Graphic Narrative Theory: Comics Storytelling in Watchmen
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of English Honors Theses; 2011
With the striking increase in sales of comics and graphic novels over the past decade, graphic narratives are now favored reading material for Barnes & Noble clientele and subscribers to the New Yorker, not just awkward adolescents or stereotypical nerds. Graphic novels are also being taught in elementary and secondary schools and in college classrooms. Because the medium is evolving and is garnering such a large following, it is important to acquire the tools needed to discuss the medium as serious literature and explore its characteristic features and effects. My thesis draws on ideas from narrative theory to engage with graphic novels, even as it uses medium-specific features of graphic narrative to explore the scope and limits of existing narratological tools. The graphic-narrative medium is distinctive because it contains both visual and verbal tracks; the multimodal nature of the medium may comply with or subvert narrative theories that are based on literary narratives in print. To explore issues of medium-specificity--that is, the extent to which current theories of narrative need to be adjusted to the specific affordances and constraints of the graphic-narrative medium, I use Alan Moore’s, Dave Gibbons’s, and John Higgins’s Watchmen as a case study. The two chapters of the thesis focus on two different dimensions of my case study, while also using Watchmen to probe the possibilities and limits of the tools theorists of narrative have developed to analyze those aspects of narrative. Chapter one draws on Catherine Emmott's idea of "contextual frames" to examine how readers make sense of different temporal and spatial frames in graphic novels like Watchmen. Here I am particularly interested in moments where the visual track complicates or stands in a dissonant relationship with the verbal track, requiring readers to engage in complex interpretive processes to make sense of where events happen in space and time. Chapter two draws on what Marie-Laure Ryan terms the "principle of minimal departure"--the idea that readers will assume that a fictional world is like our own world, unless the text explicitly signals otherwise--to consider how Watchmen functions as a counterfactual history. Again, I explore how the constraints and affordances of the graphic-narrative medium come into play in this connection, and how the visual track in particular can cue inferences about how the fictional world diverges from historical accounts of the period during which it is set.