30 Mar SHORT NOTES ABOUT BANDE DESSINÉE
A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS.
The specific technique of comics is characterized by the visual breakdown of the story into ‘shots’ depicting moments of very short duration.[…] The structure of the story is based on the harmonious imbrication of sound (speech, noises) and image, with the former placed inside the latter. (LACASSIN, 1971)
The harmonious imbrication between image and text in the Bande Dessinée is crucial for its full appreciation. Some critics have stressed the importance of the text over the image, making it look as if the images are merely a complement to the text (GROENSTEEN, 1986): which is definitively not accurate for thinking of comics. It is precisely the combination of both sound and image, which constitutes the materialization and elaboration of comics.
It is true that sometimes one of the two elements can be more dominant: for instance, there are some artists who have created purely visual stories without any text. On the other had, if an artist created a work entirely with words and without any images, then we would categorize it as regular literature. So, actually, the image is essential for us to consider a work as a graphic story.
¿Is a picture is worth a thousand words? Maybe. If we took one graphic novel, for instance, “The Castafiore Emerald” and we tried to narrate the exact same story in detail, probably our end result would be longer than the comic version. So by including many details into the drawings, it is unnecessary to repeat in the text what is implicit in the drawings.
In other words: the drawings allow the artist to decrease the amount of text which he will include in the work. The picture substitutes a thousand words, creating a final work which is more easily accessible for the reader. It is not the same to sit down and read Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu” than to sit down and read Stéphane Heuet’s version of the masterpiece.
In conclusion, the imbrication of sound and image offers a medium which can be more appealing and more easily accessible for a reader who would not normally not be inclined to reading more conservative literature. The format of the Bande Dessinée requires an active reader who is looking around the page like a detective who searches for clues to get the big picture.
TIME IN THE BANDE DESSINÉE.
Our eyes detect quickly what is going on in a page. For example, in this page, your eyes probably dropped quickly to the image at the bottom of the page and studied it for a while before going back up and reading the start of the page. This happens constantly while reading Bande Dessinée: the pages are covered in images, but our gaze can not help but being more interested in some images than others within the same page.
Artists who create graphic novels have this in mind when creating the set up for each page. They know what will be seen first, and therefore where it is most likely for the reader to spend most time. And this leads, in my opinion, to another crucial and very particular characteristic of these visual stories: the time that the reader can spend on each vignette, on each page, is totally undetermined. The artist can try to make the reader spend more time on one strip, but he can never fully determine the time spent on each section. Comics borrow and synthesize contributions from painting, novels, engraving, theatre and film, but unlike the two last, comics do not determine the time that the reader should spend on each page.
It is true that comics have taken a lot from the sequences of scenes and the system behind cinema making. But it is more similar in its reception to art and literature: the receptor is able to spend as much time as necessary on each part of the Bande Dessinée. Some vignettes might require a few seconds, whilst others might keep the reader entertained for minutes. This is something impossible in theatre and film: where each act and each scene just passes in front of our eyes without giving the receptor the possibility of pausing and spending a bit more time assimilating it entirely.
In conclusion; each vignette of a comic might represent ‘shots’ which depict moments of very short duration of a global story. But it is up to the reader how much time he spends on each moment, never mind how short of a duration they represent.
PERSPECTIVE DETERMINES THE VIEW
The Adventure is over. There are no more trips to the land of black gold, no more Red Sea sharks or counterfeiters, ethnographers in the land of the Incas, abominable snowmen of the Himalayas, stolen scepters or explorers on the moon.(SERRES, 1970)
A few years ago I could go through all the Tintin books within a few hours, with one exception: “Les Bijoux de la Castafiore”. I remember finding it the most boring of the entire collection, because it was obviously not as exciting as going to Congo, to America or to the Moon with Tintin. The set up of this book is in Captain Haddock’s family estate in the town of Marlinshire, and in contrast to the other adventures of Tintin, they do not venture away: the adventure is over.
Therefore you can imagine my surprise when I started reading the some of the extensive criticism which has been written about “The Castafiore Emerald”. Suddenly, what had been for me the weakest work by Hergé, now became one of his central master pieces! Instead of being the most boring of his works it turned out to be “the most surprising of Tintin’s adventures” as Benoît Peeters described it.
It is necessary to put in perspective how the perception of a work can differ according to the approach which is taken while reading it. For instance, S. Tisseron searches a psychoanalytical approach to the book, while M. Serres considers “The Castafiore Emerald” a philosophical treatise by focusing on the communicational circuits that are present throughout the book, and on the other hand B. Peeters focuses on the chains of signifiers that point to different meanings. (SERRES, 1970) As a child, the only thing that I valued was the adventure.
Each reader projects on the Bande Dessinée their previous knowledge: if you do not know the references you are unable to recognize the intertextuality. Which leads to the acknowledgement that these comics are not just for children (most children would not appreciate the connections between the stealing magpie and Rossini, nor the relation between the Paris Flash and the Paris Match), and that they are worthy of philosophical writing.
HERGÉ (1930): The Adventures of Tintin Reporter for Le Petit Vingtième.. in the Land of the Soviets. Egmont. UK.
HERGÉ (1963): The Adventures of Tintin. The Castafiore Emerald. Egmont. UK.
MILLER, A. and BEATY, B. (2014): The French Comics Theory Reader. Leuven University Press. Inter alia:
GROENSTEEN, T. (1986): The Elusive Specificity in MILLER, A. and BEATY, B. (2014): The French Comics Theory Reader. Leuven University Press.
LECIGNE, B. and TAMINE, J-P. (1983): Modern Realism in MILLER, A. and BEATY, B. (2014): The French Comics Theory Reader. Leuven University Press.
SERRES, M. (1970): Laughter: the Absent Minded Jewels or the Bold Prima Dona in MILLER, A. and BEATY, B. (2014): The French Comics Theory Reader”. Leuven University Press