Thursday, 14 Oct., 2021

10:30 – 11:30

Members’ Meeting of the Society for Comics Studies (ComFor) (in German)

11:30 – 13:00
Lunch Break
13:00 – 13:15
Conference Opening

13:15 – 14:15


Panel Chair: Martha Kuhlman

Perpetrators and their crimes are often sensationalized and even turned into figures of fun, romance or adventure in contemporary American literature and popular culture, in a recent boom of productions that both rely on and fuel the public’s appetite for extra-ordinary stories. One of the paradoxical effects of this process is the public’s enhanced familiarity with these figures of evil, which can often make them appear not only banal (as Hannah Arendt famously put it), but also intimately close to the public that consumes cultural products about their deeds. This trivialization is often denounced by survivors and victims’ families; however, it remains an important component of perpetrator portraiture in the public space. In this context, and within the wider history of comics, Hitler has enjoyed a rather special status as a perpetrator, as he has been, by turns, a fictionalized version of the real-life dictator, a conventional super villain, and an ironic object of absurdist humor.


Hipster Hitler was initially a successful webcomic, created in 2010 by American cartoonists James Carr and Archana Kumar, published as a book in 2012 (and translated into numerous languages). The comic performs a type of time travel whose logic is patently absurd: Hitler travels from an unnamed present-day English language cultural space back to 1940s Germany where he wears ironic T-shirts, is overly careful about preservatives, and claims Pac-Man is a vintage strategy game that he can use to obliterate his enemies. The premise for the webcomic appears to be poking fun at both Hitler and hipsters in one clean sweep.


In this paper, we inquire what happens when the very iconicity of someone like Hitler as a transcultural figure of memory makes him a familiar (even anecdotal) figure whose everydayness draws attention away from his considerable crimes. At the same time, it is this familiarity—through the representation of perpetrators of various kinds in popular culture—that may both offer and block access to important questions about how evil becomes possible. In conversation with scholars working in the field of comics studies (Laurike in’t Veld, Hillary Chute),  memory and perpetrator studies (Michael Rothberg, Scott Strauss), and others, we not only contextualize the Hipster Hitler comic, but also focus on the stakes and effects of the displacement of overfamiliar historical figures and cultural narratives, the restraints that the representation of perpetrators of mass violence places on satire and humor, and the possibilities and limitations of the social and political function of humor.

This paper seeks to present how the political and social transformations of 70’s Portugal shaped comics production and consumption in the country. Portugal, during the 1960s and 1970s, despite the cultural suffocation caused by the Estado Novo dictatorship, witnessed a renewal of artistic tastes and behaviours. The overthrow of the regime in 1974, and subsquent implementation of democracy, allowed an aesthetic and thematic renewal in all artístic fields and the emergence of underground trends that previously existed.

The political and social debates of those times are found in most comics of the period. This work was done thanks to publications available at the 25th April Documentation Center of the University of Coimbra as well as testimonials from a comic author of the 70’s.

Following the footsteps marked by French comics and absorbing influence from other worldwide comics, the Portuguese comics of the ’70s were aimed at a new audience, the adult. The direct reference to subjects that are impossible to address in the context of censorship becomes a constant in publications published between the years 1974-1980, from psychedelic \ surrealist science fiction to vignettes laden with violence and sexuality to stories and cartoons that feature specific political alignments. During the 1970s, the first fanzines phenomenon arrived in the country, small, low-cost publications printed on plain paper, using stencils or office offset machines. This Do it Yourself style proved to be a useful tool for people or political organizations with low resources.

There was also an appreciation of ninth art by groups that sought to boost the workers’ movement. Most political publications of the period featured comic strips addressing current and past political topics. Although cartoons are the majority in party publications, comics also occupied a prominent place in political discourse. Through an inventory of the material produced during the 1970s, it is possible to affirm that the left-wing parties or groups gave greater prominence to comics and cartoons, particularly during the Portuguese revolutionary period (1974-1975).

Regardless of the genre and political and social purpose in which one can insert them, what stands out mainly in all these magazines is a desire to subvert the traditional social and political values taught by the Estado Novo for four decades. Simultaneously, the artistic explosion in Portugal after the end of the dictatorship had one of its leading examples in comics.


14:15 – 14:45

14:45 – 15:45


Panel Chair: John Bateman

The humour in multimodal cartoons is not well understood compared with verbal humour which has always attracted the attention of researchers who proposed theories to study verbal humour such as Superiority (Hobbes, 1812), Relief (Spencer, 1860; Freud, 1905), Incongruity (Kant, 1952), General Theory of Verbal Humor (GTVH: Attardo and Raskin, 1991), and Semantic Script-based Theory of Humor (SSTH: Raskin 1979, 1985; Attardo 1994). Compared to the presented theories, GTVH has been applied to cartoons by different researchers such as Paolillo (1998), Koponen (2004), El-Arousy (2007), and Tsakona (2009). This theory has six Knowledge Resources (KRs) which are Language, Situation, Target, Narrative Strategy, Script Opposition and Logical Mechanism. In such applications of the theory, some shortages are presented, such as not using the Target (Koponen, 2004), which is considered important in cartoons to present identities. Narrative strategies have been either eliminated, (El-Arousy, 2007) or misused (Koponen, 2004; Tsakona, 2009); such elimination or misuse result in not showing the narrativity between the image and writing, which affects showing the relation between the two modes in creating humour. Such narrativity is essential in understanding the humour, suggesting a need for another perspective to be taken. I choose to integrate social semiotics(Kress and Van leeween, 2006)  to have full understanding of humour in cartoons. Different resources are found to be essential in guiding narrativity, and that is a result of examining 50 cartoons. The image-language link (Stöckl, 2009) has been involved in showing the two modes of relation, writing and image, that help narrate the cartoon. 

Following Three Minute Thesis (3MT) presentations, the Chinese College Students’ Five-minute English Academic Speech (5MS) has started and become an important platform for college students to display their academic competence. Participants should present their research within 5 minutes, including all the necessary parts, and their presentation can be PPT-assisted. Every year students from hundreds of universities participate in the competition, which is eye-catching. However,this genre has attracted little attention from researchers (Hu & Liu, 2018; Hyland & Zou, 2021), both in linguistic and multimodal areas. Drawing on Halliday and Matthiessen’s (2014) systemic functional grammar as well as Baldry and Thibault’s (2006) method of analysis, this presentation shows the elucidation of the analysis of multimodal cohesion and coherence of comics in 5MS presentations with a mixed method. It explores the coherent patterns constructed through the interaction between comics and spoken language and reveals how meanings are made through these patterns.

