Part II The Language of the 'Inbetween'

Two fundamental types of metaphorical relations can be found in comics. (Illustration 14) At least two objects are set side by side within a metaphorical comparison: A is like B. In a metaphorical substitution - A is B and therefore one can be replaced by the other - at least two fragmented figures from neighboring panels are short-circuited and reciprocally restored with the help of line- and color-linkings. In both cases significance is split. In a comparison, it is achieved indirectly by the parallel position of intact objects. In a substitution, significance is split directly by fragmentation and recombination of the objects into a grotesque figuration. In the first instance the body's integrity is not directly violated; in the second instance the two identities coexist with tension within one body.

In comics, linguistic and rhetorical figures actually become visible. Even when looked at on this pictorial level alone, comics make us understand that they are multilingual narrative forms - that they are not simple representations and that they differ from other narrative media in fundamental ways. Due to the interweave of visual shape and text structure, comics carry the potential necessary for complex modes of narration: i.e. poetic ambiguity, contradictions, and density.

These examples have shown that 'readings' or analyses of comics that focus on the individual panel as an absolute and isolated narrative element disregard the complexity of the medium. Apart from a conventional reading that follows the written text, other lines of development are possible, which lead to other meanings. Combinations and references that move in multiple directions are illustrated in Illustration 15. The thin arrows describe the abundant combinations possible for an individual panel placed at the center of a field - a potential that is often only partially mobilized. Of course, these combinations exist for every other panel as well. The syntactical order within which the panel is set is at times superimposed with a radially organized field of montage and connotation that asks for a polyvalent, web-like reading. A comics page turns out to be a permeable space, with a great potential of interrelationships, circulations, and alliances.

The flow of a visual narrative has a tendency to spread out and contaminate its surroundings. It overflows the banks of the regulating grid, forms diverging branches, and communicates with neighboring terrain. The main current is not compelled to say everything; it is assisted by a discrete semantic 'flood zone'. The narrative moves cautiously, sometimes speaks only indirectly. A part of the 'censored' information is diverted from the main channel to subsidiary zones.

In other words, main and secondary currents oscillate according to the position of the reader. They assume brain functions - memory functions; associations and commentaries are invited. In some radical cases, this form of pictorial poetry not only presents a simple visual narration, but also offers lateral associations that are usually formed only by the speculative recipient. In this way, the pictorial narrative can be seen as a map for certain patterns of association that occur in the human mind.

Sequentially organized media operate in such a way that symbols that have already been processed or that have yet to be traversed are not visible or at least have no disturbing effects. In the linguistic system, significance is masked and hidden by miniaturization and the abstraction of symbols; it can be recalled through a shifting point by point concentration - by reading. In cinematography, the disappearance of one focus is the precondition for the appearance of the next. Comics, however, offer a penetrating co-presence of past and future narrative elements during the actual 'reading' process. This is an important difference between comics and media such as literature and film. Comics' abundance of 'pictures' pressed into the small storage space of the page allows the viewer to easily survey them individually and as a whole. As a result, narrative elements are exposed to one another. They are unprotected from their surroundings and the observer may easily integrate these surroundings into the current reading. The semantic disturbances radiating from neighboring panels can be utilized in the narration, as we have seen.

The reciprocal influence of visual contents also leads to an influx and efflux of time. Time differences are synchronized, the main line is harmonized, and the adjacent panels are placed chronologically behind or ahead on the main line. But in a panorama view the panels are registered simultaneously. Therefore visual elements in comics that belong to one point in the reading process can expand their presence across time. This overlapping of different temporalities is one of the characteristics of the comics medium.

It is this curious mixture of simultaneously present pictures open in all directions and a strictly linear text structure that requires a fairly deep engagement that makes comics a fascinating, complex hybrid system. Two modes of reading, enabled by two autonomous symbolic systems, are in conflict here: the linguistic principle insists on separation, while the pictures want to unite. Of course, reception of such a hybrid form of representation cannot be uniform. The recipient must continuously switch between reading and observing. But even as an observer s/he is also divided, oscillating between a defined, orthodox movement along the panels and an infinite, composite panoramic view.

Literature and film almost always try to become that which on the material level they are the opposite of: a multidimensional fabric (textus). On the content level this fabric is produced by transparency - a 'translucent' flickering of many meanings achieved by rhetorical means and a 'translucency' achieved by allusions to other text segments either within (intertextuality) or beyond (infratextuality) the work. The number of these links renders the work 'deep' or 'dense'. Comics already produce a fabric-like structure on the level of their external appearance; they truly represent a 'text' in the original sense of the word, in addition to producing the types of transparency that have been examined in the examples in Part I.

All the phenomena mentioned here basically serve to support an economic form of visual narration. In the first examples, the dominant line compositions within 'pictures', i.e. those with an energy that encourages coherence, compete with syntactical indications. The effect of this rivalry (whether positive or negative for the syntactical order) is the specific consolidation of panels, allowing perception to move across panel borders as well as to orient the reader in the event of frequent changes of scene. Secondly, as we saw in subsequent examples, visual elements can be made use of repeatedly when panels are visually linked, thus reducing the laborious work of the designer, for fragmentated objects are restored by their neighbors. The top of the pyramid is built on these two levels - a language of the 'inbetween'. As the demonstrations have shown, by economically combining pictures one can produce a surplus of specific meanings in a manner similar to that of linguistic systems. Illustration 16 emblematizes that which takes place in every comic: a rather problematic CLASH of 'pictures'.