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

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. 

Fictional consciousness in comics: Ascribing a mind to Iris Pink-Percy in Rachael Ball’s ‘The Inflatable Woman’: Part 2 of 8

Read Part 1 Introduction and Summary of the story here.


This section explores the contextual background of TIW and will consider the following topics in turn: the genres of graphic medicine and autobiography; public discourses surrounding cancer and other comics which deal with the same subject; and finally, the book’s critical reception and real reader responses to the character of Iris.

The contextual background of TIW is relevant to the purposes of this study in that the character whose fictional consciousness is under discussion is an avatar of an author writing through the comics medium about her experience of cancer. TIW therefore belongs to two genres: its subject matter places it within the genre of graphic medicine, and its basis in lived experience means the book cannot help but be considered autobiographical. Iris as character stands in not just for the author, however, but for all those who are living with cancer; as a cancer patient, Iris signifies on a level beyond the personal. Naturally, the reader’s experience with public discourse surrounding cancer will encourage a certain amount of projection onto the character, and the nature of this projection is arguably pre-determined by narratives which are sanctioned through repetition to the exclusion of other narratives which do not fit the pattern. Any negative reader-response to Iris could well be the result of the pre-conditioning occasioned by the prevalence of entrenched and regulated cancer narratives. Reviews from critics and real readers are included in this section to gauge the kind of reaction and response to the character of Iris on the publication of TIW, but, by way of a tangential observation, it should be noted that the critical response highlights the inadequacy of language used about comics: professional reviewers were struggling even to follow the plot in some cases, and comments proffered as insightful reveal only a lack of engagement with the medium. Real reader responses to the character oscillated between whole-hearted acceptance and disappointment.

Stories of trauma, loss or illness expressed through the medium of comics has become such a popular and rapidly growing trend that ‘graphic medicine’ is now fully recognised as a separate genre. Baetens and Frey offer the observation that ‘the graphic novel seems to have an elective affinity with stories of the self, the self in crisis because of history or trauma, maybe because…the self is harder to remove when a work is drawn as well as narrated’ (2015: 177). Personal experiences dealt with to date in this medium have included epilepsy (David B’s Epileptic), obsessive compulsive disorder (Ian Williams’ The Bad Doctor), grief (Nicola Streeten’s Billy, Me & You), eating disorders and sexual abuse (Katie Green’s Lighter Than My Shadow), rape (Ravi Thornton and Andy Hixon’s The Tale of Brin and Bent and Minno Marylebone), depression (John Stuart Clark’s Depresso), and cancer (Miriam Engelberg’s Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person and Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s Cancer Vixen). Rachael Ball’s novel is positively identified as a contribution to this genre in Andy Oliver’s review for the online blog Broken Frontier, in which he describes the novel as ‘a visionary entry in the graphic medicine canon’ (2017). 

Many publications categorised as ‘graphic medicine’, including those listed above, are autobiographical accounts, and Ball’s novel is no exception. TIW recounts Ball’s own experience of breast cancer, mastectomy, and the process of reconstruction which is referred to in the book’s title. Rocío Davis notes that ‘the subjects of the autobiographical comics are, most often, graphic artists themselves. The reader is privileged to participate in the performance of both memory and art, and the complex interaction between them’ (2005: 269), and Martha Kuhlman, who provides an overview of some important contributions to the genre in her 2017 essay, writes that ‘[l]ines drawn by hand register the state of mind of the cartoonist, and thus represent the subjective nature of one’s changing sense of self in the grip of illness’ (119). This observation has relevance for any discussion of artistic style as a carrier of meaning, and it underlines the very personal nature of the experience of producing this book, because Iris, Ball’s stand-in, has to be continually re-drawn.

