Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 2014

Volume 40 Issue 3
    • 1Hillary Chute and Patrick Jagoda
    • The “Comics and Media” special issue of Critical Inquiry considers a range of mediascapes: the objects of its critical essays include film, ballet, vernacular Russian print (lubok), transmedia games, comics, sculpture, panorama, and hyperprint. Examining ballet alongside games alongside comics, the question for us is: how do these forms inform each other and, through their constellation, promote a robust comparative media studies? These forms raise a number of aesthetic and philosophical inquiries into how artistic forms in general generate movement and stillness (on their surfaces and within their audiences), how they enable different forms of play, and how we experience and apprehend media in relation to each other. This issue balances three essays exploring different media forms that make up a transhistorical media triptych (Yuri Tsivian, Daria Khitrova, and Patrick Jagoda, N. Katherine Hayles, and Patrick LeMieux), with three essays that take comics as a central point of inquiry and reveal their commitments by situating the form within various media ecologies (Tom Gunning, Scott Bukatman, and Katalin Orbán). Further, this issue instantiates in its own material form the dynamic view of media its essays index, interspersing the essays with comics art by ten contemporary cartoonists (Barry, Bechdel, Gloeckner, Green, Kominsky-Crumb, Mouly, Seth, Spiegelman, Tyler, Ware), eight illustrated transcripts from the May 2012 “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” conference at the University of Chicago, and a sampling of images from Henry Jackson Lewis (1837–1891), an artist who was born into slavery and has been called the first African-American cartoonist—along with, online, an exclusive hub from the transmedia game Speculation. This issue does not emphasize multimedia forms but rather transmedia relations—both historical and currently unfolding—among ostensibly discrete and evidently imbricated or impure forms.

    • 11Lynda Barry
    • Original art by Lynda Barry.  This is a collage/comic piece about how adults who quit drawing a very long time ago have this kind of line that I find beautiful. It’s kind of about how we confuse things when we say it looks like a kid drew it. What if what we are seeing is what a drawing naturally looks like when an artistically untrained human being is getting an idea and drawing it at the same time? I’ve been interested in this for a while

    • 36Tom Gunning
    • As if flaunting modern conceptions of medium specificity, the comics combine words and images in an art of succession. The act of reading words and following a succession of images evokes motion. I relate this desire for a flow of images to a popular form of visual entertainment in nineteenth century America, the moving panorama, in which a lengthy canvas was unfurled to spectators. Both the moving panorama and the comics offer a new spectatorial regime that superimposes reading and pictures within a process of succession. As Hillary Chute has pointed out, the layout of comics allows both a path of succession following the action of a story and a simultaneous view of the page as a whole. Thus the art of comics can support both viewing an image and following the moving course of successive reading. Masters of comics, such as Töpffer, McCay and Willette have used layout to signal these alternatives, but also to fuse and confuse our protocols of reading and viewing. The comics therefore offer a modern form of pictographic writing in which words and the graphic share a common space and readers playfully merge reading and viewing, word and image.

    • 52Alison Bechdel and Hillary Chute
    • Original art by Alison Bechdel and Hillary Chute. One of the books we both love is Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes—it is a text about proliferating I’s that sets up a suggestive and unresolved tension between word and image in the elusive task of locating/articulating the first person. Another book we both love is the cartoonist Kate Beaton’s 2011 Hark! A Vagrant. Beaton has a brilliant comics series she names “Goreys.” She redraws covers that Edward Gorey designed and drew in the 1950s for Anchor Books as her first panel, and she then draws projected interpretations of the content based on the covers—all in a classic gag strip format. Bartheses is our response to Goreys, and—perhaps especially because our course focused on how I is always grounded in a we, an addressee—we imagined our Bartheses as conversations RB has with himself and images of himself.

    • 53WJT Mitchell and Joe Sacco
    • Illustrated transcript of a public conversation at the conference Comics: Philosophy and Practice, 2012.

