The first chapter of Thierry Groensteen‘s The System of Comics defines his project as an “attempt at a systematic description of the physical essence of comics” (2007:24). Groensteen’s concept of “spatio-topicality” embodies a systematic duality of space and place, physicality and theme. It is rooted in a strange assumption that a comic’s physical support will always-already be print.
He does write of the “reassembly” to which comics are subjected when the publication format changes. These changes “in physical support” are “from the daily newspaper newspaper or a book, or from an album to a pocket book edition” (2007:25). Nevertheless, his analysis leaves out parameters beyond the planche and the page; different “physical supports” for him mean different page sizes and dimensions. For Groensteen comics are “sums of hyperframes” (2007:31), not different types of publications, with covers and back covers and time and space between one issue and the next.
What is absent from his discussion of “the physical essence of comics” is a more emphatic acknowledgment of how the material conditions of production and reception have defined “comics” as a recognisable form. The media-specificity of comics, for Groensteen, seems constrained to the page as a “technical unit”. Marion (1993), also cited by Groensteen, suggested on the other hand that what defines comics is not only a set of fixed formal features and functions, but a series of interconnections with other media. We suggest this includes that in which comics appear (newspapers, magazines, web sites, etc.) and the social and material contexts in which they are produced and received.
The images above from the two monthly issues of Shade the Changing Man (July and August 1990) present an opportunity to demonstrate and perhaps expand Groensteen’s ideas of spatio-topicality, the multiframe (apud Van Lier) and hyperframe (apud Peeters 1991), gridding or quadrillage, montage and the different functions of the frame. Beyond the illustration of Groensteen’s conceptual framework, the examples show the way in which the physical essence of the comic book itself as printed periodical publication defines and preconditions its essence as an artefact. In so doing, it also reveals itself as the haunted site of inter-mediality.
Raccord is used to refer to continuity, and in comics it is embedded on the textual/spatial surface of the page. Often expressed through caption boxes, uncaptioned lettering or other icons like arrows, its main role is to guarantee continuity and linkage. In figure 1 above, the phrase “next issue”, hand lettered to imitate mechanical type, indicates the sequence to be followed in the reading process; it marks the ending of that particular issue and the material/physical parameters of the comic book as a periodical publication, and establishes the passage of time in the storyline. Therefore it fulfils an elliptic function which is a type of mise en abîme, simultaneously inside and outside the narrative.
The hybrid space of the last page of Shade #1 represents both multiframe and hyperframe. It belongs to the narrative and physical boundaries of both the page and the issue as “a paged multiframe”, and yet it establishes the difference and the connection, the beginning and the end between one issue and the other. It is a liminal space, an in-between which is significative in its own right, self-referential and hyper, inter and meta referential.
The conative function of the visual representation of the characters’ hands shown holding the drawing of an actual photograph (Kennedy’s head after being shot) has a double if not triple function. This is not only the result of “the law of the frame” (2007:27) but of the material conditions and dimensions imposed by the periodical comic book: 1) the last page of issue 1 works as a proleptic device that reveals to the reader that issue 2 has already been done though it has not been published yet. 2) The drawn photography has an indexical function; it is both a panel on a page and next issue’s first page (that does not exist to the reader yet) turned panel within another page. 3) The last page of issue 1 reproduces the first page of issue 2, establishing both a kinship and a difference, only noticeable when compared with the first page of the second issue, which takes off literally where the first issue ended.
Not surprisingly, page 40 of issue 1 is not reproduced in the collected edition Shade The Changing Man Vol 1. The American Scream, reprinted in 2009. The “reassembly” identified by Groensteen is made obvious here in the editing-out of a complete page. Left out of the collected edition, page 40 of issue 1 has been left out of history; deemed parasitic, repetitive and dated. Groensteen focused on the spatial parameters of the panel and the printed page, but doesn’t extend his analysis to the time and space imposed and bridged between consecutive editions of periodical comic books.
It could be argued the raccord of page 40 in issue 1 only makes sense in the context of a publishing and reading process within the specific parameters of American periodical printed comic books. The mutual reverberation or echo between the last and first pages of issues 1 and 2 is not regrettable, unnecessary meta-narrative function, but a poetic, anaphoric device: an expression of comics’ “comicbookness” or even a tangible, endangered trace of the periodical comic book’s “being-in-the-world”. As self-referential devices, these pages echo seriality and continuity in film, and reflect and anticipate continuity techniques in television series (Bort Gual 2010).
As shown in these examples, raccord is evidently media-specific, to both comics as a medium and to periodical comic books as printed publications. As in literature, future studies of the “physical essence” of comics cannot take for granted how physical publication format correlates to “content” (McKenzie 1999), i.e. not only at the level of set of pages of specific dimensions but as serial publications extending across time, matter and space. In the montage between one issue and the other, in the repetition of image, narrative text and title, the reverb of past and future echoes can be heard. As graphic novels and collected editions take over the place once dominated by periodical comic books, examples of raccord might be privileged sites to witness how comics haunted and were haunted by other media, history, and themselves.
 The conative frame is a common technique in comics. It shows or suggests a human body part or position to locate the reader in a character’s or implied narratee’s subjectivity. Often integrating or representing extra-textual elements such as photographs, it’s been documented often, for example, in the works of Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel.
Bort Gual, I. (2010). “Nuevos paradigmas teóricos en las partículas narrativas de apertura y cierre de las series de televisión dramáticas norteamericanas contemporáneas”. Actas II Congreso Internacional Latina de Comunicación Social. <http://www.revistalatinacs.org/10SLCS/actas_2010/45Ivan.pdf>. [Accessed 03 February 2011]
Groensteen, T. (2007). The System of Comics (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi).
Marion, P. (1993). Traces en cases: Travail graphique, figuration narrative et participation du lecteur: Essai sur la bande dessinée (Louvain: Academia)
McKenzie, D.F. (1999). Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Milligan P. and Bachalo, C. (1990). Shade the Changing Man #1 (July) and #2 (August). (New York: DC Comics)
Peeters, B. (1991). Case, planche, récit. (Tournai-Paris: Casterman)