By Sergio Figueiredo
An anthropomorphic canine in a trench-coat approaches his table and asks: “Jason?” “Yeah, that’s me.” Across the table, about to sip from a coffee, an anthropomorphic feline is in shock (“!”) as the canine shoots Jason in the face with a semi-automatic pistol. Afterwards, only silence remains as the “reader” is left to her/his own devices to continue the brief narrative in whichever way s/he decides more relevant to the moment of visualization.
This is the scene (and impression) that V.G. Elliott leaves us with at the conclusion of her Multimedia Research Essay titled “Jason,” which explores the comic art style of the Norwegian writer/artist. However, this scene only appears when we roll over the words “magic element” that she claims is found in “[e]very last Jason comic.” And this is precisely what Elliot accomplishes with this multimodal essay as she uses the Sophie program to develop an interactive essay that incorporates the examples she sees as necessary to effective writing: “no one can truly grasp a piece of media without having an example” (Medium Reflection). While Sophie’s capabilities are impressive in their own right, Elliott makes effective use of the multimodal potentialities the software makes available by juxtaposing the images she discusses alongside the text and thought she adds to Jason’s work.
In setting up the argument about the importance of Jason’s work, Elliott taps into a host of work within comics-specific scholarship (cf. Scott McCloud and Will Eisner) and into current research on the pedagogical applicability of comics within rhetorical and composition studies, especially in the wake of the pedagogical move toward abstraction (cf. Geoffrey Sirc, Gregory Ulmer, among others). However, this work stands out the most when it addresses the importance of Jason’s minimal use of text to create a narrative structure that asks the “reader” to read otherwise, experimenting with what the artwork provokes in the reader’s imagination – the magic element. In the last sequence that Elliott cites, the “reader” is left to wonder what happens to the anthropomorphic dog and what reaction the anthropomorphic feline will have after the initial shock of the moment. Perhaps a bit too obvious to ignore, the author/artist “Jason” is now dead and the reader’s interpretation/response is all that matters (cf. Barthes).
Similarly, Elliott’s project, with her argumentative response to classifying these comics as “indie,” leaves us wondering about the relationship between image and text in Jason’s comics. Elliott’s claim that Jason’s comics style leaves room for the “reader” to add interpretations not directly represented in the work echoes what Alan Moore, in Promethea 32, has viewed as the rhetorical power of comics: “Words being the currency of our verbal ‘left’ brain and image that of our pre-verbal ‘right’ brain, perhaps comic strip reading prompts both halves to work in unison?” This is precisely what Elliott’s piece demonstrates as she infuses her own verbal interpretation to the images she pulls from Jason’s work.
Yet, the primary concern that arises from comparing the production and the content therein is grounded in the primacy of the text. While Elliott selects effective examples of Jason’s work, she relies heavily on the textual component of the essay, especially since her argument comes out of the images. From the written words, we are led to the artwork throughout the essay. Instead, varying the order in which each appears could provide a performative (magical?) element to her own multimodal essay, illustrating how her interpretation of the examples she’s chosen have led to the thought she presents in this essay.
In any case, Elliott’s essay suggests that there is a move within comics toward abstraction and writing in the abstract, requiring the “reader” to engage with what is presented to produce something that is felt through the “reading” experience, but not already present in the work. The magical element that Elliott builds toward suggests a new move in comics studies, both formally and rhetorically. Even though she begins the essay with traditional research connecting cinema and comics, she transforms that research into a “magical” reading of Jason’s work that develops out of her way of reading. A (potential) next step would be to write a variety of narratives from her own interpretations of the artwork. In my own story, Jason rises from the grave as a Zombie, eating away at traditional comics by infusing his own brand of magical, imaginative, and abstract creative acts (cf. Duchamp, “The Creative Act”).