    • 71Yuri Tsivian
    • Charlie Chaplin’s “shadows” evoked in the title of this essay are images of Chaplin’s Tramp conjured up in media other than cinema itself. Were these meant as portrayals of Chaplin and his movies, or fortuitous fantasies that had little to do with their prototype? The essay follows Chaplin’s shadows across countries. Launched by West European avant-garde artists and poets in the late 1910s (Goll, Hellens, Léger), the cult of Chaplin reached Russia early in 1922 via Ilya Ehrenburg’s Constructivist manifesto And Yet the World Goes Round, and international avant-garde magazine Object which Ehrenburg edited together with El Lissitzky. In 1922, a special Chaplin issue of the Moscow Constructivist magazine Kino-Fot came out with essays on Chaplin by Aleksandr Rodchenko, Nikolai Forreger, Lev Kuleshov and Aleksei Gan; it also contained a series of “Charlot” drawings by Varvara Stepanova which portrayed Chaplin in a schematized geometrical manner common to Constructivist visuals at that time; in 1924 Vladimir Mayakovsky published a poem featuring “Charlot” as a precursor of all-European proletarian revolution. This paper looks at those aspects of Chaplin’s acting style that fascinated Soviet left-wing artists and what they made of them; at Chaplin’s image in Russian as a “Taylorist actor”; at Chaplin’s impact on Kuleshov’s workshop; and, more closely, at a strange reference in both Mayakovsky’s poem and Stepanova’s to a “Chaplin” film which the real Chaplin never made, Man on a Propeller

    • 85Françoise Mouly
    • Original art by Françoise Mouly.  My life as a cartoon is much fuller than my life as a cartoonist. When I met Mirror Man back in 1975, I stepped on the other side of the Looking Glass. I have lived ever since in a land of Cheshire Cats, where the food whispers “Eat Me,” and the bottles compel “Drink Me!” I haven’t stopped— and I don’t think I’ll ever stop—marveling at all that’s possible in that bizarro MAD world, where the logic is Art, and the moral core is Literature.

    • 86Justin Green, Phoebe Gloeckner, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Carol Tyler, with Deborah Nelson
    • Illustrated transcript of a panel discussion at the conference Comics: Philosophy and Practice, 2012.

    • 104Scott Bukatman
    • It’s become common to understand comics as a medium of motion, even as something of a moving image medium. Scott McCloud’s champion analysis, Understanding Comics, points to the battery of devices that comics artists have used to depict motion—motion lines, blurring of moving objects or backgrounds, multiples of the same figure indicating the progress of movement within a single panel (see Carmine Infantino’s rendering of the Flash), the lines of force and seething energies associated with Jack Kirby, and plenty of others. McCloud’s very definition of comics hinges upon movement, upon the change that occurs between one panel and the next. Sequence, change, movement: these are the foundation of the medium. Comics emerged as a mass medium nearly contemporaneously with the cinema, and both spoke to the frequently observed sense that modern life was, excitingly and disturbingly, speeding up. The continuing confluence of comics and the cinema aligns them both as dynamically moving media, each a neat complement of the other. My own writing has explored the ways early comics mocked the disciplinary aspirations of chronophotography, and I’ve celebrated the kineticism of the superhero (whose kinetic and metamorphic being seems almost absurdly appropriate to the digital technologies of the cinematic blockbuster).

      But comics and cinema are very different. The cinema tends to speak to an embodied subject; the viewer is immersed in an adventure of perception in which eyes and body are directly engaged, in which perceptual and corporeal limits are both recalled and transcended. Comics do not grab in just this way. They are normally more engrossing than immersive and present instead a complex adventure of reading in which syntheses of word and image, image sequences, and serial narratives are continually performed—as such theorists as McCloud, Thierry Groensteen, and Charles Hatfield have admirably demonstrated. Further, for all the avowed similarities between cinema and comics, they differ entirely on the level of materiality. Comics images neither move nor record things that previously moved, and there is no imprinting of the physical world onto a material substrate (with or without digital intermediation). An artist’s hand movements are recorded onto a surface, but this phenomenon is nearly always unrelated to the diegesis. Comics present an arrayed sequence of images more or less hand-drawn by an artist (with or without assistants or software). An individual comics panel has more weight in relation to the whole and contains more narrative information than does a single film frame.

