Gothic and Comics: From The Haunt of Fear to a Haunted Medium
Authors: Round, J.
Editors: Punter, D.
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
This article uses a series of case studies to demonstrate that comics can be considered gothic in historical, cultural and formalist terms. It first discusses the historical development of the comics industry in the UK and USA, and looks closely at three case studies representative of different genres: • The gothic superhero (fragmented identity, archetypes, breakdown of Manichean morality – focus on various Batman comics [Arkham Asylum? (Morrison/McKean, 1989)] • Horror comics and gothic (hosts, authenticity, closure, horror genre – focus on EC Comics and House of Mystery) • Misty and girls gothic (1978-80 British girls’ comics: subversive, gendered) It then proceeds to discuss the culture around comics, noting the medium’s subcultural fanbase and low status and establishing parallels with goth subculture. These include the presentation of an outward-facing coherence that exists at the same time as strong opposed internal subgroups; a requirement for active participation from members; a reliance on commodity and consumption; and a strong sense of community revolving around clubs and conventions. The final part of the article focuses on the formal qualities of the comics medium. It argues that many points of comics narratology can be rearticulated using gothic literary theory, including the spatial layout of the page and the depiction of time as space, the active role of the comics reader in the gutter, and the mobility of visual and verbal perspective. It reconsiders these areas using the gothic tropes of haunting, the crypt, and of excess. It firstly looks at the layout of the comics page, defining this as a haunted place where all moments co-exist and within which gothic motifs of doubling and mirroring are often used. It then discusses the active role of the comics reader using cryptomimetic theory: defining the gutter (between panels) as an encrypted space that can exist only retrospectively, in our ‘backward-looking thoughts’. Finally, it considers the multiple combinations and subversions of perspective that are possible in comics as examples of gothic excess: for example the use of an extradiegetic/external narrative voice combined with an intradiegetic visual perspective (of a story character). It returns to the above case studies and also brings in more diverse examples of children’s comics to support this argument. The chapter concludes that the gothic mode informs the content, cultural status and structure of contemporary British-American comics.