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. 

List of references 

Primary sources

B., David. (2005) Epileptic. London: Jonathan Cape.

Ball, R. (2015) The Inflatable Woman. London: Bloomsbury.

Clark, J.S. (2010) Depresso. London: Knockabout.

Delisle, G. (2017) Hostage. London: Jonathan Cape.

Eisner, W. (1991) To the Heart of the Storm. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Engelberg, M. (2006) Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics. New York: Harper.

Goscinny, R. & Uderzo, A. (1970) Asterix and the Roman Agent. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Goscinny, R. & Uderzo, A. (1970) La Zizanie. Paris: Dargaud Editeur.

Green, K. (2013) Lighter Than My Shadow. London: Jonathan Cape.

Marchetto, M.A. (2006) Cancer Vixen: A True Story. New York: Pantheon Books.

Peep Show. Channel 4. 19 September 2003- 16 December 2015.

Satrapi, M. (2008) Persepolis: The story of a childhood and the story of a return. London: Vintage.

Simmonds, P. (2001) Gemma Bovery. London: Jonathan Cape.

Simmonds, P. (2009) Tamara Drewe. London: Jonathan Cape.

Simmonds, P. (2018) Cassandra Drake. London: Jonathan Cape.

Streeten, N. (2011) Billy, Me & You: A Memoir of Grief and Recovery. Brighton: Myriad Editions.

Tan, S. (2006) The Arrival. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Thornton, R. & Hixon, A. (2012) The Tale of Brin and Bent and Minno Marylebone. London: Jonathan Cape.

Williams, I. (2014) The Bad Doctor. Brighton: Myriad Editions.

Secondary sources 

Adler, S. (2011) Silence in the graphic novel. Journal of Pragmatics 43: 2278–2285.

Baetens, J. & Frey, H. (2015) The Graphic Novel: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bal, M. (2017) Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. 4th ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Borkent, M. (2017) Mediated characters: Multimodal viewpoint construction in comics. Cognitive Linguistics 28(3): 539–563.

Branigan, E. (1984) Point of View in the Cinema. Berlin: Mouton.

Branigan, E. (1992) Narrative Comprehension and Film. London: Routledge.

Bridgeman, T. (2005) Figuration and configuration: mapping imaginary worlds in BD. In C. Forsdick, L. Grove, & L. McQuillan. (Eds.) Francophone Bande Dessinée. Amsterdam: Edition Rodopi, 115–136.

Chatman, S. (1978) Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Cohn, N. (2013) The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images. London: Bloomsbury.

Davis, R.G. (2005) A Graphic Self: Comics as autobiography in Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Persepolis’. Prose Studies 27(3): 264–279.

Eakin, P.J. (1999) How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Ekman, P. (1992) An Argument for Basic Emotions. Cognition and Emotion 6: 169–200.

El Rafaie, E. (2009) Multiliteracies: how readers interpret political cartoons. Visual Communication 8(2): 181–205.

Emmott, C. (1997) Narrative Comprehension: A Discourse Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Emmott, C. (2002) ‘Split selves’ in fiction and in medical ‘life stories’: Cognitive linguistic theory and narrative practice. In E. Semino & J. D. Culpeper. (Eds.) Cognitive Stylistics. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 153–181.

Forceville, C. (2005) Visual representations of the idealized cognitive model of ‘anger’ in the Asterix album ‘La Zizanie’. Journal of Pragmatics 37: 69–88.

Forceville, C. (2011) Pictorial Runes in ‘Tintin and the Picaros’. Journal of Pragmatics 43: 875–890.

Forceville, C., Stamenković, D. & Tasić, M. (2018) Facial expressions in comics: an empirical consideration of McCloud’s proposal. Visual Communication 0(0): 1–26.

Genette, G. (1980) Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Genette, G. (1988) Narrative Discourse Revisited. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Gilmartin, S. (2015) Book Review: The Inflatable Woman, by Rachael Ball. Irish Times. [Accessed October 27, 2017].

Gilmore, L. (2001) The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Groensteen, T. (2007) The System of Comics. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Groensteen, T. (2013) Comics and Narration. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Hescher, A. (2016) Reading Graphic Novels: Genre and Narration. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Horstkotte, S. & Pedri, N. (2011) Focalisation in Graphic Narrative. Narrative 19(3): 330–357.

Jahn, M. (1996) Windows of Focalization: Deconstructing and Reconstructing a Narratological Concept. Style 30(2): 241–267.

Kuhlman, M. (2017) The Autobiographical and Biographical Graphic Novel. In S. E. Tabachnick. (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to the Graphic Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 113–129.

Leech, G. & Short, M. (2007) Style in Fiction: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose. 2nd ed. Harlow: Pearson.

Martinez, M. The Inflatable Woman. New York Journal of Books. Available at: [Accessed October 27, 2017].

McCloud, S. (1993) Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins.

McCloud, S. (2006) Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. New York: Harper.

Medley, S. (2010) Discerning pictures: how we look at and understand images in comics. Studies in Comics 1(1): 53–70.

Mikkonen, K. (2008) Presenting Minds in Graphic Narratives. Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas 6(2): 301–321.

Mikkonen, K. (2017) The Narratology of Comic Art. Abingdon: Routledge.

Miller, A. (2007) Reading Bande Dessinée: Critical Approaches to French-language Comic Strip. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Miodrag, H. (2013) Comics and Language: Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Morgan, H. (2009) Graphic Shorthand: From Caricature to Narratology in Twentieth-Century Bande Dessinée and Comics. European Comic Art 2(1): 21–39.

Oliver, A. (2017) The Inflatable Woman – Rachael Ball’s Debut Graphic Novel is a Visionary Entry in the Graphic Medicine Canon. Broken Frontier. Available at: [Accessed October 27, 2017].

Osborne, S. (2015) The Inflatable Woman: Ways without words. A life in books. Available at: [Accessed October 27, 2017].

Palmer, A. (2004) Fictional Minds. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Palmer, A. (2007) Universal Minds. Semiotica 165: 205–225.

Pham, S. (2015) The Inflatable Woman. Graphic Medicine. Available at: [Accessed October 27, 2017].

Rimmon-Kenan, S. (2002) Narrative Fiction. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Segal, J.Z. (2007) Breast cancer narratives as public rhetoric: genre itself and the maintenance of ignorance. Linguistics and the Human Sciences 3(1): 3–24.

Segal, J.Z. (2012) Cancer Experience and its Narration: An Accidental Study. Literature and Medicine 30(2): 292–318.

Stoddard Holmes, M. (2014) Cancer Comics: Narrating Cancer through Sequential Art. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 33(1): 147–162.

Tan, E.S. (2001) The Telling Face in Comic Strip and Graphic Novel. In J. Baetens. (Ed.) The Graphic Novel. Louvain: Leuven University Press, 31–46.

Tensuan, T. (2011) Up from Surgery: The Politics of Self-Representation in Women’s Graphic Memoirs of Illness. In M. A. Chaney. (Ed.) Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 180–193.

Versaci, R. (2007) This Book Contains Graphic Language: Comics as Literature. London: Continuum.

Wolk, D. (2007) Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work And What They Mean. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press. 

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. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.