This study collected ten 5MS presentations, winning the first prize or grand prize, from four broad disciplines (arts & humanities, science, engineering and medicine) between 2018 and 2020. The length of each 5MS presentation is close to 300 seconds. The software Multimodal Analysis Video (MMAV) was used for the annotation and transcription of the comics and spoken language presented in these videos. Based on the findings of the qualitative analysis, this study conducted a quantitative analysis to identify the dominant coherent patterns involving comics and spoken language. Through the investigation, four cohesive patterns were identified, this is, term explanation, process introduction, phenomenon explanation and attention attraction. The former three construe ideational meanings and the last pattern construes interpersonal meanings. These coherent patterns can effectively realize the coherence and cohesion of the oral presentations. The findings show that comics play an important role in the coherence of academic presentations and can facilitate the audience’s comprehension of abstract scientific research. This study has important implications for college students, oral academic presenters, EAP instructors and multimodal researchers.

15:45 – 16:15


16:15 – 17:30

KEYNOTE Janina Wildfeuer
“What happens between the panels is a kind of magic only comics can create”
(Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, 1993, p. 92)
In this talk, I will address Scott McCloud’s idea of the magic in the gutter and his famous concept of ‘closure’ by taking on a linguistic and multimodal perspective on the coherence of comics and graphic novels. For this, I will begin with a short introduction to the concept of coherence in contemporary linguistics and its importance as a meaning-making mechanism in verbal texts.
With an example-based approach that zooms in on the various expressive forms of individual comic panels, strips, and larger pages, I will then present ways to describe the coherence of comics and graphic novels as a very similar mechanism. I will demonstrate how to specify the semantics of individual visual units and how to connect these units with the identification of discourse relations holding between them in order to create a coherent and structured discourse. The results will show how this multimodal approach to coherence allows deciphering McClouds ‘kind of magic’, i.e. our understanding and interpretation of the gutter, more clearly.
In a final step, I will then elaborate on this approach and its usefulness for an even stronger demystification of the magic of visual narratives by showing how the still somewhat hypothetical analyses can be further tested empirically and/or corpus-oriented, i.e. with experiments and/or a larger amount of data. 

17:30– 18:00


18:00 – 19:00


Martin-Schüwer-Preis 2021

Friday, 15 Oct., 2021

09:00 – 10:30


Panel Chair: Stephan Packard

According to Conceptual Metaphor Theory, metaphor is not a special use of language but rather a fundamental way of meaning-making that is based on parallels between our sensorimotor experiences and more abstract areas of our lives (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). In this talk, I will argue that this notion of metaphor offers a holistic approach to the study of comics, but that we need to move beyond a narrow focus on what Forceville (1996) has termed ‘pictorial metaphors’. Although pictorial metaphors are prevalent are in some comics genres (Kukkonen 2008), they cannot be described as a foundational feature of the comics medium in general. Instead, a tripartite classification system that distinguishes between pictorial, spatial and stylistic metaphors is proposed (El Refaie 2019): Whereas pictorial metaphors involve the depiction of one or more concrete things in a way that suggests a metaphorical meaning through specific formal cues, spatial metaphors exploit the relative size, arrangement and orientation of elements on the page to convey more abstract meanings. In the case of stylistic metaphors, features such as color, shape, level of detail, and quality of line are used to indicate an abstract concept or a non-visual sense perception. These three categories can be further sub-divided, and in many instances several distinct types of metaphor are used in combination, creating complex patterns of thematic, narrative and affective patterns of coherence within and across individual comics.



El Refaie, E. (2019) Visual Metaphor and Embodiment in Graphic Illness Narratives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Forceville, C. (1996) Pictorial Metaphor in Advertising. London and New York: Routledge.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kukkonen, K. (2008) Beyond language: Metaphor and metonymy in comics storytelling. English Language Notes 46(2): 89-98.

The paper attempts to discuss the ways in which coherence between the components of the visual code and other codes used in the comics (significantly, but by far not only the verbal code) is established/constructed. It seems that comics (at least in the Western world) is becoming more and more literature-like in terms of “book industry” or “literary practice/operations” (especially in terms of the so-called graphic novel); it’s been growing more and more into the structure of the literary field (Bourdieu). That’s all the more reason to emphasise (and analyse) that the nature of comics is fundamentally different from (however much) illustrated literature. 

In terms of the theory from the point of view of semiotics comics should be consider as a code (not as a medium) which is an intertwined, specific combination of verbal and pictorial signs in homogeneous “speech”. Thus, although it uses means from these two basic sign systems the comics as a code is an integral in its duality, and there is a significant blurring of the boundaries between these “source codes”. However, the usage and the combination of pictorial code (images, “art”) and verbal code (words, “literary”) does not represent the whole nature of comics as a code. Many other codes can be found in particular texts – such as graphic (in the way of designing of images and words, especially in writing) and typographic (in addition to the form of writing and composition of pages, etc.) or “quasi-nonverbal”, as well as specific artistic codes (various formal procedures, techniques, styles, etc.), literary, narrative, aesthetic, but also genre, stylistic, rhetorical, ideological etc. However, all of these codes are intertwined in a specific way that is determined by the formal characteristics of the comics and its “synesthesia”. In this sense, the comics resemble a similarly multiply intertwined multi coded natural (spoken) language. The specific code of comics (as a meta-code) thus works with the above-mentioned codes (and certainly also others not mentioned) as with its subcodes and structures them according to its own rules.

The existence of wordless comics is undoubtedly crucial for the theoretical definition of comics, which is also reflected in the interest in conceptualizing the relationship between two visual statements (McCloud’s closure, Groensteen’s iconic solidarity etc.). But, even without exact statistics, it can be said that in most comics there is a coherence between two basic codes (visual and verbal), in addition to many others. To the first of the four Hatfield’s basic types of tension – between word and image – it’s necessary to add the relationships to the other codes used comics and examine the ways in which they contribute to the overall coherence of the work of comics. The above mentioned semiotically mixed nature of natural speech and thus how the coherence of a speech combining verbal signs and all possible other non-verbal expressions is formed can be helpful here.

The alleged fundamental narrativity of comics has been repeatedly challenged in recent decades, especially with regard to abstract works. Less attention has been paid to “essayistic” comics, which do neither – on a global textual level – present (fictional or non-fictional) events, situations, or sequences of actions nor do they show recurring individual things (figures or objects). They instead present theses, formulate arguments, or reflect on topical relations by means of written discourses. These are certainly specified, symbolized, metaphorized, or contrasted through Illustrations, but the respective images cannot be related to a spatio-temporal continuum of individual things (a diegesis or a possible world). Some of my resulting observations have already been discussed for specific webcomics (especially The Oatmeal, Inman) (cf. Wilde) and will now be evaluated for a larger corpus of works by Schlogger (Johanna Baumann), Nick Sousanis and Lynda Barry.