In his 2007 book This Book Contains Graphic Language, Rocco Versaci devotes a chapter to the ‘special reality’ created by comics memoirists, the phrase itself taken from Will Eisner’s autobiographical work To the Heart of the Storm: ‘fact and fiction became blended with selective recall and result in a special reality. I came to rely on the truthfulness of visceral memory’ (Eisner, 1991: xi). Versaci pursues Eisner’s comments in his discussion of the relationship between memoir and the representation of the truth. He references the work of Hayden White, who has famously claimed that history is fiction in his Tropics of Discourse, and notes that Paul Eakin makes similar arguments with respect to the practice of autobiography in How Our Lives Become Stories (Versaci, 2007: 57). Expressions of the past are not unfiltered and narratives retold in the present become coloured by the operations of perspective and re-creation. Versaci summarises this very succinctly: ‘the “facts” of a life are altered by their translation into some representational medium [and] “telling the truth” in memoir is not always a straightforward process’ (57).

Versaci notes that a variety of first-person perspectives are available to memoirists, and that comics memoirs ‘have additional ways to express and layer the first-person perspective’ (48), including an additional signifier, namely the artistic style of images. He claims that ‘the visual component…allows…memoirists to represent the complicated and shifting nature of the self’ (49). This shifting self can include a split self, a self as defined by others, or a self as constructed by a culture and social community.

In her work on split selves in fiction, Catherine Emmott comments that this split ‘commonly occurs at times of personal crisis’ (2002: 153), and she examines research on metaphor analysis in the portrayal of a split self. For example, Emmott mentions Lakoff’s container metaphors (156) and there is an example of exactly this sort of metaphor in TIW (see figure 1 below). When Iris has been brought to her lowest point, she no longer recognises herself and describes herself as ‘a hollow thing’, similar to an empty container. 

Figure 1 TIW p. 436-437

In section 4.4 below, I examine pictorial metaphor as a way of expressing one’s own truth. The visual depiction of a metaphor or an analogy to express emotion is widely-used in comics and it presents no problem to habitual readers of such texts: Versaci perceptively notes that ‘readers already view comic books as “unreal,” so any further distortion of reality becomes a mere extension of the form’ (2007: 76).Leigh Gilmore explores the limitations of language in the expression of trauma and asserts that trauma survivors, in repeatedly testifying verbally to their emotional experience, create ‘a conscious language that can be repeated in structured settings’ (2001: 7), but which is inimical to the unconscious lived experience of trauma. This telling of pre-determined stories in a sanctioned setting is reflected in Judy Segal’s research on the public discourse surrounding cancer narratives. 

In the context of an article on the subject of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, an autobiographical account of Satrapi’s own experience of the Iran-Iraq war (2008), Rocío Davis writes that ‘autobiographical comics cannot…be read solely as a personal account, the cultural connotations of the stories and the narrative choices signifying on the level of national drama and attesting to the complex interweaving of the strategies of meaning’ (2005: 270). Similarly, cancer narratives contribute to an existing public discourse on illness. In studies published in 2007 and 2012, Segal investigates the more sinister side of cancer narratives. She concludes that personal narratives often take on standard plots and features of existing cancer stories which have already been rehearsed many times, such as an opening scene in which a lump is discovered (this is indeed true of TIW). These stories focus on the cure rather than the cause, and the cancer sufferer is often described metaphorically as a warrior in battle against an implacable enemy. The problems inherent in these stories are manifold, not least of which is the entailment that the cancer patient who does not recover is in some way to blame for simply not fighting hard enough. Segal focuses on the regulatory function of these stories, and how one of their most insidious effects is the sidelining of other narratives which do not follow the prescribed pattern. The accepted stories provide information for sufferers, but they also evaluate and govern. Naturally, the generic and conventionalised ways in which illness is discussed generates reader expectations with regard to such narratives and reader response can be dictated by the extent to which the story matches these expectations. 

