Comic Books Y Novelas Graficas En Su Contexto Generico. Hacia Una Definicion Y Clasificacion De Los Textos Iconico Narrativos

By Romero-Jodar, Andres | Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Comic Books Y Novelas Graficas En Su Contexto Generico. Hacia Una Definicion Y Clasificacion De Los Textos Iconico Narrativos


Romero-Jodar, Andres, Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos


Comic Books and Graphic Novels in their Generic Context. Towards a Definition and Classification of Narrative Iconical Texts

In 1972, Gerard Genette introduced his book, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, with the following words: "We currently use the word narrative without paying attention to ... its ambiguity, and some of the difficulties of narratology are perhaps due to this confusion" (1980: 25, emphasis in original). (1) When approaching the world of comic books and graphic novels, critics seem to be labouring within exactly the same confusion. In the state of current Comics Studies, there seems to be a constant use of the terms 'comic' and 'comic book' to refer both to the language employed by comic books and to the different subgenres that use this language. Labelling everything as 'comics', as done, for example, by Scott McCloud (1994), David Carrier (2000), Miguel Angel Muro Munilla (2004), or Thierry Groensteen (2007), may inevitably lead to terminological confusion similar to that pointed out by Genette. In fact, the analysis of iconical texts seems to be hampered from the outset as the terminology that elucidates their classification does not offer a plain distinction between their language and the different types of texts.

Further in the critical literature, we can find many examples of authors, such as Ana Merino (2003), Jesus Jimenez Varea (2006), or Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester (2009), who indistinctly label comic strips, comic books or graphic novels as 'comics', thus terminologically including them all within the same subgenre of comic books, regardless of their intrinsic differences. In their analyses, three different meanings are given to the same term: 'comics' may refer to the language, the medium and the subgenre of the comic book. Heer and Worcester acknowledge the ambiguity of the term, although they perpetuate it in A Comics Studies Reader. As they affirm in the opening pages of the book, "The term 'comics' is itself filled with ambiguity ... For our purposes, the term most often refers to comic strips, comic books, manga, and graphic novels, but also encompasses gag cartoons, editorial cartoons, and New Yorker-style cartoons" (2009: xiii). The reader of critical theory may become lost in the difficulty of trying to ascertain the meaning of the same word in various different sentences.

When a literary critic approaches the analysis of a novel, the text scrutinised is not labelled as a piece of 'poetry', since a novel and a poem are obviously different types of texts, although they both might employ the written word on paper. When analysing a comic book, it would be helpful, if not necessary, to distinguish between the language employed (iconical language), the discourse community that has created the text (the iconical discourse community, following John Swales' terminology, 1991), and the type of text as text (in this case, a comic book, in contrast to other narrative iconical subgenres, such as comic strips or graphic novels). This distinction between iconical language, iconical discourse community, and narrative or non-narrative iconical texts will help situate comic books and graphic novels in their own generic context. The aim of this article is, therefore, to introduce the concept of iconical discourse community for the analysis of comic books, graphic novels and other related narrative and non-narrative iconical subgenres. With this purpose, I will firstly highlight certain problems affecting the terminology employed to describe the language of comics. I will consider the various proposals for the analysis of the language of comic books that have appeared to date. Then, I will provide a definition of the iconical discourse community, together with a classification of non-narrative and narrative iconical subgenres, where comic books and graphic novels belong. This article is aimed at gaining insight into the world of these texts in order to avoid the problematic confusion produced by the indiscriminate use of the term 'comics'. …

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