My contribution approaches these works by discussing the concept of “essay-films,” established in film studies, for comics (cf. Corrigan; Filser; Möbius; Scherer). For this purpose I draw especially on transmedial narratology (cf. Elleström; Ryan; Thon). The Kieler Lexikon der Filmbegriffe refers to the “essay film” as the “intellectual brother of the documentary” (Bender/Brunner, n. pag), since this mode is understood more as a form of argumentation instead of narration (cf. Bellour; Pantenburg). Instead of discussing “the essayistic” as a genre – an important feature of the essay film lies precisely in the mixing and blending of existing genres and generic reading protocols (cf. Krohn; Balke) – I am investigating a special mode of coherence which operates on a conceptual-abstract rather than on a scenic-concrete domain. In the mode of the essayistic, according to Barbara Filser, media texts “become recognizable not as a seemingly self-narrating story, but as discourse” (Filser, 98). At the same time, an “essayistic subjectivity” of the respective artists (cf. Corrigan, 80-103) is continuously foregrounded as a “content-determining and form-giving instance” (Filser, 97), which, unlike in non-fictional, narrative comics (comics journalism, graphic memoirs, documentary comics, etc.), does not achieve global coherence through the representation of incidents, events, and occurrences nor through the identity of recurring, individual characters and things, but through reflection on theoretical-abstract terms, conceptual facts, and arguments. This has interesting consequences for the multimodal “division of labour” between writing and a pictogrammatic form of comic imagery, which will be explored on the basis of Schlogger, Sousanis, Barry.


  • Balke, Friedrich: Theorie des Dokumentar- und Essayfilms. In: Handbuch Filmtheorie. Ed. Bernhard Groß and Thomas Morsch. Springer VS, 2021, pp. 193–210.
  • Barry, Lynda: Making Comics. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly, 2019.
  • Bender, Theo and Philipp Brunner: Essayfilm. In: Lexikon der Filmbegriffe <>. 12.10.2012. Accessed 20.05.2021.
  • Bellour, Raymond: The Cinema and the Essay as a Way of Thinking (2011). In: Essays on the Essay Film. Ed. Nora M. Alter and Timothy Corrigan. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017, pp. 227–239.
  • Corrigan, Timothy: The Essay Film. From Montaigne, After Marker. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Elleström, Lars: Transmedial Narration: Narratives and Stories in Different Media. Cham: Palgrave MacMillan, 2019.
  • Filser, Barbara: Chris Marker und die Ungewissheit der Bilder. Paderborn: Fink, 2010.
  • Inman, Matthews: The Oatmeal <>. 09.2016. Accessed 20.05.2021.
  • Krohn, Bill: Welles, Fernsehen und der Essayfilm. In: Schreiben, Bilder, Sprechen. Texte zum essayistischen Film. Ed. Christa Blümlinger and Blümlinger Wulff. Wien: Sonderzahl, 1992, pp. 171–177.
  • Möbius, Hanno: Das Abenteuer ›Essayfilm‹. In: Versuche über den Essayfilm. Ed. Hanno Möbius and Chris Marker. Marburg: Inst. für Neuere Dt. Literatur, 1991, pp. 10–24.
  • Pantenburg, Volker: Film als Theorie. Bildforschung bei Harun Farocki und Jean-Luc Godard. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2006.
  • Ryan, Marie-Laure (ed.): Storyworlds across Media: Toward a Media-conscious Narratology. Loncoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.
  • Scherer, Christina: Ivens, Marker, Godard, Jarman – Erinnerung im Essayfilm. München: Fink, 2001.
  • Schlogger (Johanna Baumann): Gehirnfürze-Kurzcomics < >. Accessed 20.05.2021.
  • Sousanis, Nick (W/A): Unflattening. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press, 2015.
  • Thon, Jan-Noël: Transmedial Narratology and Contemporary Media Culture. Loncoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016.
  • Wilde, Lukas R.A.: »Backwards and batshit-fucking-bonkers« Das innovative Kommunikationsgefüge non-narrativer Webcomics.. In: Closure. Kieler e-Journal für Comicforschung 4 (2017), pp. 68–104. <>. 20.05.2021.

10:30 – 11:00


11:00 – 12:30


Panel Chair: Janina Wildfeuer

The rise of multimodal semiotics and linguistics in the last three decades, building on a longer tradition of semiotic theory and models that reach back at least to Peircean pragmaticism (Bateman 2018), have opened up innovative approaches to the study of the semiotic resources and structures of comics (including Packard 2006, Lim 2007, Forceville 2010/2011, Cohn 2013, Bateman/Wildfeuer 2014, Cohn 2016, Dunst et al. 2018, Tseng/Bateman 2018). As part of a larger collaboration on multimodal comics research, this panel will look at the specific topic of cohesion between panels and in comics as a whole: How do semiotic ties bind across panel elements, panel borders, and in their larger interplay across pages and their sequences?


  • Bateman, J. (2018): Peircean Semiotic and Multimodality: Towards a New Synthesis. In: Multimodal Communication 7.1: 20170021.
  • Bateman, J. A./Wildfeuer, J. (2014): A Multimodal Discourse Theory of Visual Narrative. Journal of Pragmatics 74: 180-218.
  • Cohn, N. (2016): A Multimodal Parallel Architecture: A Cognitive Framework for Multimodal Interactions. Cognition 146, 304-323.
  • Dunst, A. et al. (eds.) (2018): Empirical Comics Research. Digital, Multimodal, and Cognitive Methods. London: Routledge.
  • Forceville, C. (2010): Balloonics: The Visuals of Balloons in Comics. In: Goggin, Joyce/Hassler-Forest, Dan (eds.): The Rise and Reason of Comics and Graphic Literature: Critical Essays on the Form. McFarland & Co, 56-73.
  • Forceville, C. (2011): Pictorial Runes in Tintin and the Picaros. Journal of Pragmatics 43, 3: 875-890.
  • Lim, V. F. (2007): The Visual Semantics Stratum: Making Meaning in Sequential Images. In: Royce, Terry D./Bowcher, Wendy (eds.): New Directions in the Analysis of Multimodal Discourse. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 195-214.
  • Packard, S. (2006): Anatomie des Comics. Psychosemiotische Comicsanalyse. Göttingen: Wallstein.
  • Tseng, C. and Bateman, J. (2018). Cohesion in comics and graphic novels: an empirical comparative approach to transmedial adaptation in City of Glass. Adaptation: 11, 122-143

This talk presents a descriptive tool for analysing how cohesive mechanisms in comics guide readers’ narrative engagement and thematic interpretation. Cohesion in comics is a linguistics-informed, multimodal framework (Tseng & Bateman 2018, Tseng et al. 2018). It explains how characters, objects and settings in comic narratives are identified and tracked in verbal and visual modalities and what technical details of graphic composition afford visual-verbal tracking.


