About this Issue
â€ºThis is not the end...â€¹
As Aristotle already made clear in his Poetics, every story needs an ending, a beginning â€“ and ideally something to fill the space between them. This â€ºin-betweenâ€¹ has always been the object of philological and narratological research. Endings, too, have been a favorite concern for academic curiosity: be it Stefan Kraftâ€™s treatise on the Happy End in comedies (2011), Willem Strankâ€™s dissertation on cinematic twist endings (2016) or the conference proceedings of the journal Poetik und Hermeneutik entitled The End: Figurations of a Form of Thought (1999). The question how it all comes to a close appears to be an object of fascination for a wide range of scholars in the broad area of cultural studies. Where does that leave the beginning and its complements, the first panel, the initial event, the first issue?
While the work may end with a bang, the beginning barely elicits a whimper, let alone sustained scholarly attention. This neglect is all the more curious in the case of comics studies, since beginnings seem ubiquitous in our chosen medium on several levels. After all, any form of serial narration has to reckon with the dramatization of beginnings and provisional conclusions; while the story (histoire) of Batman is ongoing, its telling (discours) has to start from scratch with every new issue. Long-running series also demand a balance between fulfilling the expectations of its stalwart acolytes and winning over a new readership. For instance, the American publisher DC Comics mandated a new beginning for its 52 ongoing series a couple of years ago, a clean slate as a fresh starting point for the uninitiated. And, last but not least, the origin story features prominently in the fictional biographies of superheroes, with their narratives of radioactive spiders and Kryptonian rockets recurring as a classic format in comics history â€“ to be begun and narrated anew ad infinitum.
It is not only, however, in the context of serial superheroic fiction that the elements marking â€ºbeginningsâ€¹ and â€ºnew beginningsâ€¹ are crucial components. Against a historical background inquiries into the â€ºbeginningâ€¹ of comics appear all the more urgent, tackling origins of the medium together with the genesis of individual types or nationally and culturally specific formal developments in comics. The authors brought together in CLOSURE #4 have proceeded from this broad spectrum of inquiries, ranging from narratological to historical beginnings.
To begin with, Paul Malone (Waterloo/Canada) discusses a historical landmark in German comics history. Naturally, this story does not commence with the term â€ºgraphic novelâ€¹ circulated by marketing-savvy booksellers; nor did German comics start with the 90â€™s manga boom or in the 80â€™s, when the individual Album reigned supreme. In Werbecomics at the beginning of German comics, Paul Malone instead searches for graphic origins in the early 20 century. His contribution deals with Werbecomics, advertisements in the form of comics printed in a variety of consumer journals. In view of their importance and wide circulation, these examples of the medium have been unduly neglected in comics scholarship. At the time, Werbecomics by Emmerich Huber and Josef Maudner (the principal protagonists of this canon-averse history) contained some of the most popular examples of the form.
While the historical perspective is continued with the essay Speech Balloons, Bubbles and Captions by Camilla Murgia (Geneva), the object of inquiry is a very different one: Murgia considers the development of British comics in the 18th century. Elements as characteristic for comics as speech bubbles, captions, and a whole range of verbal/visual interactions originate in satirical prints amidst a bourgeoning market and changing legal landscape. Reacting to and commenting on contemporary events and each other, these early comics display a zest for formal innovation in ever-renewed multimodal sequences. Changing networks of distribution and reading habits correlate with constant innovation of the combination, shape, and narrative potential of text and image.
The publication format is also the object of inquiry for Pascal LefÃ¨vre (Brussels), according to whom this topic is all-too often neglected by comics studies. Using the example of two Belgian weeklies, Tintin and Spirou, LefÃ¨vre shows that the publication context at the time of the initial release is a crucial influence on the structure of a given comic. On the basis of an empirical study of such beginnings, the article demonstrates the similarities developing out of the constraints and house styles imposed on the individual artists and the beginnings of their series. Such resemblances, as LefÃ¨vre shows, have to be researched with close attention to editorial conventions and practices.
The initial observation undergirding the contribution by Lukas R. A. Wilde (TÃ¼bingen) is also a historical one, namely the development of webcomics since the mid-90â€™s. Rather than rehashing the dated hope of a formal revolution as augured by Scott McCloud, Wilde investigates how comics can exceed a narrative function in order to visualize classes of objects. The new beginning in webcomics can, from this point of view, be seen to proceed by means of decidedly non-narrative images. In departure from a narrative mode, the comics described by Wilde negotiate their own status as images, as well as their readability and narratability.
With the essay by David Turgay (Landau) â€“ #1, S. 1: Die stetige Wiederkehr des Neuanfangs in Reboots â€“ the focus shifts from historical and theoretical perspectives to â€ºpractical criticismâ€¹, a close reading of the respective first pages of a whole host of reboots. Captain America, Wonder Woman, or the Avengers all begin a fresh, and Turgay investigates how such new starts are dramatized for new readers â€“ without thereby alienating long-standing comics aficionados. By delving into a great many of Number One Issues, Turgay unveils a variety of strategies by means of which different series have responded to this double requirement.
The readerâ€™s perspective also underlies the contribution by Annina Klappert (Erfurt). She argues that Chris Wareâ€™s Building Stories can be read as ergodic literature, since it does not predetermine the process of reception. Each reading, and therefore also the beginning of each reading, is in the hands of the reader, who has to traverse multiple comics in shifting formats assembled in a single, oversized box.
Our recurring section â€ºComicKontextâ€¹ this time features an interview with the publishers of the comics anthology Pure Fruit. Our editor Rosa Wohlers has asked the artists from Kiel about their day-to-day work, their history, and of course the origin story of their fruit-based moniker. In addition, this contains an introduction to a relatively recent type of multimedia performance art: Comics readings, which are regularly organized by the Kontaktcenter in Hamburg. This is all the more fitting since the Kontaktcenter representatives Gregor Hinz (who is also a member of Pure Fruit), Sascha Hommer and Jul Gordon, in cooperation with Tanja Esch, read from their comics at the first Kiel Comics Conference.
As per usual, CLOSURE #4 features an extensive review section, in which our authors present, evaluate, praise and criticize current comics and secondary literature alike.
This issue of CLOSURE assembles selected contributions to the Kiel Comics Conference on â€ºBeginnings and Renewals in Comicsâ€¹ which took place in Kiel in September 2016. For our team, this issue marks a new beginning in its own right: in addition to the occasional review we will from now on also publish articles in English to address both a wider readership and the international comics community. We would like to thank all speakers and guests for contributing to our conference â€“ to new beginnings!
Kiel, November 2017
Chris Ullrich Cochanski
Editing & Layout
Chris Ullrich Cochanski
Cover & Illustrations
Marleen Krallmann, Nora Grunwald (Issue #4)
Matthias Latza (ComicKontext)