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Berlin Project



Team Members (l to r): Katie Kelp-Stebbins, Dan Reynolds, Christopher Hagenah




Every book seeking to expound upon comics theory and elevate the medium from its low-art status begins from a relatively defensive stance, as if these writers find it necessary to excuse themselves from the impetus of their endeavor, and prove that comic books are a worthy subject of inquiry. The precariousness of comics as a worthy and unique medium has limited the development of vocabulary and methodology for its critical study. Recently comics have been referred to as the ninth art (there is some debate about the eighth), and many theorists write as if they have to work against the decades of derision to conclusively demonstrate the medium's artfulness. We reject many of the descriptive terms used to designate different types of comics: Graphic Novel--is an attempt to elevate comics by equating them with a literary genre, a type of novel. Comics are not simply literature with pictures. Sequential Art--is an attempt to describe the aesthetics of comics from a graphics stance, a type of pictures. Comics are not simply pictures in order. Once we begin to understand why comics are not easily confined by the terms of other media, we can develop new avenues for study and analysis. Marshall McLuhan: "Our need now is to understand the formal character of print, comic and cartoon, both as challenging and changing the consumer-culture of film, photo, and press. There is no single approach to this task, and no single observation or idea that can solve so complex a problem in changing human perception" (Understanding Media 169).



Comics, as a medium, has formal qualities that differentiate its representational methods from any of its nearest relatives in the arts: literature, film, drawing, et al.



We will move away from defining comics, and the pre-established definitions to enhance and elaborate upon the theory of the medium. By "performing" comics and trying new heuristic approaches, we can deform the structures of comics to create gaps in the work. In these gaps we will be able to observe aspects of how comics "mean," by observing how meaning is lost or reconfigured when adapted into a different medium.



  • Souce:  Lutes, Jason. Berlin: City of Stones. Canada: Drawn & Quarterly, 2001.

Jason Lutes' Berlin: City of Stones, offers an excellent subject for our investigations; Lutes stipulated that his target audience was, "People who don't read comic books," and elaborated: "I try to tell the story as clearly as possible, using only the most widely understood comics conventions and trying to build a vocabulary within the work itself."



Model Pages:



Extrapolation of text from the work allows us to perceive how limited the prose is, in terms of expression and tone, without the accompanying imagery. Adaptation of the work into an animated film illuminates the page and panel structure that is unique to comics, and the temporality of the sequence. The film is limiting in that it does not allow for the same subjective viewing and interpretation, the uni-directional narration of film stands in contrast to the multi-directional narration in comics. Isolation and manipulation of the gutter demonstrates how essential it is to the efficacy of the medium. Word balloons are a comics-specific element that create a tension within the panel between the representation of three dimensional space (iconography) and the representation of two dimensional space (text). Without these bounded discursive units, the page is normalized in its visual content. By separating out the constituent elements, we are better able to evaluate the unity of the work, how each component works together to create a multivalent experience of meaning. In each of our deformative models, we lost certain aspects of network and sequence, the method by which comic meaning is established. Narrative or aesthetic effects are conveyed by the sequence of panels: how their iconographic and textual contents proceed from panel to panel; by the network of panels: how panel structure and content interacts in non-sequential ways; and by the space between: the gutter where imaginative connections are fabricated by the reader.



Through our inverse experimentation we coroborated our hypothesis: we first restructured the work outside of its form and made interpretations, so that once we examined the work we could reasses its formal qualities


Extensions: Further Modes of Interpretation

We propose that the project could be extended to create new methods and vocabulary for the study of comics, especially by incorporating other works, deforming them and performing comparisons with our own work. Further, it is our belief that different digital tools could be used to deform comics, independent from an adaptive foundation as implemented in this project. Due to the complex interconnectivity of words, lines, and images within comics, it would be useful to develop ways of measuring unique aspects of the medium.



Berlin Final Presentation Outline 


Berlin Project Archive


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