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    Sdevine 5689456 agms_dissertation_final Sdevine 5689456 agms_dissertation_final Document Transcript

    • The Amazing Adventures of Comics in The Museum Context A dissertation submitted to The University of Manchester for the degree of Art Gallery & Museum Studies in the Faculty of Humanities 2010 Stephen Devine School of Arts, Histories and Cultures 1
    • Table of Contents Copyright Statement p.3 Acknowledgments p.4 Abstract p.5 List of Figures p.6 Foreword p.7 1. Introduction p.9 2 Research Methods p.15 2.1 Introduction p.15 2.2 Case Studies p.15 2.3 Other Sources p.15 3 Case Studies p.16 3.1 Selection of exhibitions p.16 3.2 Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist p.17 3.3 Captured p.39 3.4 Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure p.43 3.5 Overview & Comparison of Case Studies p.48 4 Words & Pictures p.52 4.1 Travelling Through Time as Space p.52 4.2 Darwin, Civic Seeing and Linear Narrative p.57 4.3 The Graphic Novel as Stylistic Template p.62 5 Conclusion p.64 Bibliography p.73 Word Count: 14, 453 2
    • Copyright Statement i. The author of this thesis (including any appendices and/or schedules to this thesis) owns certain copyright or related rights in it (the “Copyright”) and s/he has given The University of Manchester certain rights to use such Copyright, including for administrative purposes. ii. Copies of this thesis, either in full or in extracts and whether in hard or electronic copy, may be made only in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) and regulations issued under it or, where appropriate, in accordance with licensing agreements which the University has from time to time. This page must form part of any such copies made. iii. The ownership of certain Copyright, patents, designs, trade marks and other intellectual property (the “Intellectual Property”) and any reproductions of copyright works in the thesis, for example graphs and tables (“Reproductions”), which may be described in this thesis, may not be owned by the author and may be owned by third parties. Such Intellectual Property and Reproductions cannot and must not be made available for use without the prior written permission of the owner(s) of the relevant Intellectual Property and/or Reproductions. iv. Further information on the conditions under which disclosure, publication and commercialisation of this thesis, the Copyright and any Intellectual Property and/or Reproductions described in it may take place is available in the University IP Policy (see http://www.campus.manchester.ac.uk/medialibrary/policies/intellectual- property.pdf), in any relevant Thesis restriction declarations deposited in the University Library, The University Library’s regulations (see http://www.manchester.ac.uk/library/aboutus/regulations) and in The University’s policy on presentation of Theses 3
    • Acknowledgments I am grateful to Pete Brown, Jeff Horsley and Henry McGhie at The Manchester Museum for providing me with access to information regarding exhibition development, to Odile Masia at Imperial War Museum North for her discussion and assistance on many aspects of the production of Captured, and to Jane Cheng at The British Museum for her insights into numerous aspects of Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure. I would also like to thank Chrissie Morgan for taking the time to grant me an in depth discussion of her work for Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. Finally, I also wish to extend my appreciation to Dr Sam Alberti for his patience and understanding during the writing of this thesis, and for his comments on an early draft of the text, his encouragement, guidance and support enabled me to develop an understanding of the subject. 4
    • Abstract I intend to explore the use of stylistic devices and techniques of comic books and how they are used in the museum context. By looking at the examples of three exhibitions, I plan to explore the reductive and additive processes involved in the reading of images within a sequence, while paying particular attention to the use and purpose of synecdoche in both comics and museums. The exhibitions I have chosen to interpret are; The Manchester Museum’s Charles Darwin : evolution of a scientist, which will be the primary focus of my exploration, The British Museum’s Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure and The Imperial War Museum North’s Captured. I shall be discussing the relevancy of Bennett’s concept of Civic Seeing in connection to the sequential nature of comic panels and how this may echo the Victorian linear narrative. As this exploration has led me to consider liminal space this discussion shall also consider the practice and impact of physical space being used to represent time in both the museum and the comic book. Whilst comics are often seen as subversive and connected to subculture and museums staid and traditional, this study will explore how the opposite can also be true and how this impacts on each and their respective standing in ‘low’ and ‘high’ culture. 5
    • List of Figures Fig. 1 - Panels from Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics pp.12-p13 p.10 Fig. 2 - Jagged border device Charles Darwin : evolution of a scientist p.34 Fig. 3 - Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics p.49 p.35 Fig. 4 - Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics p.67 p.36 Fig. 5 – Objects & Illustrations Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist p.37 Fig. 6 - Perimeter Timeline of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist p.49 Fig. 7 - Munakata & Darwin as gatekeepers p.58 Fig. 8 -Perimeter Timeline of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist p.62 Fig. 9 – Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure p.66 6
    • Foreword In order to begin a discussion based on the use of comic books, their stylistic and visual devices and the museum exhibition, I shall first address the issue of terminology. The key terms I will be using in this discussion will be comics, sequential art and graphic novels. While the term graphic novel is often used to denote a more mature subject matter within the field and has connotations of literate acceptability it has developed as a broad term. Often the term applies to a collection of serialised comics into a single volume. The discussion will be concerned more with the form of the medium and less with the content. For this reason the terms will be treated as interchangeable and for the most part will refer to them as comics or comic books. While sequential art may encompass the field completely, for our discussion it is the term of comics that seems to better convey the broad spectrum and the development of the related visual devices and traditions. As we shall be concerned with the subject of sequence in terms of narrative and direction, the term sequential art will be used sparingly so as to minimise confusion. For a more in depth exploration of the related terminology, Chapter One of McCloud’s Understanding Comics (2000: 24), presents an excellent discussion of great clarity. In connection with the mention of sequential art, it is worth noting that there are also exceptions to the sequential nature of comics. While these are no less valid in the 7
    • broader discussion, they will not be explored, as this thesis shall assert that it is in the majority or mainstream of the medium in which our interests lie. As post-modernism shall also form a central part of our discussion the following will form the outline for the purposes of the study. Post-modernism defies classification and rejects, empowering information separately Strinati (1992) states "Postmodernism is sceptical of any absolute, universal and all-embracing claim to knowledge and argues that theories or doctrines which make such claims are increasingly open to criticism, contestation and doubt" (p.36) One implication of this is the erosion of divide between high culture and low, or popular culture. Given the contrasting cultural and historical backgrounds of comics and museums this is of particular interest to our discussion. As comics may be considered as popular culture we may interpret the change in status as a result of the way it sees itself, as Strinati (2004) states ‘ ... postmodern popular culture is identifiable by its self-conscious awareness of its status as a cultural product.’ (p.225) Amongst other factors technology such as the internet, information without context or at least not specific to context and the changing status of high and popular culture has impacted on the modern consumption. This has impacted on museums and comics just as it has everywhere else. 8
    • • 1. Introduction Sequential art, graphic novels and comics may be traditionally thought of as a medium for children and younger readers, this may be ascribed to the combination of image and text. We shall explore how this combination of image and text may actually allow for a deceptively sophisticated communication and reading experience. We shall return to the different ways in which this reductive function takes place but for the moment will be concentrating on illustration and the combination with text. To begin to look at the nature of reductive nature of comics we may examine a number of panels from McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which explain his distinction between a pictorial image which operates on the basis of resemblance and one which is used in order to denote sound. Figure 1 represents a key difference between the linguistic and the symbolic vocabulary, both of which operate within the comic. 9
    • Fig.1 - Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics pp.12-p13 Image and text combine to present a less dense reading experience. They do this in conjunction with, but to a greater degree, than other stylistic elements particular to the form. Taking the example presented here within McCloud’s discussion we can see that a version consisting solely of text, in order to communicate the same message would 10
    • require an involved and intricate discourse depending on a vocabulary consisting of specific and specialised terminology. The accompanying images communicate efficiently, supporting the text. The image and text of comics may provide a less dense experience, though this of course depends to a degree on the visual style of the artwork. However there still exists a framework reliant on specific and specialist terminology, but here the language is partly a visual one. McCloud also provides a point vital to our discussion in the last panel of Figure 1, namely that sequence is not always denoted by more than one image. The museum is rich in such visual communication and a combination of physical objects, symbols, text and illustration form the basis of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. Some of the cases containing these objects are encapsulated within the boundaries of the comic panels. A three-dimensional object connected to, or enshrined within, the sequence of two-dimensional images. While these combinations themselves are interesting, for reasons of scope we shall not be concentrating to any great extent on the juxtaposition of artefacts and illustrations although we will encounter and acknowledge a number of examples. We shall see how in the case of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist the readers own constructed story is one which is supplemented with museum objects. In the case of Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure we will examine the ways in which physical objects may be represented quite differently when transformed into illustration. For the main part however our discussion will be concerned with the crossovers between comics and museums, and the impact therein. Duncan & Smith describe the processes of reduction and addition, 11