Other cancer narratives in comics format include Miriam Engelberg’s Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person (2006) and Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s Cancer Vixen (2006), both of which have gained some critical attention (Segal, 2007, 2012; Stoddard Holmes, 2014; Tensuan, 2011). Ball’s novel is very different from these two publications in many respects, the most obvious departure being that the protagonist, Iris Pink-Percy, is an avatar for the author, whereas Engelberg and Marchetto draw representations of their physical selves (a very flattering one in Marchetto’s case). Iris’ diagnosis, treatment and recovery are expressed through metaphor, caricature and grotesque mockery, which is indicative of mental activity either on Iris’ part or on the part of her creator. As such, the purpose of the book feels different to that of the other two titles mentioned: Marchetto’s book is genuinely informative about the disease, as is Engelberg’s to a lesser extent. Ball’s novel is less a self-help guide than a genuine attempt to capture the experience of illness and to express it in a unique way. The comics medium both permits and invites the exploitation of the interplay of verbal and visual layers as a way of evoking experience. Martha Stoddard Holmes notes that a minimalist representation of characters allows for the depiction of an unstable self (2014: 148), and Andy Oliver notes in his very perceptive review that Ball’s ‘forceful visual symbolism…uses an ever shifting sense of warped perspective to underline those moments when Iris feels dehumanised or overawed by the realities of her situation’. Oliver writes that ‘as readers we become fully invested in Iris…as she adapts to the challenges ahead’ (2017). 

Amongst the many reviews of TIW, Oliver’s is by far the most perceptive. Many reviewers produced overly-simplistic assessments or a selection of catch-all statements which will hardly satisfy a competent comics reader. Sarah Gilmartin writing for the Irish Times produced the observation that ‘[p]encil drawings against a black background highlight Iris’s predicament as the world turns bleak around her’ while blithely ignoring the fact that the only colour sequence in the book is Iris’ terrifying vision of the paper dolls coming to attack her, all of whom are bleeding red from the breast. Michelle Martinez (The New York Journal of Books) recognises that the book is unlike other comics on the same theme; however, this particular reviewer’s response is interesting because her confusion around Henry’s online catfishing reveals that she has not understood the scene in which Henry rows his boat towards shore after his date with Iris and drives away in a car, which tells the reader that Henry is not the lighthouse keeper he pretends to be. As a consequence, perhaps, of her lack of experience in reading comics, Martinez does not consider Iris to be a fully-rounded character. She comments, ‘[f]urther attention to building Iris as a character would have created stronger engagement in this fast-paced story’. 

Reviews written by the book’s audience rather than its critics appear on the Goodreads site ( Most of these reviews are very positive, with many readers extolling the artwork. One reader comments on the use of pictorial metaphor (see section 4.3 below) as follows: ‘Powerful symbolism is incorporated, such as illustration of train = giving up while emergency stop pull = will to live’ (see figure 2 below). Another reader writes about their response to the character of Iris: ‘Iris, the protagonist, is someone you connect with instantly, even if she may not be relatable’; however, a third reader found their expectations disappointed: ‘a technically decent book, I was hard pressed to find its heart’. 

Figure 2 TIW p. 76 (left) and 80 (right)

Continued in Part 3: Current Debates. 

Fictional consciousness in comics: Ascribing a mind to Iris Pink-Percy in Rachael Ball’s ‘The Inflatable Woman’: Part 1 of 8


The expansion of Anglo-American comics scholarship in recent years derives in part from a long-overdue recognition that comics deserve study as a medium in their own right. A more enlightened generation of comics scholars have voiced protests against the conflation of comics with literature because such comparisons are misguided, unhelpful, and ultimately stem from an unnecessary anxiety about the status of comics as a fitting subject for study at higher educational levels. Comics are often subject to the criticism that their medium-specific immediacy renders them ill-suited for the kind of intellectual and critical analysis to which purely verbal texts lend themselves. Instead of treating comics as an inferior subset of literature as it is represented by prose narratives, a more productive line of enquiry involves a rejection of the assumption that narrative is independent of the medium in which it appears and to develop analytical approaches and frameworks which enable the scholar to focus on storytelling as dictated by the constraints and possibilities of the medium in which the story is told. The study of narrative across media is today led by such luminaries as Marie-Laure Ryan and David Herman, and it opens up opportunities for interdisciplinary exploration and academic collaboration with scholars from other fields of enquiry such as film, art, psychology, and the cognitive sciences.  

