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January 29, 2008


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I haven't read System, but I've read works like it. And yes, I'm a francophone, so that may explain it.

I can tell you that French academia doesn't just give this treatment to comics but to all fields. I can't tell you the number of depressing French Lit course I took where they required you to analyse poetry by way of sound, syllable and structure, even when it didn't produce anything of value. I couldn't wait to go back to my English Lit pursuits where theses are much more free form.

The French language itself is regulated by an Academy (slowing its evolution in comparison with the more dynamic English), and the same spirit of "rule of law" permeates all media studies.

Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with analyzing comics structurally, but it's only a partial picture, just as poems are more than just numbers of lines and rythms.


Agreed that formalist and structural analysis are only part of the picture.

Me, I'm coming from a background in which comics form was neglected, so, for a long time, I wanted to reassert formalism in order to complete the picture. This I believe was the position of many North American comics scholars in the 1990s, tired of sweeping sociological content analysis and other approaches that took no notice of the unique artistic qualities, or signifying practices if you will, of the comics form.

I think now, finally, comics studies in the US can integrate formalist and structuralist approaches with others, including, of course, historical and ideological criticism. And, on a personal level, I don't want to reduce the aesthetic and emotional qualities of comics to a rote structuralism.

Having said that, I still found System a bracing and enlightening book. I really am a fool for aesthetic and formalist criticism, including the most nuts'n'boltsy kind of stuff, and Groensteen offers a lot of ideas to enable that sort of thing (which of course can also be applied to ideological criticism, etc.).

I wanted to avoid two sweeping statements in my review: one, that "French" scholarship tends to be a certain way; and, two, that "academic" writing tends to be the same anywhere, regardless of culture. I'm not sure I avoided either pitfall, actually.


Don't worry about it. French scholarship DOES have that tendency. As for academic writing, I wouldn't tie it to culture one way or another. I think there's a range of styles in every language I've read.

For my part, I think any given work should be analyzed using whatever tools will produce a thought-provoking result. If discussing Comic X's panel structure doesn't enlighten us about Comic X, then that aspect shouldn't be discussed as if it were important. It might be wholly relevant to Comic Y's artistry however. I'm a pick and choose kind of guy.

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