    • “Comic book creators reduce an imagined story to encapsulated fragments (pages and panels), and readers add those fragments together, along with their own background knowledge, to create a story” (2009:154) As is the case with any form of communication where such reduction and addition occurs the meanings and messages can only be reduced to images and symbols effectively if the reader is then able to expand the meaning, making sense of the original intentions of the creators. This of course also happens in the case of physical artefacts, as meanings are coded and decoded by display and viewing, but again it is the illustration which is of concern here. The reductive nature of visual representation is not as drastic as it may seem when initially compared to written text. The meaning of an image based heavily on resemblance or visual similarity could be argued to be reliant on an understanding of a virtually universal nature. Regardless of language practically all humans would recognise, for example a representation of a face. The realism or abstract nature of the image may affect this but in general it would be recognised with little or no instruction. On the other hand written text is developed within a culture, it’s meaning peculiar to those within and party to the traditions of the originators. Visual similarity and representation means that another reduction takes place, namely the reduction of pre-required knowledge on the part of the reader. The issue of language and required familiarity is removed from the equation as the viewer can make sense of the icons by drawing comparisons on a purely visual level. Recognising, decoding and understanding a message represented by visual similarity in this way is quite different to the understanding of a written word. The written word 12
    • of course performs the same functions of reduction and addition as characters are used by the writer to form words with the intention of being read, or deciphered, by the reader. In the case of visual reduction though, to return again to the example of a face, a circle and two dots can easily represent a simple visual message. Most importantly this simplicity is key as the reduction can be easily deconstructed and understood. The museum is a place awash with reductive communication. To understand this communication the visitor must decode signs that operate on a variety of levels of complexity. As with all public spaces, signs are situated to communicate a range of information to the visitor, the museum contains generally accepted shorthand such as signposting toilet facilities with the use of the familiar stylised gender silhouette icons. This signposting extends much further into the use of symbols across the institution. Surely we are all familiar with the example the head of a sarcophagus representing the location of the Egyptian collection, or a dinosaur skull denoting the location of the palaeontology collection on a gallery map? One part of one object of the collection is used to symbolise and represent entire disciplines. Within the museum we are familiar with type specimens serving as icons, representing entire species, artefacts symbolise civilisations and eras of their creation. Specific galleries often serve to house a collection of specimens from a particular species and subspecies, the visitor joins the dots and fills the gaps to see how humans are classified and housed within primates, in turn within mammals. It is in the museum however that the meanings ascribed to the objects, by tradition, convention and the curatorial voice, form the very structure of organising, presenting and representing this knowledge. This reduction is directive, hierarchical and even hegemonic in terms of the possible interpretations. The subjective nature of this classification and 13
    • structuring present the visitor with a framework to be followed. The visual elements of the graphic panel clearly may not be understood as objective either, having been created by a series of originators to portray and communicate a specific intended message. 14
    • • 2. Research Methods 2.1 Introduction There are three distinct types of research; descriptive or exploratory research, explanatory research and evaluative research. Descriptive research has been used in this study in order to describe the development of the exhibitions and techniques used. Explanatory research has been used in order to bring the project beyond simple description, to help explain the development of utilised techniques observed through the study. Evaluative research was not deemed appropriate for this field of study, as the subject could not be measured in degrees of effectiveness. 2.2 Case Studies Case studies were used as focuses within the investigation. They are considered a well-established research strategy. 2.3 Other Sources I shall be drawing on a number of sources in this discussion and will be referring to The Manchester Museum Archives for material relating to the development of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. 15
    • • 3. Case Studies 3.1 Selection of Exhibitions I intend to introduce three museum exhibitions that utilise the stylistic palette of the comic book to determine the functions being performed. The Manchester Museum presents Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist, as part of a Darwin festival to celebrate the Darwin Biennial. The Imperial War Museum North looks at the experience of prisoners of war in Captured. The British Museum’s Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure. Professor Munakata is depicted interacting with objects from the collection of The British Museum. The exhibition is sponsored as part of The Asahi Shimbun Displays. 16
    • 3.2 Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist The exhibition at The Manchester Museum recounts the life of Charles Darwin by presenting objects, relating to his life and theories, displayed alongside illustrations of key moments of his lifetime. To preface the look at the parallels between the exhibition and the comic book, I will first briefly break down the structure of development for the exhibition. This will also provide an opportunity to explore the process and product of the exhibition delivery from separate perspectives. This development of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist took the form of a structured series of teams, consisting almost entirely of Manchester Museum staff. These teams were the Project team, Core content team, Content researchers, and Discipline based researchers. Beyond this, there was a further team worked on the Nature Discovery activities, objects and programmes. Nature Discovery, which was another strand of the Darwin festival, which included a temporary exhibition presenting a ‘magical world where younger children and their families can explore nature’. This exhibition, clearly aimed at a younger audience employs cartoonish elements but is not presented in the linear style of a comic book, opting rather to present a number of different spaces or ‘Worlds’. Whilst the colourful and vibrant visual style of Nature Discovery is undeniably aimed at children, it is does not present the content in as a comic or utilise the associated styles. Perhaps in keeping with, or an indication of, the increase in status of comic books in cultural terms it is the younger visitors who are denied ownership of the comic strip. The graphic novel style is being reserved for the main exhibition. Intended for mature readers and children alike, but clearly not for children alone. 17
    • In May 2009, the themes and content for the reverse panels had been identified as; * Early life [childhood collection of natural history objects] / no back * Student years [objects ordered collection of insects and Stephen’s Entomology] / classification and description * Beagle [no objects on illustrated side, lots on reverse of things Darwin saw and collected] / key themes of diversity and things Darwin saw * Back in London [Darwin’s finch, other finches and Malthus book] / what is a species (how do species form) * Darwin’s practice [Pigeons, pigeons he bred, barnacles, possibly letters] / scientific practice, what is a scientific theory * Origin of Species [Origin first edition] / what natural selection is, how it works and the evidence * Aftermath [chimp skeleton and Descent of Man] / no back While we see the themes outlined there is nothing to record the development of the exhibition’s visual style. Content is king, while the artist has autonomy in terms of the depiction and display of these themes. I have included the related comments with each of the themes, as it is important to note that all of the accompanying information is regarding the objects, as opposed to the illustrated content. We can see that while Nature Discovery was discussed, (Darwin content development meeting 29/4/2009 – The Manchester Museum Archives), in terms of its success being ‘dependent on being non-museum feel’ it seems the same has not been recorded for Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. This description of Nature Discovery and subsequent omission in relation to Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist seems to raise an 18
    • issue central to our discussion, an allusion to the status of the comic as a mainstream medium. To understand Nature Discovery as being ‘dependent on a non-museum feel’ seems to clearly highlight the omission of this description in connection with Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. In other words, as this exhibition is not dependent on a non- museum feel, it can be reasoned that the style of display selected is not a deliberate attempt to move away from a museum feel and rather a decision that keeps the ‘feel’ of the exhibition within the confines of conventional museum display. From this we may theorise that the ‘comic book’ styling of the exhibition is, at least internally at The Manchester Museum, felt to be familiar to exhibition styles of museum display and indeed part of the traditional palette of museum exhibitions. This is further supported by Chrissie Morgan’s previous work with The Manchester Museum, having produced artwork loosely based on the Spider-Man origin for a display relating to the properties of cinchona. Though this was not necessarily influential in terms of the current exhibition we need look no further to find a precedent. The place of comics within modern popular culture, with a recently increased influence on cinema and television, has developed and therefore it is no surprise to see exhibitions that aim to communicate with the modern, and indeed post-modern, visitor draw on influences they would find familiar. Having examined the development of the content we may now look at the ways in which this choice of style may affect the readers experience of this exhibition, the subject matter and the content of the gallery. Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist looks at times of Darwin’s life, which are 19
    • ostensibly unrelated to the theory with which we associate him. The exhibition presents periods in his life at which he was working towards this realisation. The exhibition identifies subtle points at which he was forming his theory, one that has undoubtedly changed the course of history and the perception and understanding of the origin of our own species. Curator of Zoology and Head of Natural Environments at The Manchester Museum, Henry McGhie discusses this approach to the less familiar ages of Darwin. “Charles Darwin is most familiar to us as an old man with a long flowing beard. Through Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist, we wanted to communicate more about Darwin as a person, at the time when he was developing his ideas and to explore just what his ideas mean to us today. Working closely with our colleagues throughout The University of Manchester and with artist Chrissie Morgan, we have re-imagined Darwin’s world down to the minute detail of the flowers and butterfly species that he would have seen.” (McGhie, H. 2009, pers. comm., 10 October). Artist Chrissie Morgan explains the decision was made to take a different direction from the original intention of a graphic novel style. “…done in a completely different way at the beginning, in a much more sort of graphic novel and it definitely isn’t a graphic novel style, it’s more of illustration rather than a graphic novel. That was because the way that they wanted to actually tell the story was … this inspirational idea of showing the real person.” (Morgan, C. 2009, pers. comm., 11 November) In an attempt to distance the focus from the more populist, dynamic and exaggerated 20
