Author: Nick

Comics and Narration by Thierry Groensteen

Comics and Narration
Thierry Groensteen
trans. Ann Miller

I picked up this book having struggled with The System of Comics translated by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen. While I loved the direct analysis of that book, much of it was difficult to understand. Part of that was just due to reading theory; it takes some time to get into someone else’s mode of thought and terminology. But part of it was due to the stilted sentence structures and odd choices of words. So I was surprised to find Comics and Narration so readable. Sure, there were complicated ideas and I had to slow down and even reread passages at times, but by and large the book was engaging. I even found myself charmed by the tone, something I would never say about the previous book. So this begs the question: did Groensteen’s writing get better or is Ann Miller a much better translater than Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen? My French is too elementary for me to know for sure, but comments Groensteen has made on-line (see comments here) point to the latter. Melissa Loucks and the writer at Critical Takes also think this.

That being said, this book is an extension of The System of Comics, so a working knowledge of that book is necessary to engage with this book. One drawback to that is that it makes this book feel like a series of appendices more than a solid entity at times. Still, Groensteen’s ruminations of narration and rhythm are insightful. What I always appreciate about Groensteen is that he grounds his theory in an analysis of actual texts and his ultimate goal is how his theory can be practically applied to actual texts.

Like Barabra Postema, Groensteen states that a single panel “can evoke a story” (23). Yet he sides more with Scott McCloud in further stating that a single panel cannot be a narration, since, by definition, a narration needs a beginning and an end. Still, he discusses comics relationship to time and that sequence creates a sense of time and that the gutters leave space for the reader to fill in. This may not sound like anything new, but Groensteen breaks things down even further into shown, intervened, and signified. These categories indicate the level of engagement of the reader. The shown is what is exists in the panel or “that which the monstrator displays to us” (37). The intervened is what the reader assumes to have happened between panels (38). As Groensteen implies, the length of the intervened can create rhythm. He offers a page by Jason (on page 150) in which the intervened is mostly just the back and forth between two characters talking, while the last panel offers a longer intervened time. So the final panel introduces a new rhythm, and so a new scene. Lastly, signified, as I understand it, seems a bit like connotation. It is when what is shown is not literal, but figurative. The image alludes to an idea or feeling. We might call this a visual metaphor or symbol. The example Groensteen uses is on the cover of the book and on page 49. In it, Jimmy Corrigan turns into a child while talking to his mother. Neither is he literally a child, nor is his mother literally standing next to him. Yet the conversation evokes these feelings and memories for Jimmy. This idea that Jimmy is remembering a previous time with his mother and therefor feels childlike and helpless is signified by the images (39). Groensteen’s overall point with this is to give us a new way of ascertaining “artistic achievement” (41). Stories that simply show and in which the intervened is simple to deduce from the shown are more simplistic works. Works that engage the reader further and make us try to understand the signified are more complex works.

As I quoted above, in this book Groensteen employs the terms monstrator and monstration first coigned by André Gaudreault. I’m excited by this because I too have taken to using monstration. However, I avoid the term monstrator, because I want to get away from the linguistic obsession with who makes the utterance. For me, narration is what is told and monstration is what is shown. I don’t care who the narrator is (unless it’s important for the story). Groensteen, however, is concerned with enunciation and so the monstrator decides what to show and the monstration is the effect of that decision (86). Furthermore, Groensteen makes the monstrator a subset of the narrator. For him, the narrator is the “high[est] enunciating source” (94). The narrator then selects what is told and what is shown, in the roles of the reciter and the monstrator. So Groensteen’s theory is couched firmly in structuralism. While I personally don’t wish to use these terms, they do allow Groensteen to theorize about the various roles the two play, which he discusses on pages 90-95.

The other major theme in this book, which I briefly mentioned above, is rhythm. Groensteen mostly discusses panel layout, but also considers how words affect rhythm. While I liked this, I wished that he had gone further. Layout creates rhythm of course, but so does the relative visual density of the panels. So does the amount of time in the intervened. As I showed above, Groensteen hints at this possibility. Again, the fact the Jason chooses to end his page with a panel that implies a longer space of intervened time creates a change in rhythm to the end of the page. If Groensteen didn’t say this explicitly, he pointed the way. In other words, he has invited us to continue where he left off, which is one of the great gifts of well-written theory.

Overall, I’m glad this book exists. First, it proves to us English readers that Groensteen can be an accessible writer. It also gives us new modes of analysis and jumping off points for our own theorizing. Comics and Narration is both useful and inspiring.

making a real crow quill

For years I had thought it would be cool to make a crow quill pen out of a real crow feather. As it turns out, one of my neighbors takes a walk every early morning and feeds the local crows. My wife told him about my interest in pen-and-ink and my desire to try out some crow feathers. So this man very kindly collected feathers as he made his morning rounds. Every week or so another package of two or three feathers would be left on my porch. In a short time, I had a tidy little collection.

crow feathers

I have been holding onto this collection for a few months now, continually telling myself that I should get to making some pens. Well, the holiday season gave me the proper impetus and I finally got around to making some.

The instructions I followed came from here and here. According to these directions, the first step was to prep the shaft. To do that I had to scrape off some of the loose detritus and strip off some of the lowest barbs. At first, I tried scraping off the barbs with my knife, but I found that wasn’t very effective. I discovered that I could simply pull the barbs off with my fingers.

pulling off barbs from crow feather

After the feathers were cleaned and stripped, they were ready to be tempered.

crow feathers

I tempered my feathers in an old cookie tin filled with sand that I heated in my oven. I think now that a deeper tin, such as a coffee can, wold probably be better.

crow feathers in sand

After the sand cooled down, the feathers were ready to be cut. I ran into a lot of problems at this stage. The shaft was easy to crack and sometimes slits cut into it would run in odd directions. I found that I couldn’t cut perpendicular to the shaft with any downward pressure or the shaft would crack. I also discovered that I had to use the sharpest knife possible. So I cracked off the old edge to my utility knife and continued with a fresh blade. This made things proceed a lot more smoothly.

