Abstraction and Comics from a Semiotic Point of View

Fred Andersson, Aarnoud Rommens (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

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From a semiotic point of view, a number of analytic concepts and modelscan be mobilised in order to clarify the definition of both Comics andAbstraction. A fundamental question which must be asked is under whatconditions it would be meaningful to define certain comics as abstract. Asshown in sections 1 and 2 of this paper, some attempts to define a currentmovement of abstract comics are conditioned by a quite narrow idea of whatabstraction means. In sections 3 and 4 of the paper, a number of distinctionsare proposed in order to overcome such limitations: 1) A distinction between theabstraction of expression (signifiant)and the abstraction of content (signifié)in visual signs. 2) A distinction between pictorial visual signs and plasticvisual signs. 3) A tripartite distinction between tones, tokens and types asthree kinds of expressions (signifiants).In section 5, the case of El Lissitzky’s children’s book about two squaresfrom 1922 exemplifies an avant-garde in which Konstruktivism and Concrete Art became radical alternatives to themere abstraction of perceptual Reality. However, El Lissitzky’s book does notconfirm 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 imageswhich “do not cohere into a narrative” could be defined as sequential in anymeaningful sense. With reference to the development of modern comics, and ofavant-garde painting and cinema, a strict separation between image sequences,image series and image strings/suites is recommended. Finally, in section 7, itis concluded that a too limited definition of abstraction would exclude many experimentalworks 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 thisconclusion. They may also show, by means of exemplification, that existingcomics can help us modify our ideas of the abstract.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbstraction and Comics / Bande dessinée et abstraction
EditorsAarnoud Rommens, Benoît Crucifix, Björn-Olav Dozo, Erwin Dejasse, Pablo Turnes
PublisherPresses Universitaires de Liège
ISBN (Print)978-2-39008-039-8
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeA3 Part of a book or another research book


  • Abstract Art
  • Comics
  • Semiotics
  • concreteness/abstractness


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