Hague – University of Copenhagen

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Ian Hague: Beyond the Visual: The Roles of the Senses in Contemporary Comics

We tend to think of comics as a visual medium, a means by which stories are told using a sequential arrangement of images and (sometimes) words. In recent years, however, it has become increasingly apparent that this conception of the medium is not as valid as it arguably once was. Electronic media and artistic innovation have begun to challenge the idea that comics are a ‘mono-sensory’, medium as creators are now consciously striving to incorporate textures, smells, sounds and even, in some cases, tastes into their works. (1)

Over the course of this presentation, I will discuss some examples of such works, and think about the ways in which creators are working with a diverse array of materials and technologies to develop works that are still primarily visual, but not exclusively so. Additionally, I will outline some of the possibilities for and implications of the use of the non-visual senses in comics.

To do so, I will consider each of the senses in turn, and look at a range of examples of the ways in which creators have taken up the challenge of incorporating sounds, textures, smells and tastes into their comics to create what are truly physical reading experiences. My presentation will not focus on a particular comic, but rather will take in a selection of works from various areas, including Ben Katchor’s Julius Knipl Audio Cartoons, DC Comics’ Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits and the recently launched UK small press anthology Solipsistic Pop.

1 McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, p.89.