Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Picturing Family Histories: Torill Kove and Lene Ask

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Picturing Family Histories: Torill Kove and Lene Ask

Article excerpt

TO READ COMICS requires an understanding of two factor: first, what is pictured inside the frame of each comics panel, and second, what is implied in the space outside the frame. This article compares two texts, both combinations of word and image, to see how the narratives use the photograph within the medium of comics to tell a family history. Photographs are not the main focus of the narratives, but their inclusion creates a full stop in the otherwise cartoon or animated universe that begs interpretative attention. The two texts are Hitler, Jesus og farfar (Hitler, Jesus, and Grandpa) by the Norwegian photographer Lene Ask and Den danske dikteren (The Danish Poet) by the Norwegian-Canadian director Torill Kove. In particular, I focus on the use of photographs within the visual text to produce a point of reference around which the narrator builds a new story via closure by recreating the story beyond the frames.

Patricia Holland writes that family photography, or what she calls personal photography, "has developed as a medium through which individuals confirm and explore their identity, that sense of selfhood which is an indispensable feature of a modern sensibility" (Holland 119). A researcher in the history of television, photography, and representations of childhood, Holland has written much on the use of family photography to assist in narrative creation. The narrators of these two stories rely on variations of personal photographs to explore their identities by attempting to find what lies beyond the frame of a given image. Their contemporary stories incorporate visual evidence from the proverbial family photo album and work back in time to recreate a family history where framed photos play a central role in meaning construction based on a series of formative life moments, the narrators try to fill in the gaps of missing information to piece together a coherent life story. The photograph opens several points of interpretation to understand the self: the photo itself as an icon, the bodies pictured inside the frame, and the integration of art and identity within photography. These three elements unpack the seeming simplicity of these pictorial texts by Ask and Kove. After a discussion of the structure and symbol of the flame and photograph itself, I will then read what is inside the frame (the bodies) followed by the information outside the frame (the context) to show how photography complements the genre of comics and animation to support the thematic project of construction of the self. I argue that the act of reading the combination of word, image, and space in these visual texts is a construction of meaning that parallels the way the protagonists search for their own identity.

These authors have made a name for themselves in the course of this decade. Lene Ask was born in 1974 near Stavanger and now lives in Oslo. Ask debuted as an author in 2006 with the graphic novel Hitler, Jesus og farfar. In Ask's multimodal text, a nameless narrator travels from Oslo to Germany on an art stipend to take self-portraits. While in Berlin, she searches for information about her unknown German grandfather and, in the process, begins to come to terms with her self, her art, her religion, and her sensitive family history, Ask has won several awards for the text, including the 2006 Sproing Prize for the year's best comics debuting in Norway. (1) Ask has also written and illustrated a children's picture book. Torill Kove was born in 1958 in Hamar, and now lives in Montreal, Quebec. Kove has directed two animated short films and illustrated four children's picture books with authors Henrik Hovland and, most recently, Endre Lund Eriksen. Kove wrote, animated, and directed Den danske dikteren, a prize-winning animated short film that won two prestigious animation awards in 2007: a Prix Genie Award in Canada and an Academy Award in the United States. (2) In the film, a nameless narrator tells the story of how her parents met. …

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