The following text is the transcript of the presentation given by Thierry Groensteen at the conference of the International Bande Dessinée Society at the French Institute in London on 14 April 2007, in which he outlined the key elements of his semiotic approach to the analysis of the comics medium in the recently translated System of Comics, the first part of a trilogy subsequently completed by the historical overview of Astérix, Barbarella & Cie ['Asterix, Barbarella & Co.'], and the analysis of the cultural positioning of comics in France in Un objet culturel non identifié ['An Unidentified Cultural Object']. He also spoke of his priorities as a publisher: the affirmation of a European artistic tradition, the promotion of work by female artists, and the establishment of a dialogue between creativity and reflection.
A Few Words about The System of Comics and More . . .
The Art of Braiding
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.
The Monstrator, the Recitant, and the Shadow of the Narrator
This article provides the base for a narratology that is specific to comics. It takes into account the irrefutable presence of an agent responsible for graphic enunciation, the monstrator, and on the basis of a case study (Franquin, Jidéhem and Greg's album, The Shadow of Z) it deducts that the instance of the recitant is responsible for verbal enunciation. The necessity to distinguish these two instances from that of the fundamental narrator is collaborated by the different positions that can be adapted with respect to storytelling.
Five Years of Editing Les Cahiers de la Bande Dessinée
Thierry Groensteen looks back over the years during which he edited Les Cahiers de la Bande Dessinée, transformed from the earlier Schtroumpf into a publication that promoted analysis and brought challenging and ambitious comics to the attention of readers, in a context where an earlier generation of comics studies pioneers had deserted the medium, and the experimentation of 1970s comics had given way to the dominance of more commercially viable series. Groensteen details the complex labour of putting a journal together, the recruiting of contributors, the coexistence of disparate theoretical approaches, and the hostility from certain quarters of the comics milieu that considered the journal pretentiously intellectual. The legacy of Les Cahiers endures in the form of major works for which it laid the foundations.
From Cerisy to Oubapo
Thierry Groensteen's memoir recalls the intellectual ferment of colloquia held at Cerisy-la-Salle in Normandy, subsequently the venue for two conferences organised by Groensteen himself. The first, the ground-breaking Bande dessinée, récit et modernité [Comics, Narrative and Modernity] in 1987, was a key moment in the history of the theorisation of comics as art form. Groensteen's own presentation explored the threshold of narrativity in comics, and other noteworthy contributions included those of the philosopher Henri Van Lier and Marc Avelot, whose reading of Martin Vaughn-James's La Cage rescued this masterpiece from obscurity. This conference also laid the foundations for the Oubapo movement, the production of comics under constraint, whose later development Groensteen chronicles. The second, ‘La Transécriture’, in 1993, was an early exploration of comics as part of a cross-media environment.
Notes on Contributors
Paul Gravett, Thierry Groensteen, Lance Rickman, Matthew Screech, Tanitoc, and Clare Tufts
Notes on contributors
Notes on Contributors
Bart Beaty, Armelle Blin-Rolland, Rod Cooke, Pierre Fresnault-Deruelle, Thierry Groensteen, Benoît Peeters, Annick Pellegrin, Lawrence R. Schehr, Greice Schneider, and Raphaël Taylor
Notes on Contributors to Volume 3