This study takes for its focus the creation of fictional consciousness in comics and explores aspects of visual storytelling in order to account for how a comics reader ascribes a mind to a visually-rendered character. Focalization is central to the study of fictional consciousness and comics scholarship brings a fresh perspective to this concept, one which has occasioned much debate in the study of prose narratives. The application of previous focalization research to a different medium expands the scope of the discussion and entails the possibility of fresh insights. I begin by placing the primary text under discussion in its context as a member of the canon of publications in the genre of graphic medicine, and its status as an autobiographical text. I discuss how genre and public discussions surrounding cancer discourse might affect or even dictate reader expectations, and to complement this discussion I examine the book’s critical reception and real reader responses to the character of Iris. There follows a very brief discussion of current debates in comics scholarship and a cautionary note regarding the omission of any discussion of page layout in this study; discussion of the same features heavily in most comics scholarships, but is not pursued here. I then turn to a more detailed exploration of three areas which contribute to character construction in comics: the depiction of face and body, speech and thought representation, and pictorial metaphor. The final section investigates the concept of focalization in relation to the construction of a fictional mind and endorses the suggestion from film theory that images can simultaneously display several levels of narration.

The primary text for this study is Rachael Ball’s The Inflatable Woman (hereafter TIW) published by Bloomsbury in 2015. Where illustrations are featured to support the argument, all page references are to this edition. The author of this study is a reader in the Western tradition, hence comments relating to reader response to images and reading paths should be understood within the conventions of this tradition. There are numerous terms used for the kind of narrative under discussion here, many of which are tainted by the value judgements of those who coined them; for example, ‘graphic novel’ has become popular with publishers who wish to capitalise on adult enthusiasm for such narratives, but who do not wish to use the descriptor ‘comics’ for fear that this term is associated with publications aimed for consumption by children and superheroes enthusiasts. I have no problem with the word ‘comics’ and I use it wherever possible throughout, as a catch-all term which encompasses every kind of graphic storytelling, including the text under discussion. 

Summary of the story (*spoilers*) 

Zookeeper Iris discovers two lumps in her right breast and is diagnosed with cancer. While Iris is undergoing a mastectomy and receiving treatment, she enters into an online correspondence with ‘sailorbuoy-39’, or Henry, who describes himself as a lighthouse keeper. Iris, or ‘balletgirl42’, tells him that she is a prima ballerina. Iris and Henry meet for a date, following which Iris buys a wedding veil. Iris’ friend Maud urges her to tell Henry how she feels, but when Iris writes to Henry that she loves him, Henry responds with the news that he has been posted to a lighthouse in the North Pole with no internet or telephone reception and he must say farewell forever. Iris breaks down during her next hospital appointment.

Maud and Granma Suggs drive Iris to The Helping Hand, an alternative clinic for cancer sufferers. Iris finds it impossible to communicate with the other women present, inspiring those running the clinic to take drastic action: Plan X, or The Early Death Experience. The women dig a huge hole in the garden, and Iris is tricked into spending the night there. Polly, one of the other patients, arrives with wine and talks to Iris about the purpose of the exercise. Iris is visited in the night by all the nightmarish visions which have haunted her throughout her illness, but emerges from the hole the next day to cheers and congratulations. Iris leaves the clinic and takes the train back to the zoo. The journey is peaceful until Iris spots Henry standing at a station. He calls and waves to her, and she waves back as the train pulls out, but she knows the dream has gone: as the reader is already aware, Henry is not a lighthouse keeper after all.

The story closes a year later, when crowds fill the zoo for a sold-out World Tour: Maud plays the violin while the penguins perform acrobatics, and Iris, dressed in a tutu, leaps onto the stage to tumultuous applause. 