This presentation will start with introducing the analytical scheme of cohesion. More importantly, it shows how cohesion structures bridge the lower-level patterns of visual-verbal narrative composition to the higher-level interpretation of cultural conventions, such as stylistic and genre features. Drawing on the structures of cohesion in comic, we will then address the two aspects of comic analysis: The first aspect deals with empirical studies of comic narrative interpretation. We will present the potential of the analytical scheme to empirically approach readers’ narrative comprehension process. This includes employing cohesion structures to design eye-tracking and comprehension studies.


The second aspect concerns systematic genre/stylistic comparison and transmedia comparison. The cohesion analysis is particularly useful for uncovering the affordances and constraints of different media and materialities because the analytical scheme operates at the level of discourse semantics and is applicable beyond media boundaries. We will exemplify this by comparing visual-only, silent graphic novels and conventional comics. The similar comparative method will be applied to investigating comic adaptations. Taking Paul Auster’s novel City of Glass (1985) and its adaptation in graphic novel form by Karasik and Mazzuchelli (2004) as an example, we present a cross-media cohesion analysis that demonstrates how the mutually intertwining thematic shifts in the novel and its graphic novel adaptation differ. We argue that this is largely due to the affordances of their respective medium and apply this result to suggest how empirical findings on narrative involvement may be related more firmly to properties of the artifacts analysed. This opens up a path for the design of more focused empirical investigations of how comic adaptation may impact on readers’ processes of narrative perception.


  • Paul, A. (1985) City of Glass. In The New York Trilogy, 3–131, London: Faber and Faber.
  • Tseng, C. and Bateman, J. (2018). Cohesion in comics and graphic novels: an empirical comparative approach to transmedial adaptation in City of Glass. Adaptation: 11, 122-143
  • Tseng, C., Laubrock, J. and Pflaeging, J. (2018). Character developments in comics and graphic novels: A systematic analytical scheme. Laubrock, J., Wildfeuer, J. and Dunst, A. (ed.), Empirical Comics Research: Digital, Multimodal, and Cognitive Methods. London: Routledge.

It is a truism that sequential art, such as comics and graphic novels, involves sequence; clear empirical consequences of variations in sequential properties are well documented (cf. Cohn et al. 2012). Nevertheless, theorists such as Groensteen have long emphasised the existence of further sources of signification within comics and graphic novels that arise from inter-connections and configurations of elements that are not strictly linear (Groensteen 2007 [1999]). Moreover, notions of simple sequentiality have also been shown to be inadequate for characterising the signifying practices of comics because a variety of structural relationships beyond strict sequence also appear necessary (Cohn 2010).


How ‘broader’ page compositional properties of comics and graphic novels feed into our interpretation is still poorly understood, however, despite page layout being one of comics’ and graphic novels’ “most overt features” (Pederson and Cohn 2016: 7). On the one hand, different individual and cultural experiences with comics have been shown to lead to different expectations and practices concerning how relatively regular page compositions are read (Cohn, Taylor and Pederson 2017; Cohn, Axnér, Diercks, Yeh and Pederson 2017); and, on the other hand, it is also often proposed that distinct page compositions can have consequences for narrative interpretation as well (e.g., Fresnault-Deruelle 1976; Groensteen 2007 [1999]; Postema 2013).


In this presentation I attempt to move forward on this issue by exploring to what extent page composition as such may be seen in terms of a notion of visual genre, with different compositional strategies aligning with particular reading effects. This builds on our earlier work characterising page composition as an abstract level of description relevant for the medium of comics in a manner that is strictly visually based. Patterns of visual organisation, such as the mutual positioning of panels into larger groupings and re-occurrences and contrasts of visual patterns, will be focused on as holistic cues concerning the organisation that a reader expects to find in a page even before reading begins. Characterising these cues draws on our earlier corpus studies suggesting that there is both historical and genre-based variation of visual page compositional style (Bateman et al. 2017, 2019) and exploratory eye-tracking studies where we minimally varied page layout compositional features while keeping the order and content of panels constant (Bateman et al. 2018). It is suggested that adding in an indication of overall page compositional features may increase the accuracy of models predicting the order in which panels are taken up by readers and their assigned functional interpretations.


  • Bateman, J. A., Beckmann, A. and Varela, R. (2018), From Empirical Studies to Visual Narrative Organization: Exploring Page Composition, in A. Dunst, J. Laubrock and J. Wildfeuer, eds, ‘Empirical Comics Research. Digital, Multimodal,and Cognitive Methods’, Routledge, London and New York, pp. 127–153.
  • Bateman, J. A., Veloso, F. O. and Lau, Y. L. (2019), ‘On the track of visual style: a diachronic study of page composition     in     comics     and     its     functional      motivation’,      Visual      Communication      p. aop. URL:
  • Bateman, J. A., Veloso, F. O., Wildfeuer, J., Cheung, F. H. and Guo, N. S. (2017), ‘An open multilevel classification scheme for the visual layout of comics and graphic novels: motivation and design’, Journal of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 32(3), 476–510.
  • Cohn, N. (2010), ‘The limits of time and transitions: challenges to theories of sequential image comprehension’, Studies in Comics 1(1), 127–147.
  • Cohn, N., Axnér, J., Diercks, M., Yeh, R. and Pederson, K. (2017), ‘The cultural pages of comics: cross-cultural variation in page layouts’, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics . aop.
  • Cohn, N., Paczynski, M., Jackendoff, R., Holcomb, P. J. and Kuperberg, G. R. (2012), ‘(Pea)nuts and bolts of visual narrative: structure and meaning in sequential image comprehension’, Cognitive Psychology 65(1), 1–38.
  • Cohn, N., Taylor, R. and Pederson, K. (2017), ‘A Picture is Worth More Words Over Time: Multimodality and Narrative Structure Across Eight Decades of American Superhero Comics’, Multimodal Communication . aop.
  • Fresnault-Deruelle, P. (1976), ‘Du linéaire au tabulaire’, Communications 25, 7–23.
  • Groensteen, T. (2007 [1999]), The system of comics, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Miss. translated by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen, from the original French Système de la bande desinée (1999).
  • Pederson, K. and Cohn, N. (2016), ‘The changing pages of comics: Page layouts across eight decades of American superhero comics’, Studies in Comics 7(1), 7–28.
  • Postema, B. (2013), Narrative structures in comics: making sense of fragments, RIT Press, Rochester, New York.

If pragmaticist as opposed to specifically linguistic semiotics have been plentiful in the last two decades of broadening and widening comics studies (from Magnussen 2000 to Szawerna 2017), they have still failed to produce a consistent state of the art: Richly detailed lists of semiotic categories and sign relations seem to exhaust themselves in their own representation, and are rarely picked up for further analysis beyond their first introduction. Even for highly influential groundbreaking work such as Groensteen’s structuralist semiotics of comics (1999), the overarching arguments have proved to be more easily adapted in further analyses than the more specific semiotic niceties originally catalogued in their proof.