    • elements of graphic novels, which in this instance I would assert is being used to reference the superhero genre, the decision was made to work in a more illustrative style. As discussed in the introduction, graphic novel as a blanket term may be used to describe a number of styles. To further explore the decision to distance the exhibition’s style, it seems appropriate to take the references to ‘graphic novel style’ as shorthand for the most popular form of graphic novel, the superhero comic. While Chrissie later discussed the range, and thus is obviously keenly aware of sophistication and diversity within the field of graphic novels, it is a term she employs here in reference to a particular style. It is for these reasons that I suggest we interpret her usage of the term to denote the mainstay of the majority of modern graphic novels, the traditional superhero genre. Chrissie describes this change of direction, as rather than a move to get away from anything but more of “an entirely natural response to working over and over the storyline ‘because the storylines changed a few times’. Before considering the impact of this decision, and the process behind it, it is interesting to note how this different direction is not reflected in the marketing and publicity of the exhibition, ‘Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist, showcasing fantastic objects - some collected by Darwin himself - and illustrated in a graphic novel style.’ http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/exhibitions/darwinfestival/ “Graphic novel style relies on low camera angles and … to get action really and I just felt as though it was not suitable...” Chrissie continues to elaborate and identify the reasons for using some techniques and elements and not others. “The subject matter led the way the illustrations were produced really… a straightforward illustrative quality…” but with elements from graphic novels such as “hard outlines” (Morgan, C. 21
    • 2009, pers. comm., 11 November). Although we see that the subject material led the style of illustration away from the superhero genre, we can still identify narrative elements that are features of the genre. In comic terms, the simple narrative exists as the introduction and subsequent resolution of a problem. This exploration of Darwin’s earlier years sits neatly with Duncan & Smith’s (2009:129) explanation of the ‘complex narrative’, “in which the main plot line is expanded by back story, character development, and ongoing subplots.” In the case of the exhibition we can see all elements (including the physical objects) as extensions of this narrative and indeed the fact this exhibition is a strand of a larger ‘Darwin Festival’ within the museum, provides some gravity to the notion of elements of this exhibition existing as subplot of wider context. Perhaps most interestingly, it is another type of narrative discussed by Duncan & Smith which raises questions for the choice of narrative style, that of ‘anti-narrative’. Prevalent in avant-garde comic books the anti-narrative, “Might contain narrative elements such as setting, characters, and actions these elements do not fit together to form a comprehensible story. The purpose of such anti- narrative works is not to tell a story, but rather to evoke a mood or elicit an aesthetic response.” (2009:129) Given the aim of the exhibition was to inspire, it’s possible that this, when considered alongside the desire to distance the exhibition from ‘graphic novel style’ would have been an interesting way to develop content. The minutes of the content development team, however, would seem to suggest that what could be seen as a conventional linear storyline, divided into a sequence of key scenes appears to be the only avenue 22
    • explored in terms of narrative structure. While moving away in visual terms from some of the more populist elements of the graphic novel it is in the less obvious narrative structuring that the exhibition clings closest to these roots. Chrissie Morgan acknowledges that this combination is one that leads the visitor through the exhibition but describes it as a ‘gentle leading’ and one that always keeps Darwin at the forefront. This, she also informs us, was the reasoning behind the captions being raised from the illustrated panels. Utilising the stylistic palette of the comic book while deliberately keeping Darwin’s words at the forefront in the most literal sense. As explored by Duncan & Smith (2009:230) the superhero is not defined by his powers but his persistence and struggles against adversity. While the illustrative style or measured prose may not reflect the world of caped crusaders and dynamic duo's the intended inspirational message forms a paean to the power of Darwin, icon among the pantheon of super-thinkers. Before we depart from the discussion of Darwin as superhero to the museum professional, (depicted, as he is here, complete with cape!) I would like to highlight some key similarities and differences between Darwin and superheroes. Superheroes are most often identified with a symbol or series of symbols. These perform the traditional functions of a practical branding exercise by reducing the character, their powers and intentions to an easily recognised shorthand. This is often seen as a symbol worn on the chest, cape or both. Batman bears the emblem of a bat, Spider- man a spider and Superman bears the famous stylised ‘S’. If Darwin were to follow the superhero trend and bear the symbol most associated with his powers (theories), it would be his own likeness emblazoned on his chest, or cape! Browne observes that while Newton has his ‘mythical apple’. Darwin himself is employed to ‘actually show 23
    • him as his theory.’ (2001:509). Browne notes how Darwin has come to embody natural selection in the same way that Superman is a symbol for ‘truth, justice and the American way!’ and that in order to do this he has replaced many of his contemporaries in this field as he alone serves as symbol. “It is significant that hardly any of the other Victorian evolutionists appear in cartoons, and of those who do appear Huxley is by far the most regular. None appear as an ape. This simplification of complex scientific moments of discovery and exposition is perhaps to be expected. Yet it goes to show how quickly—and how easily—evolution by natural selection became almost exclusively associated with Darwin’s name, reducing the important roles of Huxley, Charles Lyell, Herbert Spencer, Asa Gray, and especially Alfred Russel Wallace.” (Browne, 2001: 507) The cult of Darwin ensures that he alone stands as icon of his theories and in further reduction it is as an old bearded man that his entire life and work is visually embodied and represented. It is in such focus on the importance of Darwin that, given the parameters of the discussion, we may call to mind Eco (1998) as he describes, ‘… a museum of memories. Everything that has happened in his lifetime is recorded here…’ (p.5). However, it is not Darwin or another science-hero that Eco is discussing but Superman, in his self curated museum dedicated to his own life, the Fortress of Solitude. When it is often for Darwin in solitude, how different is this Wunderkammer of the superhero to the museum space reserved for him? The traditional role of superhero is a conservative one, the role of protector to maintain the status quo while the role of the villain is that of the radical thinker, the 24
    • one who demands the world must change. “Supervillains … are out to change the world.” (Duncan & Smith, 2009:230). George Bernard Shaw wrote, (1903:8) ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.’ Here we see Darwin as unable to accept the status quo. Darwin is not the superhero of the museum professional but a supervillain intent on changing the world. His success is celebrated in an exhibition, which due to its linear view, not only seeks to reinforce the status quo but also attempts to revert to an even earlier form. The unlinear narrative would have been a familiar structure to the visitor of the Victorian museum as it formed the museum status quo at the time that Darwin, the unreasonable man, was working on his world changing theory. To complete the Shaw quote, ‘Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” In this exhibition Bentham’s Panopticon is inverted as the multitude observe one. The genesis of Darwin’s unreasonable act of villainy is on display. By looking at the familiar man from an unfamiliar perspective the exhibition can hope to present the theories in a new light. The sequential image structure of the comic gets in the way of a more post-modern approach. While it is represents a key story behind evolution, and may seem perfectly suited to do so, it also acts very much as a restraint. The viewer can see the evolution of Darwin’s theory as layers of time in a chronological sequence, but in the same way it restricts the reader by firmly guiding the manner of exploration of the topic. Preoccupied with the navigation and rituals of a museum visit the visitor may give little thought to the lack of flexibility of their path through this exhibition. This visually rich nod to the Victorian narrative may present traditionally unfamiliar elements of Darwin’s life in an unusual manner but the reading, as opposed to browsing, of the gallery is most traditional indeed. In the same way that sentences are formed one word at a time and need to be followed in this 25
    • sequence, in order to appreciate the intended meaning of the author, this gallery too should be ‘read’ not browsed to unlock the meaning intended by the author, the authority. This ‘Civic seeing’ serves to reinforce the voice of authority within the museum as singular. The role of the ‘seer’ is to view in the order they are instructed. Bennett (1998:263) states that, “Civic lessons embodied in those arrangements are to be seen, understood and performed by the museum’s visitors.” Having considered that “unicursal and multicursal labyrinth paradigms were apparent to classical and medieval scholars” Basu decides, “It is perhaps too tempting not to locate the unicursal maze (and the maze-walker’s perspective) within a post-modern aesthetic.” (2007:51) To further consider the post-modern aesthetic, I am concerned not only with the route taken through the content but also with the erosion of division between high art and popular culture. By its very nature post-modernism, depending on and drawing from the panoply of previous philosophical and artistic movements, is difficult to pin down, however the rejection of the distinction between "high" and "low" or popular culture is clear. This distinction, both in terms of production and consumption, is key to our understanding of the relationship between the comic and the museum. The modern visitor is likely to experience a vast array of communication on a regular daily basis. Museums communicate with their audience via a broad range of communication technologies, old and new. The visitor, prior to reaching the physical exhibition space may encounter rich and diverse ways both online and onsite, supplementing and supporting each other. Does this bombardment mean that museum visitors may be highly sophisticated and discerning in terms of their reading of information and selection or preferences of format? That the growing number of 26
