meaning. Fundamentally, comics are what Mikhail Bakhtin would call a hybridized construction because they combine two languages. Thus, comics are helping language to evolve. Historically, the relationship between words and images has been misunderstood, which has led to a misunderstanding of comics. Bakhtin, writing in defense of the novel (another medium that was poorly-received at its inception and criticized for many of the same reasons comic books are criticized), says novels require different things of their readers because of the ways they use language. Similarly, comics use language in new ways and present particular challenges to their readers. There are remarkable parallels between how Bakhtin says we read the novel and how comics scholars such as Thierry Groensteen and Charles Hatfield suggest we read comics. Using Bakhtin’s philosophy of language to read two comics, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, reveals that comics create both visual and verbal representations of Bakhtin’s ideas. In particular, comics find new ways to manifest heteroglossia, through the many ways they can visually represent the voices of many speakers, pure dialogue, language as ideology. Furthermore, hybrid constructions, dialogism, and centripetal/centrifugal forces are an inherent part of comic art. Reading comics is particularly complex because they are a discourse that intentionally embraces hybrid texts with words and images. Bakhtin shows that hybridized constructions are the primary way language evolves. As our culture becomes more and more accustomed to reading images, comics can help us make the shift to what image/word theorist W. J. T. Mitchell predicts is new paradigm that will transcend the word/image dichotomy.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2011
comics, graphic novels
Comic books, strips, etc. -- History and criticism

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