On Thursday September 29, 2022, we held a stimulating guest lecture and workshop with French non-fiction graphic-novelist, editorial cartoonist and animation director Aurel whose movie Josep was honoured by the 2021 César Award for Best Animated Film.
My warm thanks to Aurel for his time and enlightening and captivating insights, and to La Fête, Beyond Animation Festival and Clémentine Arfi for making this meaningful cultural exchange possible!
The workshop consisted in applying the various graphic non-fiction composition techniques discussed during the guest lecture to the comics adaptation of an imposed paragraph excerpted from the chapter A Race of Cooks in Yuval Noah Harari‘s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011/2015). The 35 participating students -from Faculties and Departments of Literature, Architecture, Communication Design, Communication Arts, Psychology and Chemistry- had 30 minutes to compose individually a 2-page comics breakdown (drawn draft) of the paragraph. After completion, Aurel’s own graphic take on the Sapiens paragraph in his comics Singes and David Vandermeulen & Daniel Casenave’s comics adaptation in Sapiens: A Graphic History were introduced to the students to compare radically different approaches. Each student’s comics breakdown was later commented individually by yours truly.
Here are some results from the students’ workshop:
#LetMeSeeYourEyes; substituting the dialogue of a comics/manga page with imposed lines excerpted from Norwegian cartoonist Jason‘s Why Are You Doing This? (Fantagraphics, 2005; Editions Carabas, 2004, for original French version).
“Great idea for an exercise (the source is impeccable, of course!). The examples work really well, and the Peanuts page shows how this principle can be expanded on and could even be used for a book-length work made up of quotes, borrowed page layouts, mash-ups, etc.” Matt Madden(February 17, 2018), cartoonist and teacher best known for his book 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (Penguin), as well as a member of Oubapo (Workshop for Potential Comics), and later a French knight in the Order of Arts and Letters.
January 2018. The sixty-two (3rd and 4th year) students in the Creative Writing for Printed Matter course (sections 10 and 11; “Graphic Writing”) at the International Program (BA) in Communication Management (Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok , Thailand) were provided with a series of imposed lines excerpted from Jason’s comics Why Are You Doing This?: “So… Did you do it? / Sorry? / Was it you who killed that man earlier today? / No. No, it wasn’t. / Let me see your eyes. / All right. Follow me.” After being shown an example (Tintin in Tibet; see below) and as a home assignment, students were given one week to find a comics/manga page in which the dialogue might fit -with the least possible alteration- by substitution.
“The function of relay is less common (at least as far as the fixed image is concerned); it can be seen particularly in cartoons and comic strips. Here text (most often a snatch of dialogue) and image stand in a complementary relationship; the words, in the same way as the images, are fragments of a more general syntagm [sequence of linguistic units] and the unity of the message is realized at a higher level, that of the story, the anecdote, the diegesis […].” Roland Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image (translation S. Heath), in: Image, Music, Text, 1977.
Goals of this warm-up exercise; production of new comics pages by students without any particular artistic training; browsing of dozens of comics pages, and development of the “image reading” skill by focusing students’ attention on visual motifs in pictures and sequences; development of multimodal literacy through the combination/confrontation of visual (drawings), aural (speech, tone), linguistic (delivery of both “written and spoken” text), gestural (facial expressions/body language/postures) and spatial (spatialisation of text & sequences of adjacent panels) modes; exploration of text/image relationship (anchorage/relay); to stress out the importance of eye contact in drama.
“[Comics] doesn’t blend the visual and the verbal – or use one simply to illustrate the other – but is rather prone to present the two non-synchronously; a reader of comics not only fills in the gaps between panels but also works with the often disjunctive back-and-forth of reading and looking for meaning.” Hillary Chute, “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative”, in: PMLA, 123(2), 2008
Commenting on Gunther Kress’s Multimodality, Jacobs notes that linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial elements combine in comics narratives and that, “[taken] together, these elements form a multimodal system of meaning making.” (“More than Words: Comics as a Means of Teaching Multiple Literacies”, in: The English Journal, 96(3), 2007.
1. Text substitutions by CommArts students; without any order/speech balloon alteration (except for an additional ellipsis, or “…”, in a couple of pages)
2. Text substitutions by CommArts students; respecting the order of the imposed lines but not their strict succession (distribution of the imposed lines before and after text retained from the original comics page).
3. Text substitutions by CommArts students; without order alteration, but with additional bubbles.
If words can be drawn, and images written, then the tension between words and images can become quite complex. For example, in “I Guess” (Raw 2:3, 1991, reprinted in Ware, Quimby), alternative cartoonist Chris Ware experiments with a radically disjunctive form of verbal/visual interplay: a six-page story that sustains parallel verbal and pictorial narratives throughout, never quite reconciling one to the other […]. Admittedly, “I Guess” represents a radical questioning of the way comics work […]. Dismantling genre as well as form, Ware’s experiment demonstrates the potential of comics to create challenging, multilayered texts: his simple broadly representational drawings contribute to, rather than mitigate, the suggestive complexity of the narrative, while the blank naive narrational voice both amplifies and undercuts the appeal of the drawings. (Charles Hatfield, “Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature”, The University Press of Mississippi, 2005)