    • technologies is resulting in a broader acceptance for different media? The comic, a cheap, disposable mass produced medium, having traditionally held a low cultural value may be understood in cultural terms to be diametrically opposed to museums, which literally hold, classify and represent cultural values, both physically and symbolically. Taking post-modernism into account we may see the shifts in this relationship that has led us to the interchanges at play between the two. In order to arrange objects and collections that they would be viewed and understood Pitt Rivers seemed to touch on the use of space and time. Bennett (1998) informs us of, Pitt Rivers intent. ‘The law that Nature makes no jumps, can be taught by the history of mechanical contrivances, in such a way as at least to make men cautious how they listen to scatterbrained revolutionary suggestions', this can only be so if such collections are 'arranged in such a manner that those who run may read'. (p.201) On the reasoning for this Bennett (1998) relates that Pitt Rivers, ‘…took advantage of the opportunity to outline a distinction between what he called the 'intellectual mind, capable of reasoning on unfamiliar occurences', and the 'automaton mind capable of acting intuitively in certain manners without effort of the will or consciousness.’ (p.200) This distinction between the intellectual mind and the automaton mind presents parallels with that of high and low culture and serves as reminder of the post- modernist impact. Pitt Rivers was distinguishing between intellect and intuition but as Bennett asserts that ‘By 'those who run' Pitt Rivers meant the working classes.’ 27
    • (p.201) Not only is space functioning as time, but also the way it is used is intended to impact on the use of visitor time. This directive function of the museum was, for Pitt Rivers, as important in his consideration of how the visitor would read, as the information they would be reading. The comic book’s linear narrative operates in much the same way. With this exhibition we can see the way this can be implemented without necessarily being didactic. On the panels before them the visitor can see that disparate, seemingly random events in Darwin’s life led to the development of his thoughts. The events may appear disconnected but as we progress we see the cumulative effects. This neatly parallels the evolutionary subtext of the exhibition layout in that the events may be of importance, but it is only in the structure of the sequence that they can be fully realised. The visitor familiar with galleries which allow and encourage browsing, find themselves here at an intersection between playful, childlike nostalgic presentation and Victorian, utilitarian and authoritarian direction through the time and space of the gallery. So we can see that the subject matter lends itself to the style, but what of the structure? Critics of the museum have noted that the traditional layout of an exhibition is an established strong linear narrative. The sequential layout of the comic book, with its selected key points and chronological format is a device, one that can only reinforce the strong linear narrative. The problem for such strong linear narratives, as identified by Witcomb (2003), is that it presents a single perspective to the viewer. Contemporary media culture and interactive technologies provide choice, with 28
    • museums viewed as ‘static’ in comparison; “One of the contexts for this criticism is the way many museums have organised their exhibits. With a strong linear narrative which allows space for only one point of view – that of the curator/institution.” (p.128) It is interesting to note that the previous exhibition in this gallery space was Lindow Man; A bog body mystery, an exhibition which was explicitly developed around the structure of an overtly polyvocal approach. Witcomb continues, “ Museum critics point to the ways in which this single linear narrative is expressed in gallery designs which have a one way flow based on a clear sequence of exhibits” (p.128) At the point of entrance to the gallery the exhibition does not immediately present itself as having a one-way flow. The entrance to the gallery presents the visitor with the option to turn left or continue ahead around a partition. Should the visitor continue ahead they will the final panel on the other side, bypassing the timeline and instantly reaching the end of the exhibition. The lack of clear signage or direction means the exhibition relies somewhat on the tendency of the visitor to turn left on entering a room. Having done so the visitor can attach their experience to the timeline on the left, which then leads the visitor through the space and time of the exhibition. The intention was initially to present Darwin in a graphic novel style and while this remains, at least as the description for press and marketing purposes, Chrissie Morgan explains that the decision was made to depart from this style. Chrissie describes this change of direction, as rather than a move to get away from anything but more of, “an entirely natural response to working over and over the storyline because ‘the storylines changed a few times’. While we can see that the 29
    • subject material led the style of illustration away from the style of superheroes, we may still identify familiar traditional narrative elements of this genre. The decision to focus on the less familiar times of Darwin’s life, as Chrissie puts it, “to get away from the beard”, does indeed confront the notion that Darwin only ever existed as an old man. This leads us to explore the inspirational notion that his discoveries came from a sustained period of effort and that this is something we can all aspire to and emulate. This applies most of all to young visitors in the audience. While this decision to distance the illustrative style from that of ‘graphic novel’ is contrary to the notion of using comics to reach that young audience, we can see that this distancing is somewhat superficial. It is the content here that clings closest to the concept of the traditional comic, the origin story, which can be identified as perhaps the staple trope of the superhero genre. Morgan researched several of Darwin’s living environments over the course of his life. The view from Darwin’s window as a child, his college rooms and a reconstruction of the cabin on the Beagle were researched in an attempt to show the real person. The research into these external surroundings seem to be an aim to present the familiar Darwin as a product of his own development, to contextualise the hard work that Darwin put in and to move away from the notion of a ‘Eureka’ moment. All of which serve to distance the notion of Charles Darwin as a genius. This deconstruction of the icon enables all visitors, mere mortals after all, to relate with, and to draw inspiration from, him. This framing of Darwin’s life may serve to remind us that it is here in museums that he does indeed exist as a superhero, an ordinary man (with interests shared by curators) who transforms the world with an idea. An ordinary human being working on the same subjects and the same objects having 30
    • changed the course of modern scientific thought. Exactly who though, is he likely to be most inspirational to? A member of the public with a passing interest in and understanding of material culture surveying a collection of artefacts? A young visitor with a scholarly interest in evolution or the process of gaining knowledge? Or is it more likely that an emotional connection will be made with a museum professional admiring relics of the life of a revered icon? As museum professionals developed the exhibition there may be validity in the notion that the narrative defines Darwin in superheroic terms. However, it could also be reasoned that from the viewpoint of the exhibition team, aiming to provide an inspirational role model, the intention was simply to reach as wide an audience as possible. In comic terms the simple narrative exists as the introduction and subsequent resolution of a problem. This exploration of Darwin’s earlier years sits neatly with Duncan & Smith (2009) as they discuss the ‘complex narrative’, “in which the main plot line is expanded by back story, character development, and ongoing subplots.” (p.129) In the case of the exhibition we see elements, including objects from the museum collection, as extensions of this narrative. The fact this exhibition is a strand of a larger ‘Darwin Festival’ within the museum enables us to view elements of this 31
    • exhibition performing the functions of a subplot within the wider context. Bearing in mind that a stated aim of the exhibition was to inspire, we may theorise, that when considered alongside the desire to distance the exhibition from ‘graphic novel style’ the anti-narrative would have been an interesting way to develop content, though it seems from the minutes of the content development team, that what could be seen as a conventional storyline, divided into a sequence of key scenes, was the only avenue explored. We can see that the distance created in visual terms from the surface appearance of a ‘graphic novel’ is superficial, and it is in the less obvious narrative structuring, that the exhibition retains the directive functions of a traditional comic. Morgan acknowledges this combination is one that leads the visitor through the exhibition but describes it as a ‘gentle leading’ and one that always keeps Darwin at the forefront. This, she also informs us, was the reasoning behind the captions on the panels being raised. Utilising the stylistic palette of the comic book and keeping Darwin’s words at the forefront in the most literal sense. While the artwork takes the form of a style Morgan described as ‘illustration’ the use of panels represents the passage of time in the manner of a comic. In parts such as the panels detailing Darwin’s publication of On The Origin of The Species, as illustrated in Figure 2, we see the panel borders taking a more dynamic form with a jagged edge. Morgan, although insistent that the graphic novel style was one which had been consciously distanced in terms of illustration style concedes to the employment of this visual device, ‘because we had this overall structure, to stop it looking too busy I used a fairly traditional zapping sort of thing…Not too over the top, but breaks it up.” (Morgan, C. 2009, pers. comm., 11 November) 32
    • Fig. 2 – Jagged panel border device Image Courtesy of The Manchester Museum ©2009 To examine the function of the panel border, and its traditional status, it is useful to look to earlier alternatives. McCloud (2000:13), when discussing The Bayeux Tapestry, describes the left to right sequence of events in “deliberate chronological order” and that while there “are no clear panel borders per se… there are clear divisions of scene by subject matter.” Were we to remove Morgan’s ‘zapping’ border we would still be able to identify the division of subject matter, but it is reasonable to suggest that this would require an element of prior subject knowledge and understanding. To explore the nature of this prior subject knowledge and understanding McCloud illustrates how McCloud (2007) distinguishes between received and perceived knowledge (Figure 3). 33
    • Fig. 3 - Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics p.49 The border, jagged or otherwise while forming part of the image would independently not be considered an image, however, it does form a crucial element of the visual message. In McCloud’s terms we see that the meaning of the border is perceived and not received information. There are spaces between images themselves, the lack of image, with specific intended meanings, and they, like text, require decoding. In terms of Morgan’s work, the panel borders reinforce the separation in order to accommodate a lack of familiarity with the story on the part of the visitor. These spaces, or lack of detail, also provide room for the viewer to create the missing information as part of the additive process, as Figure 4 illustrates. 34