    • 118Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Kristen Schilt
    • Illustrated transcript of a public discussion at the conference Comics: Philosophy and Practice, 2012.

    • 134Daria Khitrova
    • The subject of this paper is ballet and revolution. I look at this twin subject from two angles. One angle is balletic repercussions of the political revolution; the other, ballet’s own choreographic revolution launched to change from within what was perceived as the courtliest and most conservative of arts. Hence the term “boundaries” used in the title of this essay. Media boundaries are constantly trespassed; in art, the very act of trespassing the boundaries of its native medium may happen to be this or that artwork’s raison d’être. The boundary explored in this study is between ballet and nonballet. The phrase “this is no longer dance” used in the title of this paper belongs to a stunned reviewer of The Steel Step, the ballet produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, first shown in Paris and London in 1927.  What aspects of Diaghilev’s production made audiences ponder over the identity of ballet? What means and media did its makers marshal to provoke the identity crisis within the medium of dance? This essay is a case study of defamiliarization: it is about a ballet production that defamiliarized ballet as an art form and as a medium.

    • 150Justin Green
    • Original art by Justin Green.  Broadcasting started as a visual concept playing with the humble word balloon, which is a unique cartooning device. In the course of doing the work, I came across the term broadcasting used in its original agricultural context. It meant sowing seeds with wide arm gestures instead of delicately planting them in rows. Since local radio stations still have spatial purviews, I thought of the wide distribution of political sound bites saturating the air over all states, both red and blue. I also tried to channel the great Carey Orr, whose cartoons adorned the front page of the Chicago Tribune for decades.

    • 151Chris Ware, Seth, Dan Clowes, Charles Burns, with Hillary Chute
    • Illustrated transcript of a panel discussion at the conference Comics: Philosophy and Practice, 2012.

    • 169Katalin Orbán
    • This article presents graphic narrative as a transitional medium, a site of reading that merits attention because of the cultural contestation and rival practices it dramatizes in its embodied, multisensory reading process. While digital comics confirm the broader technocultural trend in which nonlinearity, multitasking, and digital environments are seen as mutually conducive, plenty of graphic narratives call for a print-based hyperreading without moving to screen reading and surfing, and web comics are often a stepping stone to print publication. The article examines the media-historical phenomenon of a combination of reading practices attuned to the conditions of contemporary convergence culture and an enduring reliance on the printed book. As shown in extended readings of Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers and David Small’s Stitches, graphic narrative can foster a sense of the new materiality of the altered spaces of reading and viewing by integrating hyperreading with familiar forms of materiality and, at the same time, demanding deep attention and the refashioning of habits tied to print and digital textuality.

    • 182Phoebe Gloeckner
    • These two magazine covers begin to describe the unrelenting darkness that has enveloped the protagonist for the past three years. The stories inside these covers will return the protagonist back to Ciudad Juárez, to 2010, at the height of the Mexican plague of violence, where she had been working on a project about the family of a murdered girl and the neighborhood she lived in.

    • 187Françoise Mouly, with Daniel Clowes, R. Crumb, Chris Ware
    • Illustrated transcript of a panel discussion at the conference Comics: Philosophy and Practice, 2012

    • 198Garland Martin Taylor
    • Henry Jackson Lewis was an artist and engraver who worked from 1889 until his death in 1891 for The Freeman, the Nation's first Black weekly-illustrated newspaper. A precursor to W. E. B. Dubois' Crisis magazine, The Freeman was both, a site of resistance to demeaning images of Blacks in mainstream, Gilded Age media, and a virtual gallery showcasing Black artistic talent. The art that Lewis published in The Freeman earned him the distinction of the first Black political cartoonist in the United States. Yet today, Lewis, who is buried in grave number twelve, in row four of section five–the colored section–of Mount Jackson Cemetery in Indianapolis Indiana, is overlooked. Moreover, his life and art seldom factor into discussions of African American studies, American art history, or visual studies.

