Rethinking the comic book form

By Rosa Mas Giralt

This week American comic books’ writer Harvey Pekar passed away in his home in Cleveland. He was mainly known for his American Splendor series, in which he developed an alternative to the genre by focusing on autobiographical everyday experiences and rejecting fantasy based narratives. Over more than thirty years, he collaborated with a variety of artists who visualized his ideas, greatly enhancing the comic book form in the US. He also used autobiographical material in longer graphic works, such as Our Cancer Year, which he co-wrote with his third wife Joyce Brabner in 1994, and which dealt with their experiences when he was diagnosed with cancer. In 2003, this graphic novel was adapted for the big screen (under the title American Splendor) and the film received numerous nominations and awards.

In fact, Pekar’s ideas regarding the flexibility of a visual and textual form which provides rich possibilities of expression finds an echo in a recent article by Jason Dittmer (2010) in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. In his piece, Dittmer contributes to geographies of reading and visuality by exploring the micro-geographies of the comic page, their characteristics and their potential as representational tools which transcend linearity through plurivectoral narration and shifting temporalities. He suggests that “the spatial grammar of the comics page can open geography up to new understandings of phenomena, replacing the seemingly ‘correct’ succession of images and meanings with a more contingent and provisional ‘event’, highlighting the importance of the ‘readers’ of phenomena in producing those very phenomena” (2010, 235); this may help to represent, he adds, relationships of emergent causality important in political geography. In this way, the potential of the comic book form can also find expression in geography.

 Read Harvey Pekar’s obituary on The Guardian website (by Steve Holland)

 Read Jason Dittmer (2010) “Comic book visualities: a methodological manifesto on geography, montage and narration”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 35(2): 222-236.

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