    • Fig. 4 - Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics p.67 As Morgan refers to the border, a stylistic element clearly rooted in the comic book, as ‘traditional’, we get a sense of the pervasiveness of the comic book and its related elements. Has the medium of the comic strip now gained significant cultural capital, in that the subculture has permeated and absorbed into the mainstream? It is significant to note that these discussions of the comic and its elements as ‘traditional’, are taking place within the museum context and the context of exhibition development. The museum, being a physical representation of, and receptacle for, the physical hard and fast signifiers of high culture. 35
    • Fig. 5 Objects and illustrations Image Courtesy of The Manchester Museum ©2009 In observing the juxtaposition of objects and illustration, as shown in Fig. 5 and in comparing the juxtaposition of the museum and the comic in their depictions of Darwin, we may understand the museum and the museum exhibition as the contact zone for a meeting of high and low culture. It absorbs the palette of the popular culture comic, and begins to explore the implications of newfound relationship enabled by post-modernity on these once distant forms of expression. 36
    • 3.3 Captured The Imperial War Museum North’s exhibition, ‘Captured’ focuses on the lives of Prisoners of War during the Second World War. Looking at the design brief we see the identified themes for Captured. I have listed the entirety to provide an opportunity to demonstrate another example of the reductive and additive process, this time within the museum. The themes have been developed in order to communicate an intended message. Exhibition Assistant Odile Masia, describes the stated intention of these themes being “… to emphasise elements of the experience that would be familiar to all prisoners, and those elements that differed w widely.”(Masia, O. 2009, pers. comm., 20 December) The Themes of Captured • Experience of capture • Survival and endurance against adversity • Truth behind some of the famous legends, inc. The Great Escape and Bridge over the River Kwai • ‘Mateship’ • Diet and food • Entertainment, sport, culture, self-improvement • Contact with families and the outside world, and the role of the International Red Cross • Punishment, brutality and work • Medical 37
    • • Legacies(Masia, O. 2009, pers. comm., 20 December) Such use of themes at the point of concept perform a communication reduced to its essence. Paradoxically the reduction is longer in terms of description than the intended aim but when viewed as elements of the exhibition selected they can be understood to form a sum greater than its parts. The marketing literature for this exhibition presents an illustrated image of soldiers on a battlefield, hands raised in a position of surrender as a white searchlight breaks the red sky background. The image is visually striking, a high contrast scene with strong emotional content given the subject matter of the exhibition. The style of illustration, if not presentation, is reminiscent of the types of daring boys tales as told by British war comics. While the image may present a tale of POW’s in the style of a traditional war comic, the exhibition, from the point of entry takes the visitor in another direction. This brings to mind the description of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist as graphic novel in terms of marketing while conflicting with the description of the artist. On entering the exhibition space the stylings of the comic are not seen to be so immediately apparent or influential as a combination of photographs, video, movie poster and objects dominate the entrance. Further into the exhibition there are numerous places where the photographs, objects and other content are framed by line art drawings of wooden structure. While this element is repeated and adapted throughout the exhibition as a visual element it is certainly not the key feature. Although it is used throughout the exhibition it doesn’t 38
    • dominate the style or even remain as a constant feature. The exhibition utilises a number of different media including handwritten accounts, video, audio and this is reflected in the diverse style of display. The feature of line art illustration in black and white allows the framework to appear in, and highlight, certain parts of the exhibition without becoming a theme. The multisensory approach contributes to the atmosphere with audiovisual presentations and even the sense of smell playing its part. A searchlight sweeps the space, the guard tower this is on is rendered in the illustrated style, colourless as though lifted from an old comic. The illustration of the support struts of the tower stand on a photograph of POW’s playing cricket. The diverse palette of display, both in terms of visual style and the range of media utilised suggests a postmodern approach. How then does this fit with the linear journey through the exhibition space? While there isn’t a set narrative to follow through Captured a clear series exists. Areas are divided into sections such as Capture, POW Life and Repatriation. The sequence obviously creates its own chronological, and linear, structure. In between are atmospheric elements such as Camp Smells, a guessing game with the aim of identifying a number of smells and Disguised - a dressing up game. The visitor can of course move back through these sections at will and should the visitor miss the marking on the floor at one juncture it is possible to accidentally reach the end of the exhibition at an early stage with a wrong turn. However although there is the freedom to explore there is clearly one intended path through the gallery space. 39
    • It seems our earlier question has a renewed relevance - When such a clear sequence is laid out does it become something akin to a subversive act to begin to construct your own nonlinear narrative? At one point this is addressed explicitly, and the theme and narrative voice of the exhibition remains consistent and in character as at one end of an escape tunnel which is presumably, given its size, intended for children. the sign reads, ‘Don’t go that way, you will be breaking into the prison camp!’ It is in details such as these that the narrative voice of Captured seems the loudest and clearest. Although it borrows from the palette of comics it does so to much less of an extent than Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. Perhaps as a result the overall approach it takes feels more thematic and much less pedagogic or didactic. 40
    • 3.4 Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure The exhibition at The British Museum, Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure in Room 3 features scenes of past adventures which introduces visitors to the world of Professor Munakata. New drawings highlight his most recent encounters with iconic treasures at the British Museum. Visitors may also browse Japanese Manga books in a setting which evokes a ‘Manga coffee shop’, or Manga kissa, in the corner of the room. Not entirely dissimilar to the coffee table reading section in the corner of the room of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. The British Museum website introduces the artist and his creation Professor Munakata, ‘Hoshino Yukinobu a leading Japanese Manga artist. One of his most popular characters is Professor Munakata, who investigates history and folklore in his Manga adventures. Hoshino has been inspired by his engagement with the British Museum and its collections to create a new Manga in which his popular character Professor Munakata, a professor of folklore at the fictional Tōa Bunka University, embarks on adventures in the Museum galleries.’ http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/museum_in_london/london_exhibition_archive/manga.aspx The press release for this exhibition adds further detail, ‘Hoshino Yukinobu first created Professor Munakata in 1990. Now, every two weeks, millions of readers in Japan eagerly follow the professor’s latest adventures in the Manga magazine Big Comic. In October, Hoshino Yukinobu made his first visit to the British Museum. While here he created three ink drawings showing Professor 41
    • Munakata’s most recent encounters with treasures of the ancient past. Hoshino has been inspired by his engagement with the British Museum and its collections to create a new Manga in which his popular character Professor Munakata, a professor of folklore at the fictional Tōa Bunka University, embarks on adventures in the Museum galleries.’ http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/news_and_press_releases/press_releases/2009/manga.asp x That the collection inspires a leading Japanese artist, and it is acknowledged in this way, suggests a mutual relationship and respect between artist and institution. The status of the artist is clear and that he may draw inspiration from the objects held by the museum and the museum itself is a reciprocal endorsement. The inclusion of objects within the museum collection is evident but only in illustrated form. The objects remain on the galleries, the panels are accompanied by information letting the visitor know where to find them. Interestingly the reverse is not true. A visitor may see the illustration of the Sutton Hoo helmet and follow the information to find the physical object but a visitor to the object is not presented with information to entice them into the British Museum’s Room 3. This one-way directive feels like a missed opportunity for reciprocity between the displays and could be interpreted as an indication of the pecking order of the material being displayed. While the display of the physical objects is worthy of signposting from Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure, the exhibition of illustrated artefacts does not receive the same courtesy in return. In order to begin the comparison with Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist I wish 42
    • to explore just how the exhibition is affected by the lack of physical objects and the presence of the illustrations. The stylised nature of the artwork allows for some interesting juxtaposition and interplay between Professor Munakata and the objects themselves. The Rosetta Stone appears but with a crucial and striking difference. Here we see it as a ‘blank slate’ without any writing. Meanwhile Munakata’s back takes the shape of the stone and the writing appears here. Presented alongside a samurai helmet is The Sutton Hoo helmet. Or rather a modified version of The Sutton Hoo helmet, as it has the shape of the Europe formed by the patina. By altering the objects in these ways they have been depicted within the panels as instantly recognisably different to their physical counterparts. Not only this but the playful alterations demonstrate that they have been embraced by the artist and the form itself. The transformation from museum object to illustration is not a direct and literal one but one in which the form imprints its identity, quite literally, on the objects themselves. A key decision in the development of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist, as described by Chrissie Morgan was to move away from the graphic novel style as it was felt this exaggerated style may undermine the element of reality whereas here we see this in reverse. The deliberate distancing from the real and the physical. Manchester Museum’s exhibition seeks to validate the reality of the objects and perhaps enabled by the fictional protagonist, as opposed to the revered and real Darwin, The British Museum creates representations of already familiar, even iconic, objects while disregarding the concern for validity of the real. This treatment of objects is a key indication of how these two exhibitions explore the same terrain but move in different directions. While the sequential nature of the wall mounted panels 43
