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The System of Comics

The System of Comics

Thierry Groensteen
Bart Beaty
Nick Nguyen
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    The System of Comics
    Book Description:

    This edition of Thierry Groensteen'sThe System of Comicsmakes available in English a groundbreaking work on comics by one of the medium's foremost scholars. In this book, originally published in France in 1999, Groensteen explains clearly the subtle, complex workings of the medium and its unique way of combining visual, verbal, spatial, and chronological expressions. The author explores the nineteenth-century pioneer Rodolphe Töpffer, contemporary Japanese creators, George Herriman's Krazy Kat, and modern American autobiographical comics.

    The System of Comics uses examples from a wide variety of countries including the United States, England, Japan, France, and Argentina. It describes and analyzes the properties and functions of speech and thought balloons, panels, strips, and pages to examine methodically and insightfully the medium's fundamental processes.

    From this, Groensteen develops his own coherent, overarching theory of comics, a "system" that both builds on existing studies of the "word and image" paradigm and adds innovative approaches of his own. Examining both meaning and appreciation, the book provides a wealth of ideas that will challenge the way scholars approach the study of comics. By emphasizing not simply "storytelling techniques" but also the qualities of the printed page and the reader's engagement, the book's approach is broadly applicable to all forms of interpreting this evolving art.

    Thierry Groensteen is a comics scholar and translator in Brussels, Belgium. He is the author ofLa bande dessinée: Une littérature graphiqueandLa construction de la cage, among other books. Bart Beaty is associate professor of communication and culture at the University of Calgary. Nick Nguyen is an archivist at Library and Archives Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-693-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen

    Thierry Groensteen’sThe System of Comics (Système de la bande dessinée,Presses Universitaires de France, 1999) contains a ground-breaking analysis of the operation of the language of comics, offering the most important semiotic analysis of the medium published to date. A rigorously argued work,The System of Comicsfunctions as its own best introduction. Our foreword, therefore, will serve only to lay a basic foundation for what is to follow, and to offer some direction for readers coming to this work without the author’s deep knowledge of comics, particularly of the Franco-Belgian school.

    Questions of comics form have received relatively...

    (pp. 1-23)

    Inventor of “stories in etchings” at the end of the 1820s, the Genevan Rodolphe Töpffer (1799–1846) initiated the theorization of this new form of storytelling. For the reader at the end of the twentieth century, the first “defense and illustration” of comics,¹ hisEssai de physiognomonie(1845), opens stimulating perspectives for a reflection on an art which, in the intervening period, has contributed in a decisive manner to the shaping of the modern imagination, thereby confirming the intuitions of the genial precursor.

    Since this initial thunderclap, it is rarely noted that practice has become divorced from theory. The works...

    (pp. 24-102)

    Our attempt at a systematic description of the physical essence of comics will begin from the notion of the multiframe proposed by Henri Van Lier. Although a completed page never ceases to be a multiframe, this term suggests, besides the idea of a multiplicity, the reduction of images to their frame, either to their outline or, especially, to the feature that delimits it. Thus, it allows us to imagine a contentless comic, “cleansed” of its iconic and verbal contents, and constructed as a finished series of supporting frames—in short, a comic provisionally reduced to its spatio-topical parameters.

    We have...

    (pp. 103-143)

    “Panel, page, story”: if the theoretical presuppositions are not entirely the same, the course proposed in these pages for a global comprehension of the comics system is analogous to that followed by Benoît Peeters. We have looked at the functions of the frame and the parameters that define the panel in terms of form, then how the layout configures the spatio-topia in support of a narrative and artistic project. It is now necessary to analyze how the “narration” moves through and contributes to this system, as well as come to terms with how the dialogue produces meaning between panels. For...

    (pp. 144-158)

    Before tackling the domain of braiding, which I define as beyond breakdown, it is advisable to say a word about that which comes before the layout, which I propose to give the namegridding. It is an operation (or at least a stage of reflection that is not always incarnated) that intervenes very early in the process of elaboration in comics; it defines the apparatus of the comic prior to its actual appearance. Gridding consists of dividing the available space into a number of units or compartments. While remaining in question, it operates as a primary repartition of the narrative...

    (pp. 159-164)

    In approaching comics as a “system” I wanted to signify that it constitutes an organic totality that associates a complex combination of elements, parameters, and multiple procedures. The definition proposed here in its own language may not besystematic, in the measure where certain questions were left to the side—notably those that concern authority and the functions of the scenario such as the subject, program, and pre-text, or even the different instances of enunciation—but it seems to me that it is at least coherent. Recall that the principal foundation from which I departed was that oficonic solidarity....

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 165-178)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 179-188)