Abstraction and Comics from a Semiotic Point of View

A3 Book section, Chapters in research books

Internal Authors/Editors

Publication Details

List of Authors: Fred Andersson
Editors: Aarnoud Rommens, Benoît Crucifix, Björn-Olav Dozo, Erwin Dejasse, Pablo Turnes
Place: Liège
Publication year: 2019
Publisher: Presses Universitaires de Liège
Book title: Abstraction and Comics / Bande dessinée et abstraction
Title of series: ACME
Number in series: 4
Start page: 371
End page: 396
ISBN: 978-2-39008-039-8


From a semiotic point of view, a number of analytic concepts and models
can be mobilised in order to clarify the definition of both Comics and
Abstraction. A fundamental question which must be asked is under what
conditions it would be meaningful to define certain comics as abstract. As
shown in sections 1 and 2 of this paper, some attempts to define a current
movement of abstract comics are conditioned by a quite narrow idea of what
abstraction means. In sections 3 and 4 of the paper, a number of distinctions
are proposed in order to overcome such limitations: 1) A distinction between the
abstraction of expression (signifiant)
and the abstraction of content (signifié)
in visual signs. 2) A distinction between pictorial visual signs and plastic
visual signs. 3) A tripartite distinction between tones, tokens and types as
three kinds of expressions (signifiants).
In section 5, the case of El Lissitzky’s children’s book about two squares
from 1922 exemplifies an avant-garde in which Konstruktivism and Concrete Art became radical alternatives to the
mere abstraction of perceptual Reality. However, El Lissitzky’s book does not
confirm to Andrei Molotiu’s influential definition of abstract comics as
“sequential art” in which images “do not cohere into a narrative”. In section 6, then, it is questioned whether images
which “do not cohere into a narrative” could be defined as sequential in any
meaningful sense. With reference to the development of modern comics, and of
avant-garde painting and cinema, a strict separation between image sequences,
image series and image strings/suites is recommended. Finally, in section 7, it
is concluded that a too limited definition of abstraction would exclude many experimental
works which are comics in a more genuine sense, i.e. comical. Some of the nine
“exhibits” shown in the paper may provide some empirical evidence for this
conclusion. They may also show, by means of exemplification, that existing
comics can help us modify our ideas of the abstract.


Abstract Art, Comics, concreteness/abstractness, Semiotics


Last updated on 2020-23-09 at 06:06