    • suggests a linear path through, or rather around the perimeter, of the gallery the use and re-use of elements from the panels create a more postmodern feel. Segments of panels are recreated on the wall behind the actual artwork, larger than original size, repetition of elements of the design also enables the style to permeate the gallery to a deeper degree. In the same way that Professor Munakata has been displaced from his context and supplanted within the museum gallery the objects are removed from their physical context and become signifiers of themselves and objects in general. The drawing of the Rosetta Stone is clearly not executed in the style of a technical illustration and rather than serving to portray the object itself the image serves to represent the elusive nature of the mystery within the stone as Munakata changes shape to accommodate the text. The museum and collections is reflected within its own exhibition and we see it is not a direct reflection but rather one which introduces distortions. The illustrations themselves are also presented with distortions. Jane Cheng (2009) describes the effect these juxtapositions may have, “The juxtaposition of hugely enlarged with minutely detailed asks visitors both to lean in closer and to step back: itself a motion that reverberates with the action-packed content of the Manga…” This repetition does indeed ask for simultaneous and contradicting observations from the viewer. The scale of the replicated illustrations presents the illustrations at a size distinctly incongruous with the way we are used to seeing comics, just as the 44
    • illustrated and altered versions of the collection objects presents them in an unfamiliar light. Such shifts in perspective enables, or even asks, the viewer to consider the role of the object, illustrated and ‘real’. At the entrance to the exhibition Munakata, as with Darwin, stands to greet visitors. Here though Munakata appears with echoed, enlarged illustrations on the walls behind. The duplication here presents us with a monochrome Munakata at a larger scale. The repetition reinforces the presence of Munakata and simultaneously undermines any notion, could there be one, that he is a real person. The visitor is reminded that while Munakata interacts with ‘real’ objects they are visitors in a space dominated by the imaginary. As Russell (2009) observes, “Being surrounded on five sides by sophisticated graphic art is like entering the magic world of “the Professor” himself. ” <http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article6904941.ece> Given the interactions taking place we would do well to question just who is entering whose world. 45
    • 3.5 Overview & Comparison of Case Studies Visitors to Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist can take with them a 24-page leaflet in the style of a Victorian newspaper. In contrast with the visually rich exhibition there is only one image on the front cover, a reproduction of the panel, which greets visitors as they approach the entrance to the exhibition. The image shows Darwin with his quote “I was born a naturalist.” Inside the broadsheet the timeline of the exhibition is reproduced. The flyer for the Darwin Festival at The Manchester Museum, while vibrant and colourful displays none of the illustrations from Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist and bears more resemblance to a 19th Century circus poster. These materials in themselves present an interesting reversal, as from Chrissie’s explanation of the change in direction we see that information presented to the public presents the exhibition as ‘graphic novel’ while the intention, in terms of exhibition development, was to move away from that. Here we see the material made available to the public as clearly moving away from the graphic novel element and focusing more on the popular media of the 19th Century. Although all three exhibitions share a common medium the organising structures within each is different. Put simply the pathway through Charles Darwin : evolution of a scientist depends largely on the guidance of the timeline, as shown in Fig.6, and the utilisation of the comic book’s sequential panels to enable the visitor to view the exhibition in the intended order. This order is formed by the chronology of Darwin’s 46
    • life Fig. 6 Perimeter Timeline of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist Image Courtesy of The Manchester Museum ©2009 Captured depends less on this type of guidance and it is the unicursal labyrinth, manifested in the form of doorways and tunnel structures which act to guide the visitor. Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure takes the form of a linear path around the perimeter of the gallery though the panels do not need to be viewed in a particular sequence. Earlier, in relation to the versatility of comics as a medium, I suggested the scope of content and subject material to be almost endless. In exploring the ways in which this potential has been harnessed by comics in a commercial setting I intend to identify ways in which the museum may also maximise potential audience. 47
    • Duncan & Smith (2006) state that “the roots of comics are firmly entrenched in commercialism” (p.106), and it is here, in the diverse marketing techniques and approaches of the comic, if not the economics, that the museum may wish to take heed. One particular way of maximizing the potential of a property within a comic seems something akin to market saturation. What could be seen as synchronicity harnessed by major comics publishers provides many examples of reinterpretation resulting in expansion of a brand. To illustrate this we may take the example of a popular character with several different continuities and simultaneous incarnations to reach all possible markets. In recent years taking the example of Marvel’s Spider-Man alongside the regularly published titles there has also been a Japanese Manga style reworking of the Spider- man story, an Indian Spider-man, a pre-teen version, a teen version, Spider-man of the year 2099, Spider-man of the year 1608 and Spider-man as a senior citizen. All of these existing in separate continuities at one time and aimed at different markets, or perhaps more charitably, audiences. Cameos, hybrids and cross-overs of popular characters are commonplace between other titles and even other publishers in order to generate and reignite interest. Where continuity was once sacrosanct to the diehard comics enthusiast contradictions now mean little. The publishers DC Comics coined the ‘Multiverse’. A continuity construct that meant that all simultaneous realities were co-existing and not conflicting, thus enabling the successful mining of multiple markets. How could this strategy be applied to the modern museum? Simply put, by 48
    • supplementing the curatorial voice with multiple voices, especially the voices of visitors. Viewed in this light we can see that this is already taking place. The same artefact interpreted from a number of visitor and community perspectives opens a world of possibilities to the museum and provides the visitor with fresh and exciting representations of the same object. 49
    • • 4. Words and Picture 4.1 Travelling Through Space as Time The aim of this chapter is to explore the relationship between space and time and how these are presented, represented and utilised in comics and museum exhibitions. How the use of physical space can signify and represent time and how this occurs in similar and different ways within the comic and the museum context. In their own ways, and for their own separate reasons, museums and comics employ sets of traditions and devices to guide the reader through space and time. As we will see, it is time that is often represented in a physical sense in order to clearly direct the attention of a reader in a linear manner. Berger (2009) discusses Magritte, describing his acceptance and use of a ‘certain language of painting’ (p.162). He describes this language as being over 500 years old, where the language itself sits within an older visual communication system, the visual vocabulary constantly developing birthing languages and creating new techniques of representation. On Magritte’s painting Berger says, ‘He assumes that the truth is to be found in appearances which are therefore worth preserving by being represented. It assumes continuity in time as also in space.’ While we will look at this manner of continuity in time, it is another related function of the visual language that is of interest to this discussion, namely the way in which time can be transformed into space. As with the museum, space in comics can become, or at least be represented as, time. The content is arranged and displayed in such a way that this structuring of content forms an element of the message that is crucial to understanding the intended message. 50
    • Before leaving Magritte we must acknowledge perhaps one of the most famous juxtapositions of image and text, his painting of a smoker’s pipe. Beneath the pipe Magritte wrote ‘Ceci n’est pas un pipe.’ The artwork is not part of a sequence to denote the passage of time, the two elements may be ‘read’ in any order and so the relationship between text and image is not used here to create a scene to be read and understood but rather to create a paradox with the juxtaposition. As Berger (2009) states, ‘He made two languages (the visual and the verbal) cancel one another out. (p.163) McCloud (2000) defines the medium of comics as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence” (p.8) and while it may be possible to denote the passage of time without sequence it is this aspect of comics that is of interest to our discussion of museums. We will return to this notion in order to explore functions of devices such as panel borders and divisions of scene, but first I wish to explore another of McCloud’s observations, that regarding sequencing which applies equally to museums and comics. Taking the example of Max Ernst’s ‘Collage novel’, A Week of Kindness, McCloud (2000) notes that, “… despite the lack of a conventional story there is no mistaking the central role which sequence plays in the work. Ernst doesn’t want you to browse the thing, he wants you to read it.” (p.19) Utilising the sequence of panels within the gallery space, The Manchester Museum invites the visitor to read, not browse. The succession of panels represents the passing of time, forcing the visitor to follow a prescribed path through this space and therefore in the direction of the passage of time. It is this manifestation of time and space that precisely commands the viewer in terms of their journey through the intended 51