Continued in Part 2 of 8: Context

A potential development for cognitive poetics: text world theory and verbo-visual narratives


I’ve posted this essay in pdf format because it’s almost 4000 words long and there are lots of pictures, so it’s a bit easier this way. This is my first foray into text world theory and I’ve got some of it wrong, to be honest, so if you want to make use of the arguments here then please do so with that in mind. Please note also that there are spoilers, in particular with reference to Hannah Berry’s Livestock. 

Here’s the essay: A potential development for cognitive poetics. Text world theory and verbo-visual narratives.

Comments and suggestions most welcome!












Reading Challenge 2016: A Book You Can Read In A Day

Julie Maroh Skandalon

Mario Saraceni The Language of Comics

Skandalon_top pictureI’m kicking off this year’s Reading Challenge with a couple of books, both of which can be read in a day: Julie Maroh’s Skandalon, and Mario Saraceni’s The Language of Comics, and I’m going to use one to discuss the other. A little bit of background is necessary for the Maroh novel, however: it can be read and understood on its own terms, naturally, but Maroh provides an Afterword which situates the main character in a different, more mythical dimension and provides an explanation for his behaviour which goes beyond the rather trite summary to be found in the book’s blurb: ‘a fiery and intense contemporary myth about the recklessness of fame’. Well, no, not really. The myth in question here is not a new one for our times, it is a much older myth that has been retold in a modern setting with a main character who is the perfect vehicle: an immensely successful rock star who wields enormous power over his fans, men and women who adore him and follow wherever he leads.

Skandalon is a truly astonishing book. Much is explained in Maroh’s Afterword, which, following the writings of René Girard, sets out the philosophy of prohibition and the way in which myths and rites produce stories which become culturally embedded, thereby reinforcing and perpetuating accepted behaviours. The skandalon is a figure that transgresses these imaginary boundaries, attracting scandal as he does so and encouraging others to mimic his behaviour. But inevitably, the skandalon eventually becomes the scapegoat or victim. He who has vicariously fulfilled the desires of others has to face the consequences as the people turn on him – which they must, if societal order is to be restored. And so it is with Maroh’s main character, Tazane, the name being of course a pseudonym. His real name is Cedric. (One of the other characters suggests that the name Tazane is cursed and all would have been well if they’d stuck to Cedric.)

Saraceni’s book is a wonderfully accessible introduction to the study of comics as multi-modal texts: complicated concepts are made simple and exemplified with reproductions of numerous individual frames and complete comic strips. What I propose to do here is to explore a few of Saraceni’s observations with reference to Skandalon, but what follows is certainly not going to be an exhaustive exploration of how comics work – merely a taster.

One of the most interesting points of Saraceni’s discussion lies in his comparison of the layout and format of a comic strip with that of a text composed entirely of verbal features. He notes that the difference between functional and content words is reflected in the make-up of the verbal and visual language of comics, where functional words (words that link other words together to build a sentence, such as conjunctions and prepositions) have their counterpart in functional components, and content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) in content components. The functional components of comics are things like captions, sounds effects and emanata (text or icons that represent what’s going on in a character’s head, so for example, sweat drops can indicate anxiety or nervousness). In this image here, for example, the ringing of the telephone rendered by the dring sound effect becomes more insistent over the three panels; Tazane ignores it, but the increased size of the letters and the frequency with which they appear indicate both the character’s consciousness of the sound, the length of time which has passed since the telephone first began to ring, and his growing agitation as the words gradually fill the frame. (Eventually he rips the socket from the wall.)


Another functional component is the speech balloon. This is the space that is used to report what a character is saying, and its physical appearance on the page acts as a sort of adverb to tell us how something is said. Here, for example, we know from the visual elements (the crowSkandalon-redd, the microphone) that Tazane is onstage singing, but we can guess from the spiky balloons and large spaced-out font of the letters that he is not crooning softly, but belting out the words. The colour scheme reinforces this impression: think how these panels would differ if rendered in pale blue or green, for example.

