The Medium Is the Message

Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen beyond Expectations of Autobiography, Colonial History and the Graphic Novel

in European Comic Art
Benoît Crucifix Université de Liège

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Gert Meesters University of Lille

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This article proposes a close reading of Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen, focusing on the various cultural discourses that it engages with, and particularly its ironical self-positioning within the field of comics. First of all, Schrauwen playfully questions the entrenchment of autobiography in the contemporary graphic novel by presenting a wholly fantasised adventure as biographical family history. This play with generic expectations is continued through Schrauwen’s reliance on the tropes of the adventure story and its figuration of the voyage. Arsène Schrauwen also draws on stereotypical images of both Belgium and the Belgian Congo and integrates them into a grotesque narrative so as to question the supposed unicity of the individual and colonial bodies. Last but not least, the book displays a highly self-reflexive approach to comics storytelling, building on a legacy from Flemish comics in order to play with reading conventions, graphic enunciation and abstraction, thereby thematising the perception of the main character.

Contributor Notes

Benoît Crucifix is an FRS-FNRS doctoral fellow at the Université de Liège and Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium. He holds master’s degrees in modern languages and literature (UCL) and literary theory (KU Leuven). His PhD project focuses on the histories of comics produced by contemporary graphic novelists through their engagement with the past of the medium. He is a member of the Acme comics research group and has written about comics for the online platforms du9, Graphixia and Töpfferiana.

Gert Meesters is an associate professor of Dutch language and culture at the University of Lille in France. He holds a PhD in Dutch linguistics from the University of Leuven and is a founding member of the Acme comics research group, created at the University of Liège in 2008. Since 2012, he has also been a member of the research unit Cécille at the University of Lille, uniting scholars specialising in foreign languages and cultures. He coedited L’Association, une utopie éditoriale et esthétique (2011) and Comics in Dissent: Independence, Alternative, Self-publishing (2014). His most recent articles focus on the development of the narrative system in Belgian and French comics, on the evolution of language use in long-running comics in Dutch and on the state of the Flemish comics field in general. Most of his most recent projects are based on case studies of comics by Brecht Evens and Olivier Schrauwen.

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