    • 203Alison Bechdel and Hillary Chute
    • Illustrated transcript of a public discussion at the conference Comics: Philosophy and Practice, 2012.

    • 220N. Katherine Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and Patrick LeMieux
    • Alongside computer games and video games, a more experimental ludic form emerged in the early years of the twenty-first century: alternate reality games (ARGs). This essay explores ARGs in relation to digital media and finance capital through the case study of Speculation, a game that we directed and cocreated with students at the University of Chicago and Duke University throughout 2012. From cryptographic puzzles and online simulations to live performances and geocached dead drops, Speculation incorporates a wide range of media to imagine a transmedia world based on the culture of Wall Street investment banks and the context of the 2008 global economic collapse. Because gamification (a design strategy that uses motivation-oriented game components to promote consumption, labor, and education) and convergence culture (the flow of content across multiple media platforms) are already core components of contemporary capitalism, Speculation’s ARG format offers a platform for thinking within and through our contemporary information economy. The game appropriated the strategies and logics of capital in a medium already caught up in the contradictions of neoliberalism and explored the relationship between contemporary finance and convergence culture through a process that we call “derivative worlding.” This term entangles the futures projected by financial derivatives with the derivative nature of collaborative storytelling inherent to the ARG form. Building on practice-based research methodologies, Speculation blurs conventional divisions between creators and consumers, producers and players, artists and researchers. In the process of discovering, decoding, remixing, and remaking Speculation, thousands of players transformed the game into a collaborative platform for speculating on the future of finance capital.

    • 237Robert Crumb, Lynda Barry, Ivan Brunetti, Gary Panter, with Hamza Walker
    • Illustrated transcript of a panel discussion at the conference Comics: Philosophy and Practice, 2012.

    • 255WJT Mitchell
    • The main argument of this afterword is to see comics, not as a genre but as a medium.  Or even more emphatically, as a transmedia and multimedia platform that is capable of re-mediating the entire range of human expression.  Rather than think of comics as one medium among others (television, the book, cinema, photography, painting, etc.) the suggestion is that, like the computer, comics is a meta-medium.  Therefore it is open to any and all genres of text and image-making.   It need not be graphic narrative, but is a form of graphic discourse that includes narrative among many other possibilities—philosophical reflection, epistolary expression, self-referential analysis.  When the power fails and the computers go dark, comics will still be around, will still be possible, and more necessary than ever.

    • 266Carol Tyler
    • The page you see here is my attempt to represent all the participants in the conference as well as capture the two elements that happily brought us together: Hillary Chute and that bus! Let me explain.

      Most of the comics people who participated in the conference have friendships that go wa-a- a-y back—back to our beginnings. So this was a reunion of old friends and a few new ones, but it had this vibe. Over the years, we may see this one or that one, but to have us all together was a real treat. One thing we don’t often get to do is just be together, as in just hanging out without any pressure. So, couple the distance from the hotel and the venues with the road closures due to the NATO summit/President Barack Obama being in Chicago at the same time, and you get very long shuttle bus rides. However, in a weird kind of way, all that time on the bus together released this great energy and set the tone for a meaningful, memorable, fun conference. It was our behind-the-scenes place to cut loose and be our true smart-assed selves. Kind of a magical mystery tour for cartoonists.

      As for the title, Newsworthy: it’s because to get all these people together, it truly was. Why the circles with short “Nancy” spikes? Because we are cartoonists, and these are our roots. And finally, what’s with that chair? It’s my symbol of plush and awesome, and purple = royalty, which seems to sum-up the whole experience.