    • narrative. We live in a time where visitors are familiar with the internet and world wide web. Where seemingly endless and randomly related hyperlinks h allow the reader countless multiple pathways through information. In contrast the comic, and the museum exhibition based on comics, take the reader by the hand down a narrow path of one direction. Mason (2006:26) considers in connection with the various capacities to define a route through the space of the exhibition we can extend it to structure and narrative in order to encompass the comic and the way in which it operates within the exhibition. Taking the examples listed, (material, pedagogic, aesthetic) as a starting point we can begin to see the deceptive duality at work with the pedagogic sequential nature of the comic. The cumulative experience of reading the comic depends on an unquestioning following of the particular structure. Without this concession the reader is not able to read. Browsing could be seen as unpreventable, particularly when seen from the point of view of Barthes when discussing ‘The Birth of The Reader’. As Barthes (1997) states, ‘…we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.’ (p.148). This exploration of post-modern theory announcing the ‘Death of The Author’ enables The Reader to take control of the interpretation of text. The creation wrests control of the authority of interpretation from the creator and allows each visitor to form their own personal frameworks by which they may interpret the material. The reading is subjective and the control of this understanding lies with each visitor on an individual basis. When such a clear sequence is laid out however, dead author or not, does it become something akin to a subversive act to begin to construct your own nonlinear narrative? 52
    • As discussed earlier, the stylistic devices of the comic are not only there to constrain and guide but also to perform a function. That of the comic being, in its broadest sense, to entertain. The structure of the narrative and the fact that, again in general terms, it is unlinear serves to build a sequence of plot points and scenes of artistic and dramatic impact. The one directional path through the story enables the authors to produce a story within an accepted format that is understood and proven to retain and generate tension and drama, crucial in holding the attention of the reader and ensuring the success of a comic. Can the primary intention of the museum be said to entertain? While this may be an element of the museum’s modern role and appreciated as being crucial to engagement, it is important to note that the museum, as Bennett (2006) notes, has its roots in, “the monastic studium” (p.267) and as such it must be balanced with education and the need to inform. Bennett continues to describe how the museum, “was seen as a solitary and contemplative space sequestered from the noise of the world.” (p.267) There are many who still see the museum in this way but there are also many who strongly disagree, as the present day museum may also be a space for the facilitation of discussion and community. The role of the museum is developing, it is now an accumulation and reaction to the numerous roles it has previously held. This changing function necessitates a shift in perspective when examining the role of structure. In the museum context the use of narrative may still be essential to generate tension, suspense and drama in order to encourage the visitor to engage, but it is no longer employed with the sole aim of entertainment. For this reason, if none other, the 53
    • unyielding structure of the sequential image may be seen in a new – or rather seen anew in a traditional, directive, light. 54
    • 4.2 Darwin, Civic Seeing and Linear Narrative In the case study of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist the series of sequential images sit within a wider context, surrounded as they are with objects of material culture connected to Darwin’s life. Bennett (2000:81) discusses the ways in which Great Exhibitions (international expositions) served to demonstrate a stratigraphy, a sequence of progress. In the museum context the sequential imagery of the comic becomes a progressive sequence, layers of time forming the unilinear narrative structure. This stratigraphy is ideally suited to the discussion of material at hand. Evidence of progress can easily be divided clearly and therefore demonstrated in such a manner. What better subject to place within a hierarchy of progress than the embodiment of evolution himself, Charles Darwin? To view Darwin as symbol for evolution and his own theories, (Chapter3.2) leads us to further interesting parallels between comics and museums. Let us focus initially on comics and their use of synechdoche or metonymy. Each two sequential static frames of a comic also represent two separate points in time and all that passes in between we can easily see the reduction and expansion at work. Duncan & Smith (2009:133) propose that, ‘The most prevalent reductive device in comics is synecdoche’. While it could be argued that illustration itself is a more prevalent reductive device, we must examine the use of synecdoche in comics and in relation to Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. Darwin as icon or symbol, here as elsewhere, functions as synecdoche for evolution 55
    • itself. The bearded face of Darwin may represent a visual shorthand for his theory and the impact it has had, the study of evolution. Interestingly enough, The Manchester Museum bravely aims with this exhibition to address this figurehead and deconstruct the sequence of events and indeed the life that led to this theory. The familiar is exactly that which is being rejected, as the intention of the exhibition is to get away from ‘the beard’. The depiction of Darwin with a beard is used sparingly within the exhibition, though interestingly the large illustration that precedes the entrance to the gallery, as Figure 7 illustrates, does indeed present the familiar, bearded face of Darwin. Fig. 7 – Entrance to Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist. 56
    • Image Courtesy of The Manchester Museum ©2009 Here we may identify Darwin’s beard as a route to the synechdoche, as this could be interpreted as a signifier of the old. It is Darwin as old man operating as synechdoche as it is this presentation of a ‘part’ of his life, which has come to represent the whole. Furthermore, the beard itself represents masculinity and as the beard in question is white, it cannot be ignored that with a connection to these aspects amongst others, the beard represents and bears connotations of the old white male scholar of yesteryear. Darwin, the superhero of science is being ushered into the phone booth to remove his cape. And most importantly beard. It is the Clark Kent aspect of Darwin’s identity that is to be displayed here as the exhibition attempts to reveal his secret identity. The mild mannered Darwin before he unlocked the mystery of evolution using only the power of his mind. In a sense we are dealing with a familiar trope of the superhero genre, the origin story. Here though we are seeing it in reverse, delving deeper into the nature of discovery. Key moments represent the whole of Darwin's life reduced to a series of key moments to communicate the persistence involved. The bearded Darwin has come to represent and denote evolution as much as, if not more than, the image of progression of ape to human. The problem, at least in terms of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist at least is that he also represents the old, the Victorian era. The aim of the exhibition could therefore be understood as aiming to strip away the archaic elements of the world, that of the familiar aged white male scholar of Victorian times. In doing so we recognise and highlight the youth, dynamism and dogged persistence within his sustained approach to his theory. Thinking of Darwin himself in this new light 57
    • enables us to see another possible reason for the use of the comic book in this display, as this transformation from old to young is assisted by the use of a medium, accepted by the traditional but one which is generally not associated with the dusty world of the Victorian scholar. Though it is not our concern and we hardly have the scope to explore the issue here it is interesting to wonder to what extent the familiar needs to be addressed and challenged as after all there is presumably good reason why ‘the beard’ gained it’s weight and significance? While this intention may be unconventional in terms of Darwin how does the approach compare? Bennett (2000:81) describes the term ‘museum’ to be understood as a way of referring to wide varieties of activity relating to the practices of valuation, collection and display of cultures and histories. Following this train of thought we can identify the use of the palette of the world of comics, the most noticeable here being that of the sequential image, to shed new light onto a recognised patriarch of the world of science and learning. In short, this reinterpretation is intended to rejuvenate an icon. How then do we see the term when the museum reverts to a unilinear Victorian approach? Of course this is where we must look at the other aspect of the sequential art of the comic book. As pedagogic unidirectional narrative, this unicursal pictorial labyrinth forms a deceptively formidable inflexible structure. Is the adoption of this visual technique in effect a return to somewhat utilitarian values and methods, a cultural instrumentalism bolstered by the uncompromising timeline, to argue a single point of progression and lead the reader away from the browsing lifestyle which may ‘corrupt’ their understanding? It would seem at the very 58
    • least that the less familiar, even revolutionary media can in terms of its function, be quite traditional. 59
    • 4.3 The Graphic Novel as Stylistic Template For the purpose of comparison we may see that while Captured employs a number of comic book devices the comic book is far less influential than in the exhibitions of Darwin and British Museum. As Fig. 8 illustrates, the visitor is met at the entrance of both of these exhibitions by an image of the central character. Fig. 8 - Munakata & Darwin as gatekeepers. Images Courtesy of The Manchester Museum ©2009 & The British Museum ©2009 The visitor can be in no doubt that regardless of the actual authors of these artworks these gatekeepers to the exhibition spaces celebrate the central characters and convey their integral nature to the displays. 60
    • Barthes (1977) asserts that, ‘The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after.’ (p.145) We may immediately recognise that Darwin and his works stand ‘automatically on a single line’ the before and after. Darwin is not the author of the exhibition of course yet it is he who performs the central role in the exploration and depiction of his own life. We see Darwin mediated and represented by a team of contributors and the visitor supplanting the author constructs their own narrative, ‘We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the 'message' of the Author–God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.’ Barthes (1977: 146) 61
    • • 5. Conclusion Taking the discussion Mason (2006:26) considers in connection with the various capacities to define a route through the space of the exhibition it would seem that from the examples listed, (material, pedagogic and aesthetic) we can see the deceptive duality at work with the pedagogic sequential nature of the comic. While to many the medium of comic books may suggest the free thinking world of imagination and children, the teaching of the visitor takes place in a sense all the more due to the inflexible sequencing of illustrations. The medium may now be understood to be part of the mainstream and while it also retains elements of subculture it is here seen as a pedagogic unilinear tool for the traditional. Traditional as opposed to postmodern in the sense of narrative in that while the atmosphere may evoke the books, visual and stylistic devices, shades and tones of childhood we see it here as evidence and proponent of a singular direction with which to traverse the gallery space and the subjects within. Here we see that although Barthes (1977: 142) famously pronounced the Author dead, just as tombstones carry dates with which to form a chronology, even memorials for the dead may provide a structure. If Author–God does not exist it is necessary for reader to invent him. In their own likeness. From Barthes perspective we may see that regardless of the authors intention it is the reader governs their own interpretation of a text. Rejecting the idea that the author controls the meaning of a text. As Mason (2006:27) states in relation to this thinking it is as result of the ‘birth of the reader’, and the consequential necessary ‘death of the author’, that enables additional 62
