Reading Comics

The Valve is hosting a book event on Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics (I have just noticed that the dust jacket design features thinking clouds, a pun on Wolk’s surname (Wolke = cloud in German) — how awfully clever!).

In a previous article on Sequart, Wolk and Timothy Callahan, another comic book devotee, talk about reading comics and notions such as “bad readers”, “authorial intent” and “interpretation”. Callahan sums up his position as follows:

I do place the onus of interpretation fully on the shoulders of the reader. A text has no responsibility to “be” anything. It doesn’t have to be entertaining, or suspenseful, or funny, or even clear. It simply has to exist. Then it’s up to the reader to figure it out.

I couldn’t agree more, although I would want to add that the reader must also answer the question as to what is (part of) the text and what isn’t. Callahan’s repeated reference to the “incompleteness of the text” suggests that he believes the text (or the “work of art”) to exist independently of a reader defining the text’s boundaries. However, if we truly want to place the “onus of interpretation” on the reader, shouldn’t we grant that it is in fact the reader who has to posit, consciously or unconsciously, the boundaries of the text he or she is experiencing? After all, a reader’s approach to and experience of a new book (or comic, for that matter) is contingent on his or her reading history, and depending on the associations, intertextual links, thoroughness or laziness of the reader, he or she may link the current text (that is, the novel, the short story, the comic) to other texts, which by virtue of this link function as though they were one text rather than two.

Also worth reading: John Holbo’s follow-up post on The New Skrullicism.


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