One explanation is given by Groensteen himself: If comics’ visual rhetorics are not a grammar in the strict sense, but depend on heautonomic poetic institution of ad hoc rules of inference for each presentation of the ‘solidarity of images’ on the shared space of the page, then any examination of the results of that rule-giving process threatens to become specific to a style, comic, or even instance. On the other hand, a linguistic approach that does posit a visual language on some level (Cohn 2013), while impressively effective in its explanatory power, may circumvent the poetic qualities altogether that originally interest many semiotic endeavors.


To complement these approaches with a perspective that foregrounds the methods of instantial rule- making in the process of reading comic pages, i.e. reverse inductive and abductive syllogisms that yield hypothetical rules rather than deduce results, I submit a psychosemiotic approach that combines Peircean semiotic categories with a concept of desire or interestingness that explains a selection and preference in actual semiosis in the face of the vast array of semiotic possibilities opened up by pragmaticist sign theory in general – realizing Peirce’ intention to create not only a calculus, but also tools “that […] have not been contrived with a view to being used as a calculus, but on the contrary for a purpose opposed to that” (Peirce 1908, 424). Reaching back to Peirce’ approach to existential and essential graphs as both a means of reasoning and of representing arguments through circumferences and delimited, intersecting spaces on flat surfaces, we may look at the contours of cartoons, panel elements and panel lines on the page as an invitation for rule-giving processes that ground cohesion even as they define its proper rules.


  • Cohn, N. (2013). The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Groensteen, T (1999): Système de la bande dessinée. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Magnussen, A. (2000): The Semiotics of C.S. Peirce as a Theoretical Framework for the Understanding of Comics. In: Magnussen, Anne/Christiansen, Hans-Christian (eds.): Comics & Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics. Cophenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press University of Copenhagen, 193-207.
  • Peirce. C.S.: Some Amazing Mazes (1908/2009). The Monist Papers. Ed. In: Bizanz, E.: The Logic of Interdisciplinarity. Berlin: Akademie Verla.
  • Szawerna, M. (2017): Metaphoricity of Conventionalized Diegetic Images in Comics. A Study in Multimodal Cognitive Linguistics. (Łódź Studies in Language, 54.) Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.

12:30 – 14:00

Lunch Break

14:00 – 15:30


Panel Chair: Mihaela Precup

When we talk about comics in general and museum comics in particular, we usually address graphic narratives in the form of books, booklets, or comic strips in magazines or newspapers, as well as webcomics. The play with the genuine architecture of the respective carrier medium is inherent to both digital and analog comic formats: Particularly in the body of the book or magazine, a three-dimensional space opens up that is traversed by reading and leafing through. Recurring image motifs are often interwoven in this space and form a thread running through the narrative, a phenomenon that Thierry Groensteen refers to as braiding (Groensteen 2007).


In my contibuiton on Horst Stein’s Haydn cycle (Hanak-Lettner 2017), I focus on yet another form of graphic narratives that transcends the boundaries of the carrier media paper and screen and extends the comic into the three-dimensional, architectural interior as I will address comics and elements of comics in exhibition contexts that fulfill both aesthetic and mediating functions (Eggert 2020).


The Haydn cycle, which Horst Stein created in cooperation with Werner Hanak-Lettner for the permanent exhibition at the Haydn birthplace in Rohrau, will be used as an example to discuss some of the aesthetic and mediating tasks that comics and elements of comics can perform in exhibitions. In accordance with the theme of the conference, the main focus will be on the coherence function of the graphic narration in two respects: I will show how (and to what extent) the seven sheets of the cycle create inter- and intramedial connections both in relation to their own storyline and in relation to the storyline of the exhibition narrative unfolding across several rooms. In this context, the definition and significance of the original for the context of the comic exhibition will also be critically reflected upon.


Selective bibliography

  • Bachmann, C. (2016). Metamedialität und Materialität im Comic. Zeitungscomic – Comicheft – Comicbuch. Berlin: Ch. A. Bachmann.
  • Bohnenkamp, A. & Vanderath, S. (Hrsg.) (2011). Wort-Räume. Zeichen-Wechsel. Augen-Poesie. Zur Theorie und Praxis von Literaturausstellungen. Frankfurt a. M.: Wallstein.
  • Bohnenkamp, A., Breuer, C., Kahl, P. & Rhein, S. (Hrsg.) (2015). Häuser der Erinnerung. Zur Geschichte der Personengedenkstätte in Deutschland. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt.
  • Eggert, B. M. (2020). Für Ausstellungen gemacht? In: A. M. Loffredo (Hrsg.) unter Mitarbeit von B. M. Eggert, Ran an die Wand, rein in die Vitrine! Internationale Positionen zum Ausstellen von Comics in der pädagogischen und musealen Praxis (S. 22–37). München: kopäd.
  • Groensteen, T. (2007). The System of Comics. Trans. Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Hanak-Lettner, W. (2017). Joseph und Michael Haydn. Von Rohrau in die Welt. AK Haydn Geburtshaus Rohrau. St. Pölten: Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum.
  • Martinz-Turek, C. (2009). Folgenreiche Unterscheidungen. Über Storylines im Museum. In: C. Martinz-Turek & M. Sommer-Sieghart (Hrsg.), Storyline. Narrationen im Museum (S. 15-30). Wien: Turia + Kant.
  • Potsch, S. (2019). Literatur sehen. Vom Schau- und Erkenntniswert literarischer Originale im Museum. Bielefeld: transcript.
  • Seibert, P. (2011). Literaturausstellungen und ihre Geschichte. In: A. Bohnenkamp & S. Vanderath (Hrsg.), Wort-Räume. Zeichen-Wechsel. Augen-Poesie. Zur Theorie und Praxis von Literaturausstellungen (S. 15–37). Frankfurt a. M.: Wallstein.

Although I constantly chastise my students not to use the cliché “thinking outside the box,” for this paper I want to turn this aphorism inside out and consider how the figure of the box appears in a number of self-consciously “art” comics as a metaphor for longing and desire. Recent scholarship in comics studies has accorded more attention to the materiality of comics and how they function as objects (Kashton, Szep). Most famously, Chris Ware’s Building Stories is a box of stories which invites slower, more intimate reading than a conventionally sized book. Mini-comics, which are typically only available in local independent bookstores, comics festivals, or book fairs, can sometimes be literally tiny, encourage a more personal connection with both the artist and the book itself. Reading a small book takes time and care, transforming the reading experience into something more intimate. Why is this the case, and why is the trope of the box so enchanting?