A cracked shaft on an early attempt.

By about the third feather, things started to come together and I wasn’t simply mutilating the shafts. Finally, I was able to get something that resembled a quill.

I still have some more feathers to cut and give as gifts. Still, drawing with some of the ones I made hasn’t convinced me to shift from metal nibs. The metal nibs are just some much stronger and more reliable. Still, using a real feather quill is fun and there is something romantic about it. Almost everyone who sees one wants to use it.

The Walking Dead – episode 607

In this episode we finally get back to the meat of the show.

I really liked episode 604, and not just since I’m an aikidoist who also takes care of goats. It was important to see what happened to Morgan. More importantly, the episode offered a feeling of hope that had been missing from the show for a long time. The fact that this feeling was communicated through the words of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, just made me love the episode all the more. Still, it was a dirty delay keeping us in the dark about what really happened to Glenn at the end of episode 603. Episode 605 showed how the average people of Alexandria were dealing with the events of the first few episodes. This was necessary, but the episode felt padded. It was odd not to see Rick and Carol discuss their experiences and process the events and make plans for next steps. And still the truth about Glenn was delayed. Episode 606 felt even more like filler. I’m guessing the group that Daryl came across will come up in a later episode, but otherwise nothing was advanced except for the possibility that Daryl may not be so noble with the next people he meets. But we’ve seen Daryl go through this before and so the episode seemed like fodder to extend the delay regarding the truth of Glenn’s fate. And, I’m sorry, Norman Reedus just isn’t a good enough actor to hold up an entire episode.

And I was right (as was most everyone else). Glenn lives. I have to say though that the delay of this reveal took some of the steam out of my annoyance at how contrived the whole thing was. But to carry on my prediction, I think Maggie will only see Glenn for a moment before he is finally killed by a new threat. I think this because of both the comic and what happened to Beth last season. We’ll see if I’m right.

Yet it is a bit odd that Glenn seems not to be affected at all by what happened to him. He just seems to need some water and he’s good to go. After failing with Nicholas, he’s ready to try it all over again with Enid. It makes his whole fake death seem even more pointless.

I’m still not sure about Enid. In this episode she doesn’t seem like she’s with anyone, especially not the Wolves. Still, the things she said in episode 602 make me think there’s more to her story than we’ve been shown.

The best thing about this episode is that it brings all the differing philosophies to the surface without hammering any one of them to death. The interrogation of Morgan was really well done and we can see how much Morgan wants to prove to himself that there is another way to be in this world, a different way than Rick and Carol take. Michonne seems more in the middle. While she thinks Morgan’s beliefs are too simplistic she likewise thinks Rick’s way of going about things is too narrow-minded. There’s something bigger at stake and Deanna, while seemingly naive, is a part of that bigger picture.

While I liked this episode overall, I think the whole thing with Spenser was a non-starter. It seemed to be there only to put someone in danger and to make Rick realize that, hey, maybe he really cares about life after all. And Carl is a jerk. I guess that makes sense for the age the character is and what he’s gone through. Still, he was lording it over Ron when Rick was teaching him how to hold a gun. And do Rick and Carl really have no idea that Ron might, you know, be a little mad that Rick killed his father? I guess maybe guilt is making Rick extend a hand to Ron, but you’d think Carl would be a little suspicious at least. Oh, and apparently Tara can’t miss now.

I’m not sure what to make of the entire Carol/Sam conversation. I like that it happened, though it was odd that supposedly Jessie couldn’t hear them while Sam had to shout from the second floor. But Carol’s words were chilling. It seems odd that after her experience with a homicidal child earlier that she’d tell a kid that killing is what keeps you from being a monster. I don’t think this is going to end well.

Overall, episode 607 felt like the real version of what episode 605 was trying to be. This time, the plot lines, character arcs, and philosophical competitions are all moving again. I hope the show can keep firing on all cylinders for awhile.

e+m antique style turned penholder

e+m antique turned penholder

I just got a new e+m antique penholder. It’s a beautiful thing to behold. The one I have is lighter in color than I expected, but it’s still a nice piece of mahogany.

e+m E+M antique penholder pen holder

The nib is held in place with a metal ring and internal prongs (if anyone knows an official term for this, let me know). This is the same sort of mechanism as used in the Koh-i-noor, Brause, and General’s penholders. The only drawback I’ve encountered with this mechanism is that sometimes the metal prongs get a little weak. I’ve taken to placing an old nib in the holder with a new one in such cases.

e+m antique penholder with Leonardt 30 nib

The e+m antique penholder fits a Leonardt 30 snuggly.

e+m antique penholder and e+m  artist penholder

And here’s the e+m antique penholder next to an e+m artist penholder (which I wrote about before).

The e+m antique holder fits nicely into my hand and I like it’s length. The one caveat I have about it is that it is very light. I prefer a nib with a bit more heft. Still, I think I’ll be using this nib holder a lot and it makes an attractive edition to my collection.

e+m antique turned mahogany nib holder

I got mine at Paper & Ink Arts.

And on the subject of links, Jet Pens has a great guide to nibs and nib holders.