What is it about?

Audiences of narratives always need to know what is the source of any information in a story. Ultimately the source is a "narrator" of some sorts. Narrators can convey their own perspective on story events (= focalization) or they can delegate such perspectives to (other) characters. "Perspectives" are rooted in sensory perception (mainly: seeing and hearing). What makes the relation between narration and focalization more complex is that it can be layered (cf. "Maryn said that Emiel thought that Christian saw Judith"). All this is already quite complicated in written or spoken stories, but in the medium of comics both narration and focalization can be done by (1) language; (2) visuals; or (3) both. This paper discusses a number of comics panels in which narration and/or focalization rely crucially on visual information. The claims are amply supported by panels from a variety of comics & graphic novels.

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Why is it important?

As we have all known since the 1960s thanks to Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the message." In the service of developing both comics-specific aspects of narratology AND aspects of narratology that hold for all media, it is important to chart how the central narratological issues of "who tells?" and "whose perspective is provided?" can be presented in a medium that draws on two modes: language and visuals.


The issue of narration and focalization and their interrelation is both the most crucial and the most complex one in narratology, and provides (or: should provide) insight into analyses not just of fictional stories but also of non-fictional ones. On this basis, it is recommendable to focus both on how narration and focalization can be used in a (any) specific medium and link this to how they work irrespective of medium so as to contribute to an inclusive narratology.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Narrating and focalizing visually and visual-verbally in comics and graphic novels, Pragmatics & Cognition, November 2023, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/pc.22007.for.
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