Referencing Susan Stewarts’s work on “the miniature” in On Longing (1984) and Sianne Ngai’s theorization of the “cute” in Our Aesthetic Categories (2012), I propose to follow this trope through a number of recent graphic narratives including the Tongues series (2017-2019) by Nils Anders, Anti-Gone by Connor Willumsen (2017), Why Art? by Eleanor Davis (2018) and various works by Chris Ware including most prominently Monograph (2017), an autobiographical catalogue of his work (including a tiny mini comic on page 71). The purpose is not to impose a uniform reading upon all of these narratives, but to analyze common threads of longing shared among them through nostalgia, childhood, and the suspension of time. Considering the figure of the box easily aligns with the conference theme of closure in narrative space and time.

Academic comics, separate from data comics, are rising in popularity as more journals and publishers peer review and distribute these works. While the topic of authorial voice, and particularly the use of the first person singular, has been examined within standards of scholarly writing, the discussion of an academic authorial voice or a graphic first-person singular has not been thoroughly addressed. This paper will present both an oral and visual presentation of the graphic “I” in academic comics, in comparison to autobiographic, biographic, and ‘non-fiction’ comics, considering the different manifestations of an authorial voice within Fei Victor Lim’s integrative multi-semiotic model (2004), and positioning Bakhtinian productive heteroglossia by applying Bredehoft’s approach to graphic novels (2011) within the practice of co-authored academic comics. This paper considers the merit of the graphic “I” as a “form that functions” in sequential art, as outlined by Pagliaro (2014). As academic comics gain traction, a discussion about the nuances of a graphic representation of the scholar(s), and its impact on the coherence of a text, becomes increasingly urgent. This paper does not propose specific rules of academic ‘comicsing,’ but rather examines the range of uses and considers some implications of a graphic narrative inclusion of the author(s).

Graphic Proposal (c) Dr. Elizabeth Allyn Woock, Department of English and American Studies, Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic

15:30 – 16:00


16:00 – 17:15

KEYNOTE Charles Forceville

In all narratives, irrespective of medium, the following questions are crucial: which agency narrates and which agency focalizes? The relation between narration and focalization (roughly: perspective) is one of the most intriguing, important, and complex issues in narratology. Complicating factors are, first, that a narrator can be a character in the story or an external (i.e., non-character) narrator; second, that narration and focalization can, but need not, coincide; and third, that narration and focalization can be embedded in each other, resulting in the meta-representation of views and perspectives.


In comics and graphic novels these issues become even more intricate, since the medium involves two modes: visuals and written language. That is, narrative agencies can (1) narrate (visually and/or verbally); (2) focalize (perceptually or mentally); or (3) both. The central question addressed in this paper is: how can speech, thought, perception, and experience be (meta)represented visually or multimodally in comics/graphic novels?

17:15 – 17:30


17:30 – 19:00


presented by the Austrian Comics Society (OeGeC Österreichische Gesellschaft für Comic-Forschung und -Vermittlung)

Austrian author and journalist Vina Yun talks about her comic Homestories about the Korean diaspora in Vienna and gives a multi-media presentation. Her talk and presentation will be in German.

Saturday, 16 Oct., 2021

09:00 – 11:00

PANEL 4: Linguistic and Cognitive Approaches to the Visual Language of Comics

Panel Chair: Neil Cohn


This panel features four talks that each probe aspects of how comics communicate using linguistic theory and/or psychological experimentation. Across these presentations, we show the benefit of formalizing explicit theories of comics’ structure and testing those theories using empirical methods.

How do people make sense of the conventions in comics, like upfixes, which are elements (e.g. gears or lightbulbs) that float above characters’ heads? This study examined how people interpret face-upfix pairs by combining them with words stating literal meanings (like “gears” for the floating gears), compared to symbolic meanings (like “thinking” for floating gears). Participants judged the congruity between words and face-upfix pairs, where the upfixes either matched or mismatched with their facial expression. We measured both how well participants thought the words matched the face-upfix pairs, and how long it took participants to make this judgment. Either word or upfix could appear first. Overall, the results indicated that the symbolic meaning of matching-face upfix pairs is ingrained in memory, which supports the view that conventions like upfixes belong as part of a visual vocabulary stored in the minds of comic creators and readers.

To depict the dynamic out of the static, comics use motion lines (also action or speed lines) trailing behind an object to convey its path or movement. Although motion lines are conventionalized representations of motion, there is no consensus on what they are or how they derive meaning. “Perceptual views” propose that motion lines represent streaks in our visual system, while the diametrically opposed “metaphorical views” consider motion lines as metaphorical devices (Kennedy, 1982; Forceville, 2005) and similarly “developmental views” state young children cannot understand these pictorial devices because they do not exist in reality (Friedman & Stevenson, 1975). Finally, Visual Language Theory (Cohn, 2013) considers motion lines as lexical items in a “visual vocabulary,” explaining cross-cultural variation in structure and understanding of motion lines. This presentation will synthesize and compare these different theories about motion lines, and review the experimental research on their understanding.


Understanding comics requires readers to recognize that an entity in one panel is the same as in a prior/subsequent panel. These constraints allow for continuity across panels, and thus a congruent sequence. However, some sequences are still coherent while purposely disrupting this continuity, like when a person in one panel imagines themselves as an elephant in the next panel. Consequently, an entity in one panel can look radically different in another, yet retain its identity. Such discontinuity is meant to resolved with a “conceptual blend”, which combines both the story world domain and imaginative domain in one meaningful interpretation. This presentation studies the mechanisms underlying such constructions via analyzing a corpus of Calvin & Hobbes and JA! comics. Together it will present a theory describing typologies of blend representations and how they manifest across a number of structures (e.g. morphological, spatial, narrative, and conceptual). This theory aims to be applicable to blend constructions in general and provide a detailed approach to explain comprehension of coherent discontinuity in visual sequences.

The ComFor CFP asks “Does it help at all to speak of a ‘grammar’ or ‘language’ of comics?” I will argue that addressing this question is not matter of perceived theoretical “help”, but one of empirical adequacy. Here, I will review such evidence to show that analysis of comics from around the world demonstrate variability that is consistent with those in spoken languages. Furthermore, I will show how studies of the sequencing of comics evoke the same brain responses as found in manipulations of grammar in language. Altogether, I will argue that the value of a theory is in its ability to account for the observed and collected evidence, and this is status claimed about theories of visual languages and their grammars.

11:00 – 11:30


11:30 – 12:45

KEYNOTE Barbara Postema

I will apply the terminology and the methodologies laid out in my book Narrative Structure in Comics to the genre of wordless comics, using Shaun Tan’s graphic novel The Arrival (2006) as my main case study. The structured nature of comics signification allows for complex meanings to be made from fragments: gaps in graphic narratives invite readers to fill in those blanks while offering all the codes necessary to complete the process. Thus, in comics, absences and elisions signify in the abstracted drawn image, the page layout, the sequence, in image-text combinations, and of course in the narrative, where gaps are frequently elevated into a motif. Through consideration of images and their intertextuality and intermediality, as well as how the structured application of panels, borders, and sequences work in Shaun Tan’s graphic novel, I will argue how specifically the wordless aspect of The Arrival drives and affects the narrative. The missing element, verbal text, means that this comic is ostensibly lacking the multimodal feature of image-text combinations that is so often seen as fundamental to the comics form. The absence of this dimension, and the attention the work continuously draws to that absence, becomes central to the meaning of this graphic novel. 

