Submitted by Pear-pear on December 29, 2007 - 14:11
For a while, more by consistent accident than on purpose, I've been drawing the contents of the speech bubbles in Pear-Pear in a slightly more representational style than much of what goes on in the "physical" space of the comic. Cases in point are the detailed garbage heap and the dream crocodile. I like the effect sometimes, but I think it creates problems for me other times.
After reading Neil Cohnâ€™s column on framing, I've been more actively thinking about speech bubbles. The conventionality of the speech bubble lends legibility--or the illusion of legibility--to what is sometimes visual gibberish, or provides the key tool for getting a whole visual sentence out of a single panel.
The concept of framing might even justify changing artistic style within the bubbles in a way that mirrors the shifts in rhetorical style that distinguishes narrative frames in Chaucerâ€™s work (which is what made me so interested in him in grad school). But Iâ€™ll have to work that out another day. Today, let me focus on the problem I created for myself in this recent comic.
In my original sketch, the flower in the framed-pearâ€™s speech bubble was iconic. A flat-on view of eight petals radiating from a circle. Somewhere in the process I decided to draw instead a small boquet with at least one flower specifically identifiable (a pansy).
The idea in the comic is that the pear (in the main physical space) is deciding to apologize to the kiwi. The framed pear functions like the pronoun â€œI,â€ and the fact that it is in a speech bubble indicates (to me anyway) that he occupies a linguistic or rhetorical space, and should therefore be seen as depicting a state or event that is not present--either because it is in the past, or the future, or the imagination (I forget which theorist proposed that speech acts are always expressions of a tension between whatâ€™s real and what isnâ€™tâ€¦sounds Lacanian?). And finally, operating more like a synecdoche, the flower was supposed to represent apology. People send flowers when theyâ€™re sorry, right? So to sum up, the pear is saying something like, â€œI want to apologize.â€
This process sounds like a complicated set of mental hoops to jump through to get at a very banal meaning. But Iâ€™d maintain that it isnâ€™t much more brainwork than reading text; itâ€™s just that weâ€™re used to reading text. So, anyway, to get back to the twist in my authorial panties--would this cartoon have been clearer if the flowers had been more iconic? Would it be clearer that speech bubbles should be read as rhetorical spaces if the images contained in them were *less* representational? Or would the comic still confuse the heck out of people (As I hear from some quarters it does)?
The only defense I can think of for adopting a more representational style within rhetorical/linguistic spaces is the olâ€™ appeal to authority: Chaucer did it. Check out the Parliament of Fowls. Or the Book of the Duchess. The more hit-you-over-the-head allegorical the stories get, the more fun Chaucer has playing with realism. A better-known example: The Wife of Bath--is she a very detailed allegorical figure within an Estates Satire, or a life-like portrait of some historical personage?
I was hoping to solve my problem by writing about it, but the process has only left my questions more open-ended. Any ideas?