Saraceni also argues that the gutter – the blank space separating the panels – ‘is similar to the space the divides one sentence from the next’. The gutter is not simply a blank space, in fact: every narrative is necessarily incomplete and this is a space for the reader to fill with real-world knowledge. Take the following example.

montage skandalon

This montage is made up of two pages, with the page break occurring down the middle, after the third panel from the left: this is important, because in the Western world we read each panel from left to right, top to bottom, and we do the same thing with the whole page.

So what’s happening here? We see first of all a cloud of smoke. On its own, this means that something is on fire, but what? In the second panel, a lit cigarette lies next to a butt in an ashtray, and we can see that the smoke comes from the cigarette. The ashtray is on a table, and in the third panel, we see what else is on the table: empty or near-empty bottles of alcohol – spirits and beer rather than wine – one bottle could be vodka, another Jack Daniels. The fourth panel shows us another view of the table (and all the time, the repetition of the table image is leading us to assume that it is the same one): a pencil, and some papers with musical notation. Finally, the fifth panel shows us the human agent behind all this – a hand playing a guitar – and we can infer that the musician shown here is the one who has been smoking, drinking and writing music. This is Tazane.

Onto the panels on the right-hand side of the montage, and we see at the top a close-up of Tazane with eyes closed, clearly absorbed in his task. The ‘camera’ pans out for the next panel and we see him playing, the tops of the bottles just visible in the right-hand corner. In the panel which follows, Tazane is writing on the paper, and we can infer again that he is writing down the tune he has just played, or perhaps some lyrics. The foreshortened perspective of the image ensures that the hand holding the pencil is central to the panel, with the trajectory of the pencil leading the eye back to Tazane’s face and from there down to the point of the pencil again, following the circle of thought from the origin to the recording of that thought. He returns to his playing for the final frame, depicted from yet another angle, and here we note an interesting point Saraceni makes about the panel – that it is not the same as a photograph or a film still, because the panel represents a portion of time rather than a snapshot. The final frame of this sequence could take up any amount of time: he could be playing for a few seconds, or a few hours. Panels can fill an entire page, as the one shown below does.


And there are numerous other examples of one-page panels in Skandalon. Page 85 is entirely blank, with not even a page number, but this can also be considered a panel; in fact, the page is blank because the narrative has reached a point where Tazane rapes a young female fan, and the blank page emphasises the horror of the scene by hiding it from the reader.

I mentioned the ‘camera’ earlier, and something that has sparked interest in recent years is the presence of the narrator in comics and graphic novels. In Skandalon, Tazane himself does some of the narrating for us, rendered in square captions in a font different to that of the round speech balloons. So Tazane is narrator as well as character. The other character, Philippe, also does a little narrating for us. On finding the remains of Tazane’s mobile phone, he says ‘Not again!’ – but who is he talking to? Ostensibly, himself, but arguably he is speaking to the reader as well and imparting the information that this is not the first time Tazane has smashed up his phone. But I think there is yet another narrator, the one that decides what to show us in each panel and whose point of view we see: close-ups, for example, are more likely to invite us to feel empathy for the character concerned. Creating a graphic novel involves decisions about the shape and size of each individual panel, its positioning on the page, its relation to other panels and its place in a sequence as well as what is depicted, how characters and events are depicted, what point of view is represented, whether or not captions are used, and many, many other decisions relating to both functional and content components. It is perhaps here, in these decisions, that we should be searching for the narrator. Saraceni recognises that the narrator’s presence cannot be reduced to a consideration of captions alone. The kind of syntagmatic and paradigmatic analyses that are applied to verbal texts can equally be applied to graphic novels, if we consider creative choices made on both horizontal and vertical levels.


To conclude, Skandalon is a disturbing but immensely rewarding read, and Saraceni’s exceptionally useful book helps the reader to understand and articulate Maroh’s work. I’ve had a happy week with this, all in all.

Interesting use of panels to show the division between land and water in Tazane’s heroin-induced narcissistic hallucination.