12:45 – 14:30

Lunch Break

14:30 – 16:00


Panel Chair: Barbara Margarethe Eggert

As Jack Halberstam writes in Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, skin “houses the body”, and in Gothic fiction, skin represents “the ultimate boundary, the material that divides the inside from the outside” – until “the outside becomes the inside and the hide no longer conceals or contains”. Analogously, panel frames, functioning as protective skins, house the diegetic world of the comic book, but are sometimes not ‘strong’ enough to enclose their insubordinate content. In Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, the integrity of the comic book page is sometimes fortified by an additional frame, mimicking neatly carved and richly ornamented picture frames, in an effort to stabilize the innovative layout and the disturbing content within. In Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle, the protective skin of visible panel frames has been peeled away for the greater part of the comic. Countermeasures have been taken by additionally structuring the layout within the panels, by frame-like objects and structures such as doors, windows, or picture frames. Frames have uncannily moved from the panel’s fringes to their interior, providing a countermovement to the protagonists, who, literally and horrifyingly, make their inside their new outside by shedding their skins. In Carroll’s A Lady’s Hands Are Cold, a dead body, gruesomely hacked to pieces, is put together again, evoking Victor Frankenstein’s work on his creature. In an equal manner, fragmented and frameless illustrations are woven together by a bloody, elongated speech bubble, mimicking the red ribbons which provisorily hold together the body parts. To continue using the body as an analogy, comic pages could be described as containing the parts of a fragmented body, or individual body organs, which need to be coaxed into working together as a functioning body by various framing and linking techniques.

The manga Helter Skelter by Kyoho Okazaki, originally published in the Feel Young magazine from 1995 to 1996 and collected into a single volume in 2003, is a graphic narrative that discusses the deconstruction of the contemporary concept of beauty through a story that focus its attention into the life of its protagonist: Liliko, a supermodel. By presenting the disintegration of her body and her physical and psychological degradation, the manga discusses the mechanisms of regulation and control over the female body in order to make it look attractive and, in the context of the story, both erotically desirable and appealing to be consumed as an image. Even though, that the manga was published years ago and received a number of prizes including the Grand Prize at the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize (2004) and a nomination to the Official Selection at the Angoulême International Comics Festival (2008), its relevance is highly significant nowadays since it explores how the female body has enter into a machinery of power that exposes, breaks and rearrange the body in order to be transformed into a merchandise with an economical value. Additionally, the manga re-examines the visual aesthetics of the manga created for a female reader by using a style that functions as a metaphor of the association between beauty and perversity. Consequently, the purpose of this paper is to examine the Helter Skelter’s visual and narrative aspects associated to the problematization of the concept of beauty and its relation to mechanisms of control and power in the contemporary fashion industry.

This paper analyzes the graphic novel Madgermanes (2016) by German writer and illustrator Birgit Weyhe through a transnational and postcolonial framework. Madgermanes documents the often-overlooked history of the roughly 20,000 Mozambican contract workers brought to the GDR in the late 1970s. The text engages in an act of “retelling” that positions the stories of the contract workers within the national framework of German history, thereby complicating contemporary conceptions of German self-understanding and identity. This paper seeks to understand how exactly notions of German identity are constructed within the graphic novel, which has been described as an expression of Weyhe’s “rejection of nationalist conceptions of home or belonging.”1 Drawing upon Fatima El-Tayeb’s European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe (2011), this project uncovers the ways in which the text manifests the “invisible racialization” El-Tayeb posits as “the peculiar coexistence of, on the one hand, a regime of continentwide recognized visual markers that construct nonwhiteness as non-Europeanness with on the other a discourse of colorblindness that claims not to ‘see’ racialized difference.”2 This ambivalence of visibility/invisibility as it relates to whiteness/Blackness and Germanness can be analyzed in the graphic novel via what is said, what is shown, and via the contradictions in between.


Using Charles Hatfield’s theory of tensions within comics, this study pays particular attention to the coherencies and incoherencies produced through the autobiographical framing of the text, the use of stereotypical and associative images, and the depictions of Blackness and whiteness, questioning how tensions emerge via the various constructions of German identity in the text and to what extent they challenge or uphold the narrative of national identity. I argue that while certain thematic aspects of Madgermanes, such as the acknowledgement of African presences in personal and official German histories and the multilayered engagement with notions of home and belonging may appear transgressive, the way in which the narratives are positioned in transnational and postcolonial frameworks actually functions to reinforce the coherent understanding of German identity as white and prohibit the imagination and manifestation of Black German identity. Viewing Weyhe’s text as just one example of literary engagement with German identities that exist across, outside, and in between the normative categories of white, Christian, and born in Germany, this paper seeks to make a productive contribution to the study of German-language graphic novels, seeing the concept of “incoherence” as integral to what Mirjam Brusius refers to as a “radical rethinking” of discourses on memory and identity within the German academic sphere.3


1 Kraenzle, Christina. “Risking Representation: Abstraction, Affect, and the Documentary Mode in Birgit Weyhe’s Madgermanes.” Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, Vol. 56, Nos. 3-4, Nov. 2020, pp. 222.

2 El-Tayeb, Fatima. European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. University of Minnesota Press, 2011, pp. xxiv.

3 Brusius, Mirjam. “Stones Can Talk Back: Vergangenheitsbewältigung Revisted.” The New Fascism Syllabus, 9 June 2021,, Accessed 24 June 2021.

16:00 – 16:30


16:30 – 18:00


Panel Chair: Lukas R.A. Wilde

This paper will look at the way John Byrne uses visual continuity in the Marvel Universe, in the form of direct and indirect quotation of panels by other artists, to first disrupt existing storyworld cohesion by introducing new elements of his own, and then to reinforce the ‘canonicity’ of this new version of events, and thus his own authorship. Examples will be taken from three issues of his run of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, featuring the stories ‘This Land Is Mine’ (Fantastic Four #247, October 1982), ‘Interlude’ (Fantastic Four #258, September 1983) and ‘True Lies’ (Fantastic Four #278, May 1985).


These three stories see Byrne making changes to the history of the Fantastic Four, and especially to that of Doctor Doom. In each case he uses visual quotation of previous events in the Marvel diegesis to reward the knowledge of long-term fans, before altering the history previously established and then finally reinforcing this alteration, and reassuring readers, by returning to further quotation.


