Comics Narratology

There exists a tradition of sustained critical engagement with narratology in the field of comics studies, most profoundly so in Thierry Groensteen’s The System of Comics (1999) and Comics and Narration (2011), and most recently so in Kai Mikkonen’s The Narratology of Comic Art (2017). Characteristic of this tradition is the surveying of existing heterogeneous arguments regarding a particular narratological issue, say temporality or focalization, and then adding to this plurality by bringing comics into the mix.

My project takes a different route: following Mieke Bal’s Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative (1985) and Peter Verstraten’s Film Narratology (2009), I aim to develop a systematic account of comics narratology that is all-encompassing and internally coherent. The downside to this approach is that it necessitates choosing between various narratological insights; the upside is that it facilitates the exchange of different interpretations of a particular comics text, because all readers can employ the same narratological concepts.

The scope of a paper does not allow for an outline of a complete comics narratology. Instead, I will focus on one component, namely the role of the narrator, who is after all the agent that does the drawing in and out central to this conference. Following Bal, I will argue that the narrator in comics can be external or character-bound, and perceptible or non-perceptible. Following Verstraten’s division between a visual narrator and a sound narrator in film, I propose a triad in comics: a spatial narrator (layout), a visual narrator (drawings), and a verbal narrator (words).