    • understanding to the visitors’ construction of their own narrative. While this can present liberation on the part of the visitor, or reader it also may threaten to undermine the authority of the author. Or indeed curator. As has been discussed the impact of practical limitations, such as time and funding, must also be considered when addressing the finished text. To view the finished text in isolation from these elements may jaundice the view and misrepresent the extent to which freedom of interpretation, or lack of, on the part of the reader was intended. While it may be argued that the reader is free to construct their own meaning from the text within the exhibition it is the direction the reader will take, or be taken in, that is of interest here. As with other texts there is a sequence to the narrative. Familiarity is required to enable the reader to be aware of the sequence in order that it can be followed. This as we have acknowledged is no more true for the comic book than for any novel composed purely of text but and here I would stress that it is this less overt sequencing that enables the “gentle leading” which Chrissie Morgan describes. The gallery may of course be browsed, and given the precedents set by so many other galleries and exhibitions, the likelihood is that the visitor will browse the space here. To do so is not explicitly forbidden however the visitor has many opportunities to recognise the subtleties of direction, the “gentle leading”, before they have taken the ‘wrong’ direction. The timeline around the perimeter wall of the exhibition echo and reinforce the sequential path of comic panels. This chronological device subtly informs the visitor of the intended, or correct, path of the exhibition. 63
    • We may see the treatment of illustration within Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure as playful, embracing the objects and transforming them as they are mediated within the comic form and as many of the panels operate independently to others initially the structure may also seem somewhat ludic. On reflection though we see, as Figure 9 illustrates, that with the exception of the oversize reproduced illustrations on the wall and floor, the path through this gallery is a straightforward left to right reading around the perimeter of the space. Fig. 9 – Entrance to Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure Image Courtesy of The British Museum ©2009 Interestingly left to right is not the direction of the panels in Japanese Manga, which read from top to bottom and from right to left, as with the traditional pattern of the written Japanese language. Despite the timeline along the perimeter the layout of Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist with individual self-contained panels of key 64
    • scenes provides more scope for the reader to construct their own path. The narrative structure itself by nature of being sequential is, in conjunction with the subject matter here inevitably pedagogic and didactic, that is to say in the broader sense. In the traditional view of the museum the use of comics as exhibition technique could be seen as experimental. Comics despite many links to mainstream popular culture may still be viewed as, and indeed retain their links to, elements of subculture. Ironically we see that this creative medium, connected for many with childhood, imagination and flights of fancy is actually a rigidly structured set of devices that ensures the reader, once initiated, follows a single path in a prescribed manner. The format of comics, which could be viewed as unconventional, actually perform a number of traditional functions and reinforces the linear approach to narrative. Is the medium of the subculture so hierarchical? In the same way that the dynamic superhero can be seen to reinforce the status quo the, often vibrant, comic book can serve to reinforce the Victorian notion of exhibition, dictating a reading as opposed to encouraging browsing or exploration. Communication takes place far more quickly with the use of imagery than by text alone and it seems Pitt Rivers would approve of the medium that allows the runners to read. With the structure of comics linear narrative setting the direction the reader may not even choose which way to run, again we can imagine this would meet with Pitt Rivers approval. The reductive nature of the form requires understanding on the part of the reader in order that the additive stage of the process may occur and the meanings and directions be decoded and unpacked. To connect with the broadest audience the more 65
    • sophisticated elements and developments within the form may be neglected so as not to distance the majority with a more complex set of messages for a niche appeal. The additive nature of reading is also relevant in the instance of Darwin as synecdoche for evolution itself. His bearded figure may serve as visual shorthand for On The Origin of The Species and much more. It is the recognition on the part of the reader that allows for this expansion of meaning, the additive part of the process. Such is the familiarity of the image of Darwin. Interesting then, that this is the image which Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist seeks to gain distance from. The dismantling of this synecdoche is surely the aim of the wish, as voiced by designer Morgan and curator McGhie to get away from ‘the beard’ The discrepancy between the presentation of the exhibition as being marketed as a ‘graphic novel’ style when the decision was taken to follow a more illustration based direction raises interesting issues. Can we therefore assume that it is the appeal of the comic book leanings and the populist mainstream superhero tropes associated with the term ‘graphic novel’ which results in this duality? After all the decision to take a less sensational direction is one which is intended to better communicate the authenticity, humanity and reality of Darwin’s life. In order to attract visitors into the exhibition a sensational approach would surely be most effective in terms of reaching a maximum potential audience. While the comic as a medium may benefit from further increase in cultural validity and literate acceptability, Museums in return could benefit from improved communication via the vocabulary of comics in the attempt to reach different audiences and to generate the possibility for growth in audience. 66
    • To conclude I would like to return to the questions I outlined in the introduction; To what extent are museums looking at comics in an attempt to mine a vein of popular culture rich in influence and followers? While it may have once been the case that the techniques and style of a comic would be used to reach a younger audience we may see from exhibitions such as Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist that this is not their only use. Rather than being utilised to reach younger audiences there is evidence to suggest that the comic itself is part of a broader post-modern palette. As such the stylistic devices and visual techniques are becoming part of what many consider to be mainstream and traditional. Where museums could look to comics to achieve a wider potential audience is in the representation of objects or collections in a number of different ways. Each tailored to a particular audience or community, perhaps even generated by them. As we have identified instances in two of the three exhibitions we have looked at where the marketing material focuses on the comic style in different ways to the exhibition itself perhaps this process is already developing. How successful are these attempts and how true to the medium do they remain? The small selection examined here show that different demands and intentions of the exhibition determine how closely it will follow the templates and traditions of the comic. 67
    • From a critical viewpoint what are the parallels and contrasts between the traditional devices and tropes of the museum and the comic book and do these best serve to create a relationship of harmony or a problematic disconnect? Having identified and examined a number of similarities and shared experience in the methods and techniques of comics and museums we can see that the palette is broad enough to allow for numerous applications, styles and outcomes. A more experimental approach could be attained with a more avant garde style of comic, with a non-linear narrative for example. The use of synecdoche and the use of space to denote time to present information are techniques we have seen employed by both comics and museums. It is in the case of space representing time that we may again declare the marriage between and museums as being convenient and harmonious due to the way in which both seek to perform similar functions. For the museum one advantageous aspect of this relationship is that by using the comic to enforce the linear structure it may be seen to be breaking free from its own stereotype by utilising only the positive stereotype of the comic. While the comic is seen as the more avant garde of the two it is actually employed to enforce order and command structure so that the museum doesn’t have to. The linear structure may not apply to all museum exhibitions, or indeed all comics, but where it does we can see a shared organising structure. Given the vast scope of both comics and museums the creation of harmonious relationship or problematic disconnect will likely depend a great deal on the many factors of each specific instance and the intentions of the exhibition. Has the choice of display method for Manchester Museum’s Charles Darwin: 68
    • evolution of a scientist resulted in a linear narrative structure, more familiar to Victorian museum exhibitions than the postmodern visitor? We have seen that the sequential nature of the comic inevitably results in a didactic inflexible structure, demanding the reader follows the prescribed path. Within the exhibition, while this does undoubtedly influence the ways in which the visitor moves it has been used in conjunction with a perimeter timeline and cases of objects to grant the visitor the ability to browse and consider their own understanding. While the key scenes from Darwin’s life are sequential they also operate individually. There is no ‘to be continued’, or ‘continued on next page’ here. The visitor, while under the influence of a ‘gentle leading’ is still able to browse and explore. While we may consider the subversive nature of the act of constructing one’s own non linear narrative we must also bear in mind the familiarity of the visitor with such spaces. The visitor, familiar with a variety of directive influence may well form their own approach to any given narrative. The freedom to explore, afforded within the post-modern exhibition, may well be one the visitor is unwilling to relinquish. The Victorian visitor may have been more familiar and comfortable with instruction and direction however in a modern world where the Author has been declared dead the reader may not be receptive to a resurrection. These post-modern times do however stand on the foundations of more traditional times and museums may appear more playful using the techniques of a comic when again this foundation is traditional and structured. As the viewer reads the spaces between the panels they are free to conjure their own meaning, on returning to the sequence they must once again fall 69
    • into line. As we return to the notion of Darwin as supervillain we can see that unlike most of that ilk he achieved his aim. His desire was not to enslave humanity or achieve world domination but, in many ways an aim shared by comics and museums, to alter the way in which the world thinks. 70
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