Quoting images was common practice at a time when monthly comics regularly recapped previous issues as part of their story content, but Byrne adapted this by redrawing specific images from different angles, hinting that his re-telling was literally from a slightly different viewpoint, while also implying that he stands next to the original artists as both storyteller and creator of canon. Information is taken from a larger project involving a close reading of all appearances of Doctor Doom during ‘The Marvel Age’ (1961 to 1987). The project seeks to identify and track the components of transmedia character cohesion, and this paper draws on three of these components in particular – ‘Past Events’, ‘Textual Authorship’ and ‘Market Authorship’. The term ‘Past Events’ refers to all previous events from the wider storyworld which are directly mentioned within the text. This paper will show how Byrne manipulates existing past events, such as the accident that scarred Doom’s face or his overthrow of the previous ruler of Latveria, into new shapes, and by doing so highlights his own status within the other two relevant components as ‘Textual Author’ and ‘Market Author’. By using his status as a ‘Textual Author’ (credited for generating part of the actual text) to overthrow and reinterpret the work of all those who have gone before him, he stakes his claim as the pre-eminent ‘Market Author’ i.e. one whose name is associated with the character as a selling point, irrespective of the creative input to a specific text.


The paper will demonstrate this practice through the use of examples taken from the texts themselves, placed beside the original images quoted to show how Byrne uses image quotation to re-shape the history of the vast Marvel storyworld, and to stake his own claim as one of its most important creators.



  • Bertetti, P., 2014. Toward a Typology of Transmedia Characters. International Journal of Communication, p. 2344–2361.
  • Byrne, John  (w, a). “This Land Is Mine!”. Fantastic Four v1 #247 (Oct. 1982), Marvel Comics.
  • Byrne, John (w, a). “Interlude”. Fantastic Four v1 #258 (Sep. 1983), Marvel Comics.
  • Byrne, John (w), John Byrne (p), Jerry Ordway (i). “True Lies”. Fantastic Four v1 #278 (May. 1985), Marvel Comics.
  • Freeman, M., 2016. Historicising Transmedia Storytelling. London: Routledge.
  • Klastrup, L. & Tosca, S., 2004. Transmedial worlds – Rethinking cyberworld design. Tokyo, Japan, IEEE Computer Society.
  • Pearson, R. & Uricchio, W., 1991. The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media. London: Routledge.
  • Ryan, M.-L., 2014. Tuning the Instruments of a Media-Conscious Narratology. In: M. Ryan & J. Thon, eds. Storyworlds Across Media: Toward a Media-Conscious Narratology. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, pp. 25-49.
  • Thon, J.-N., 2019. Transmedia characters: Theory and analysis. Frontiers of Narrative Studies, 5(2), pp. 176-199.

Final Crisis, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnke and Marco Rudy, with Alexis Sinclair as the main colorist, and an army of inkers too long to possibly cite here, was published by DC Comics in 2008. Announced as the main event of the summer season, the book rapidly experienced delays and artistic changes which impaired its success. At the same time, it was received by fans with confusion and a certain amount of contempt. The most frequent lobbied criticism against the story was that it did not make sense, that it was hard to follow and that it required an enormous amount of knowledge of the DC Universe in order to be understood. These criticisms did not diminish after a final issue and conclusion which eschewed conventional narrative resolutions and privileged metatextual ideas about what a crossover is and what is the nature of stories in the DC universe.


This is particularly interesting when one considers Final Crisis in relation to the first crossover launched by DC, Crisis on Infinite Earths, to which it is a kind of spiritual heir (hence the “crisis” in the title). COIE was supposed to be an agent of order, to relaunch the DC Universe as a fictional place with a well-defined history and structure. But the concept of the crossover, by its very nature, is prone to uncontrolled growth, contradictions and narrative fugues. So, the well-ordered universe that was supposed to spin out of COIE rapidly started unraveling, starting a discussion about its nature that could be said to continue until today in DC Comics.


Confronting the concepts of narrative collapse as developed by Douglas Rushkoff, and of general arthrology as proposed by Thierry Groensteen, I aim to analyze Final Crisis as the logical endpoint of a tendency in superhero crossovers to slide towards incoherence, a tendency that is the consequence both of the complexity of superhero universes and of the collective nature of superhero comic making. Which ideas about superhero stories does Final Crisis propose? How does switch permanently between textual and metatextual considerations? How did the process of its production impact on its themes and reception by its audience?  Up to which point can arthrology actually “work” in a superhero crossover, which by its very nature is meant to connect with the entirety of a fictional universe across multiple titles?

Reading comics necessitates a different collection of cognitive-motor skills than reading a text-only narrative or engaging in face-to-face storytelling.  Combinations of text bubbles, captions, frame size and page turns, married to individual images or sequences help the reader create a cognitive space for the story, allowing them to develop anticipations of what’s to come, while simultaneously indulging in surprising violations of those expectations.  Such violations vary in scale (e.g., between panel relationships, across pages, and across volumes) and index (e.g., POV change between frames, changes in panel size, and narratively generated characterization changes).


If we define coherence in comics as the writer’s ability to produce text and influence artwork that affords non-contradictory world-building (establishing the customs and rules of the environment within the narrative) on the part of the reader, is there merit in violating expectations through decoherence?  Or more succinctly, what is the value in surprise?


In our talk, we will propose and demonstrate the aesthetic and pedagogical utility of providing readers with comic books that afford world building opportunities that lead to the generation of implicit anticipations, but ultimately, and successfully violate those expectations.  Specifically, we propose that comic books can be seen as a technology that capitalizes on the neuro-cognitive dynamics of daily life, allowing readers to organically develop immersive and complex narrative worlds.  In short, we will demonstrate that manipulating the coherence in comic books can help individuals grow.


Cognitive scientist/philosopher, Dr. Scott Jordan and independent comic author/publisher, Victor Dandridge, Jr will combine their expertise to provide both an analytic description of the neuro-dynamics that afford world building and expectation generation in daily life, as well as an analytic/phenomenological description–inspired  by the work of Merleau-Ponty—of how these contextually embodied neuro-dynamics are exploited in the 144-issue run of the hit series, Invincible (co-created by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker, with Ryan Ottley as Illustrator). Dr. Jordan and Mr. Dandridge will sample specific panels, text bubbles, captions, page turns, and characterization changes, throughout the series, to demonstrate how the narrative accomplishes coherence and surprise across multiple scales. The presenters will also demonstrate how these key moments deconstruct the reader’s assumptive world building and force the creation of new models. What are moments of catastrophic reorganization are signatures of growth, placed at strategic narrative forks that address issues of power, authority, gender roles, and individual versus group identity. Invincible compels readers to develop more sophisticated, nuanced models against these concepts; inspiring them to grow into more complex, cognitive agents.

18:00 – 18:15

Conference Closing