I suppose another difference is that less lasagna gets eaten.

This particular post comes out of the discussion of absence (albeit a very different kind of absence) in the CTRL Space readings,as well as Bryn’s use of a comic strip to illustrate issues of surveillance.  (I.E., if you don’t like this, blame Bryn.)

I come from a fairly literature-oriented background, so it’s probably expected that one of the things that came to my mind in the discussion of the gaze is the gaze of the reader.  I think that in a lot of ways, it’s similar to the sort of surveillance we’re talking about.  And I think this similarity is brought out through one webcomic in particular: Garfield minus Garfield.

For those not already familiar with the strip and too lazy to click on the link, the idea is that Dan Walsh takes Garfield strips featuring Jon and Garfield, and removes any presence of Garfield from them.  The erasure changes the tone of the comic considerably, and it’s why that should be that interests me.  Most of the strips in their original form didn’t actually depict Jon and his pet interacting; they showed Jon going about his daily life (which admittedly involved occasionally performing for his feline audience), while Garfield comments, in the invisible form of a pet.

A lot of the humour of the original strip comes out of the fact that Jon doesn’t know Garfield has the mental acuity to make these observations, which in a sense makes Garfield an unobserved observer.  It also makes Garfield a mediator between the reader and Jon, and a collaborator with the audience.  It’s ok to laugh at Jon, and to observe him, because someone else is already doing that.  By stripping Garfield away, we lose that cushioning layer–it’s just the reader gazing at a severely depressed man.

I could go on, (believe me, I could go on) but I’ll just raise a few more issues, and anyone who feels like elaborating can do so.  I think the comic strip is well suited for the investigation of the reader’s gaze, since it is more visual than other forms of text, and it allows us, in some cases, an unsurpassed level of surveillance: we can see the character’s thoughts.  And connecting our other discussions of animals, it’s interesting how, beyond just Jon, people tend to use animals, particularly pets, as a form (substitute?) for being gazed at.  And at a less surveillance-level, but connecting to the discussion today, as an analogue to the “is it art?”: is what way is Dan Walsh an author in the composition of Garfield minus Garfield?

I was either going to post on this, or on surveillance in children’s books: the evil stepmother’s mirror vs. Glinda the Good’s Great Book of Records, which records the actions of everyone in Oz.  I’ll let you decide which would have been a better choice.



2 responses to “I suppose another difference is that less lasagna gets eaten.

  1. Hi Michael,

    Wow, the Garfield minus Garfield strips are really sad–but incredibly interesting. Thanks for pointing those out; I’d never heard of them before. I just finished reading Watchmen in preparation for seeing the movie (unfortunately I couldn’t make it with everyone last weekend) and I got to thinking about your comments on the reader’s gaze and comic books.

    You had mentioned that you felt that the comic or graphic novel medium is well suited for investigating the reader’s gaze due to its visual nature. I’d never thought about it before, but the cells of a comic really connote that feeling of secret observation–even more so than some texts that actually intend to provoke these responses (such as diary texts where you feel almost naughty peering into someone’s life unobserved). It’s interesting how the perspective arranged in many of the Watchmen cells deliberately blurs the image due to the occasional intruding object obscuring the frame (such as a persons arm, the corner of a building, etc.). It reminded me of those blurred images of a (stalked) family we discussed in Bryn’s presentation. It seems then that the graphic novel is really a voyeuristic medium. But is it unique in this regard?

    I wonder too about your comments regarding the unsurpassed level of surveillance inherent to comics thanks to the character’s thought bubbles. How does this compare with the role of the omniscient narrator in a novel? Is it the same idea? Or, as you seem to be suggesting, do comic books reveal more somehow due to their visual nature? Can a reader’s imagination generate identical effects while reading a solidly text-based narrative? If the reader functions as the subject of surveillance, and the text the object, which medium presents a more efficient model for reader surveillance–the graphic novel or the textual novel?

    Anyway, those are just some interesting questions I was tossing around while reading. I know you have a strong interest in graphic novel work; if there are any articles you know of that tackle these questions, please, throw them my way.

    Thanks in advance.


  2. Michael Hancock

    I think the type of surveillance that graphic novels/comic strips can provide is POTENTIALLY unique, and this uniqueness comes from the visual aspect. As you said, there are some parallels between it and the omniscient narrator in novels. I think the difference is that novels tend to put the reader a step back from performing the actual surveillance. A novel typically is filtered through a first or third person sort of perspective. In the former case, then the character seems to be informing you directly, so it’s not surveillance, and in the latter case, it’s the narrator who does the observance, and tells you about it. In comparison, I’d argue that comics are more direct (even though, admittedly, they are every bit as composed and mediated by the author), presenting you with a series of visual snapshots that somehow capture what was said and even what was thought in a moment as well. To correlate with our readings, I think the graphic novel does a better job of making the invisible visible.
    The thought bubbles are an interesting case. A few years ago, the writer Grant Morrison wrote an issue of Frankenstein: Seven Soldiers of Victory in which the power of the main villain, Uglyhead, had the ability to read people’s thought bubbles. In a genre full of mind readers, it was interesting how this felt like something fresh and different–like the character had a power only the reader should possess. It’s also interesting to note that in the main comic book industry, thought bubbles have gone out of vogue, replaced almost entirely by narrative text boxes. I’d argue that the difference is that these text boxes turn the comics form into something more like the gaze of the novel: it’s still there, but the narrative provides another level of mediation.
    As for papers dealing with this subject… um. I talk a good game, but I haven’t really looked at a lot of theory behind comic book writing. I know Bryn has though, so if anyone wants to twist his arm…
    (Sidenote: I have done some research into comic book fandom, and I wanted to mention Jeffrey Brown ‘s paper, “Comic Book Fandom and Cultural Capital.” In the paper, Brown argues that the average comic book fan establishes his or her identity in the comic book reader community based on the physical collection of comic books he or she can point to on a shelf. This strikes me as uncomfortably close to what Debord was referring to when he describes how we’ve become a society that uses consumption to establish our identities and escape alienation.
    And yes, I do believe I could relate every week’s readings to something in comic books.)

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