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

Conclusions

This study has investigated the construction of fictional consciousness in texts comprised of a visual as well as a verbal track through consideration of the following. The existing discourses relevant to the work’s genre and subject matter should be considered when taking account of a reader’s activity in constructing a fictional mind, particularly when sanctioned pre-existing narratives are likely to interfere with this process. The novel under discussion was placed in its wider context in section 2 to explore possible external influences on the reader and to provide examples of real-life responses in the form of critical reviews and comments posted online. Section 3 provided a brief overview of some of the issues which comprise current debates in comics scholarship by way of showing how this particular field of enquiry differs from research devoted purely to prose narratives. Having highlighted some of the issues raised in comics research, three of those issues were explored in more detail in section 4.

The visual rendering of a character’s face and body was discussed in section 4.1. It was suggested that readers construct a fictional consciousness in part from watching the character’s actions. However, it was shown that the reading of facial expression in comics is not as simple as has previously been supposed. Facial expression in comics tends towards the caricatural and is interpreted in the immediate and wider context, and in the presence of other visual and verbal clues. Furthermore, the medium allows for other devices to assist the reader in interpreting characters’ feelings, such as the visual depiction of conceptual metaphors of emotion. Readers assess fictional consciousness in watching what characters do and listening to what they say, and the representation of speech and thought in comics was explored in section 4.2. The work of Geoffrey Leech and Mick Short provided the basis for the discussion, the focus of which was the speech/thought balloon and the opportunities this device affords for the comics writer. Of particular note was the option to depict the tone and attitude of the speaker through typographical variants of the balloon and its contents. Pictorial metaphor provided the focus for section 4.3, with reference to Peirce’s work on signs which he categorised as iconic, indexical, or symbolic. El Rafaie’s study of the reading of political cartoons provided some insight into the kind of reader competencies necessary for the interpretation of signs, and Forceville’s taxonomy of pictorial runes exemplified the kind of medium-specific conventions with which comics readers should be familiar. Examples of pictorial metaphor in TIW were provided to show how Iris’ fictional consciousness and her emotional response to her illness can be represented through the visual track. 

The final section took the concept of focalization for its subject, a concept that is central to the study of fictional consciousness in prose narratives. It was suggested that this concept as it exists in research devoted to literature, specifically in Genette’s theory, requires some adjustment before it can be usefully applied to narratives in other media, and the work of film scholars was brought in to expand the concept to include visual images. Film researchers have claimed that an image or a sequence can be constructed of composite viewpoints with more than one narrative level running concurrently. This removes the onus to identify a single focalizer for an image and conveniently accommodates the continuous shifts and transitions in viewpoint inherent in comics. In addition, the problem of not being able to sustain a single consciousness over an extended sequence in comics can be countered if an external point of view can be the basis over which a subjective viewpoint runs. There is justification for arguing that a single consciousness is conceivably ever-present on one or more of the narrative levels. Furthermore, all potentially troublesome claims to an entirely objective viewpoint or an aspect-neutral background can be disregarded if every image is regarded instead as a composite viewpoint. Focalization has to take into account what the reader brings to the image and Borkent adds the concepts of embodiment and domains to represent how the reader fills out a two-dimensional image into something that approximates a real-world event occurring in space and time. This study thus begins and ends with the reader in terms of the existing knowledge that is brought to the text. 

The field of narratology, although focused primarily on prose narratives, contains much that is useful for the study of comics and narratives in other media, providing medium-specific adjustments are made. Directions for further research should include a more positive and thorough engagement with European comics scholarship, which has a much longer history than its Anglo-American counterpart and has reached greater levels of sophistication; this could help in shaking the influence of Scott McCloud, who is still widely referenced without question. McCloud remains a pioneer of comics studies and deserves recognition as such, but his theories do not always stand up to greater scrutiny. His prioritisation of sequentiality is particularly troublesome because it denies comics one of their defining aspects. A key feature of comics is the non-linear nature of the reader’s path through the text. Miodrag notes that by contrast ‘Groensteen’s notion of arthrology describes the relationships, both linear and translinear, between panels’ (2013: 109) and she goes on to suggest that ‘it is these non-linear relations that truly distinguish comics from other forms of narrative sequence’ (112). Future research should also include studies of fictional consciousness in a far wider range of texts, including those which lean towards the abstract rather than the representational. 

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Read Part 1 here: Introduction and Summary of story.

Read Part 2 here: Context.

Read Part 3 here: Current Debates. 

Read Part 4 here: Face and Body.

Read Part 5 here: Speech and Thought Representation.

Read Part 6 here: Pictorial Metaphor. 

Read Part 7 here: Focalization. 

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