The Art of Braiding

A Clarification

in European Comic Art
Thierry Groensteen Independent scholar

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In this article, Groensteen sets out to clarify the concept of braiding, first elaborated (as tressage) in his 1999 work Système de la bande dessinée [The System of Comics]. He aims in particular to correct some misunderstandings that have arisen in the work of scholars who have taken the concept up. Not all comics deploy braiding, and in the case of those that do, it is quite possible for the reader to remain unaware of it (as s/he may be unaware of intertextual borrowings) and still find intelligibility at the narrative level. Moreover, braiding is always a supplement, never an essential element of the narrative (most repetitions are not instances of braiding, but have narrative functionality), and it must serve to deepen and enrich our reading of the comic. There are degrees of braiding: it can involve a small (a minimum of two) number of elements, or many more, and it can be more or less resonant for the reader. An early example, taken from Caran d’Ache, suggests that braiding was part of the medium’s formal repertoire from the outset.

Contributor Notes

Thierry Groensteen was the first director of the museum housed in the Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image in Angoulême. He is the author of numerous key texts on comics, including Système de la bande dessinée (1999) and its sequel, Bande dessinée et narration (2011). He is editor in chief of the online comics journal Neuvième Art, and edits a comics collection for the publisher Actes Sud. He also pursues numerous lecturing and curating commitments, and defends the cause of comics and comics scholarship in national and international settings.

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