Read Part 1 here (Introduction and Summary of story)

Read Part 2 here (Context)

Current Debates

Owing to spatial constraints, the scope of this section is limited to only three areas of comics scholarship which are the focus of current debate: word/image parity, status anxiety, and sequentiality versus network, or ‘braiding’. Finally, I have explained why page layout is not considered in this study. 

One of the most hotly contested issues in comics scholarship is undoubtedly the relationship between word and image. Most comics theorists will have some kind of take on this issue, but psychologist Neil Cohn is one of the most vocal and vociferous supporters of word/image parity and the establishment of a ‘visual language’ of comics (2013). Compelling though his arguments might be, his theories of a visual language system are perhaps better suited to Japanese manga comics which feature a highly codified set of images. Cohn’s choice of examples are often created by himself for the purposes of his argument; examples taken from real texts are limited in scope and not applicable to any graphic narrative which does not make use of the symbols discussed. Hannah Miodrag praises Cohn’s linguistic awareness over that of other critics (Miodrag, 2013: 109), but she is very clear on her position that words and images belong to two different systems, one arbitrary and the other motivated. 

Miodrag’s book is a refreshing addition to comics scholarship in that she boldly debunks some dubious but widely-accepted claims. She holds that the all-too frequent comparisons between literature and comics have come about as a result of needless status anxiety, and notes that this approach takes no account of the specificities of comics as a medium. Along with word/image parity, Miodrag rejects the emphasis on sequentiality so beloved of Scott McCloud and his followers, and privileges instead the web or jigsaw approach over linear progression; this position is much more in keeping with Thierry Groensteen’s influential work on braiding (Groensteen, 2007, 2013). 

The fragmentary nature of comics and the format of page and panels is another area which attracts a great deal of critical comment. McCloud’s notion of closure relating to the gutters has generated some lively discussion on the subject of narrative time in comics, much of it in rebuttal of McCloud’s rather limited theories. While the subject of page and panel layout is a fascinating one, I do not intend to pursue it here for the following reason. Rachael Ball posted a single panel from TIW online, on a daily basis, as part of her search for a publisher, and the book’s final appearance – over 70% of its pages feature only one panel – is a result of this activity. When more than one panel appears on a page in TIW, this is the result of an editorial decision. While I do not wish to argue that it is therefore impossible to comment on the aesthetic effect of layout given the circumstances of production, it would be disingenuous to claim that these effects were the result of authorial intention, and given the spatial constraints of this essay, I will turn instead to a discussion of other medium-specific considerations which in the case of this particular text more closely reflect the outcome of an artistic process.

Continued in Part 4: Face and Body. 

5 thoughts on “Fictional consciousness in comics: Ascribing a mind to Iris Pink-Percy in Rachael Ball’s ‘The Inflatable Woman’: Part 3 of 8

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