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Künstlerische Formen des Comics ausgehend vom Werk Chris Wares

Nina Heindl
Institute of Art History

My PhD Project

My doctoral project “Künstlerische Formen des Comics ausgehend vom Werk Chris Wares” in art history consists of two closely affiliated research fields: the exploration of artistic comic forms and the narration within the comic by means of the visual possibilities inherent in the medium itself.
Starting point for both of these research fields is a concrete and intense examination of Chris Ware’s “Building Stories”. It was published in autumn of 2012 and its package is made up of not less than 14 different publication formats (amongst others newspaper formats, leporellos and a children’s book). In perceiving e.g. the newspaper format as being exactly that, the reading viewers’ cultural imprint plays an important role in the examination. The term “reading viewers” is used to describe the perceptual process: When opening a double page we will first see the whole panel arrangement before we focus on each panel and panel sequence. In all these different formats “Building Stories” focuses on the five occupants of a tenement in Chicago. The most distinctive feature of “Building Stories” is its form: in order to perceive the story, many different pieces have to be seen, read, and brought into a logical sequence. As there is no predetermined order, the choice of where to start is completely left to the reading viewers.
Due to its unique form and manifold reference systems, the examination of “Building Stories” is able to provide a methodical approach to the subject of artistic forms of the comic medium. The term “artistic comic” is used here to clearly separate a distinct form of appearance within the medium from other forms like purpose comics (e.g. instruction manuals in comic form and comics for commercial or educational campaigns). By dealing with “Building Stories” I will develop methodical categories for an overall exploration of artistic comics and verify their cogency with the help of further case studies. Furthermore, I will also analyze the possibilities of narration within the comic. Chris Ware tells his stories particularly through illustrations. Therefore, an examination of his work has to focus on visual findings and image-theoretical implications, which have both not been researched adequately yet. Hence, I consider it necessary to add art historical findings about the narration through illustrations to existing concepts. To this day, the field of art history has not seen an in-depth discussion of comics as works of fine arts. Thus, I hope to qualify artistic comic forms for a broader examination in Art History with my doctoral project.

My Internationalisation Strategy

Based on previous achievements and the current stage of my planning, the most important international activities will be participations at comic studies conferences and research stays. Institutions I want to visit for my research purpose are for example the Comic Art Collection of the Michigan State University in East Lansing (Michigan) where a huge compilation of American Comics of the 1960ies and 1970ies can be found. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Columbus (Ohio) also has a large collection focusing on Underground Comics. A research stay in America will also help me to establish long-term contacts with international comic researchers who provide important findings for my own research about artistic comic forms.
Since comic studies are a scholarly field of such broad rapidly developing nature, there are several versatile opportunities to increase my visibility in the global scientific community. As mentioned above, research stays in America are fundamental for my doctoral project in order to investigate and contextualize “Building Stories” and artistic comic forms. Moreover, I would like to participate at international conferences and continue to propose for talks and contributions in publications. By intensive contact with foreign comic scholars I also want to establish new international collaborations between German and American/Canadian approaches within the field of comic studies.


Annual meeting of SDS and research stay, 2015, Atlanta/Georgia, USA

Funded by the Research School PLUS I had the opportunity to actively participate at the 28th annual meeting of the Society of Disability Studies (SDS) from June 10th to 13th 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. In the USA there is a rich field of researches working in the realm of disability studies. In comparison, German (cultural) disability studies are just evolving. It was a great possibility to present some aspects of my current project regarding comics and further research interests under the title „Exploiting, Degrading, and Repellent. Against a Biased Interpretation of Contemporary Art about Disability“. The participation at the international conference gave me the chance to get feedback for my research and to socialize with international researchers. Furthermore, I was able to spend some additional time in Atlanta for researches in surrounding research institutions (Georgia State University and the Art Institute of Atlanta) and in musea.

Research stay and Conference “Comics Interaction”, 2015, Amsterdam, Netherlands

In July 2015 I visited Amsterdam, Netherlands, for a research stay at the Bibliotheek of the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Chris Ware published some of the contents of “Building Stories” in other contexts. One of these contexts is the magazine “Nest: A Quarterly of Interiors”, published from 1997 to 2004. In 9 of 26 issues (total run) Chris Ware published story parts of “Building Stories” as one pagers. The Bibliotheek of the Universiteit van Amsterdam is one of a few libraries in Europe that have all of the 26 issues of “Nest” for an examination available. I compared the pages in question of the publications “Nest” and “Building Stories” and tried to settle questions about their different contexts.
During my stay in Amsterdam the international conference “Comics Interaction” took place at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. I took the opportunity to participate and have interesting discussions about Comics in Art with international comic studies scholars.

ifk_akademie “Die Regeln des Spiels”, 2015, Maria Taferl, Austria

In April 2015 I was chosen to participate with other researchers of divers cultural disciplines at the annual ifk_akademie at Maria Taferl, Austria, in August. The ifk_akademie is one of several annual activities of the Austrian International Research Center for Cultural Studies, University of Art and Design Linz. The topic of this year’s ifk_akademie was “Die Regeln des Spiels” and I gave a talk about the gaming components of “Building Stories”. The whole week of ifk_akademie was dedicated to different approaches and point of views to play, methods and qualities of play and I had the chance to exchange research findings with international researchers who work on comparable issues. Besides new contacts and ideas for different approaches I received an invitation for a guest lecture in Vienna, Austria, I will hold in May 2016.