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Beyond the fixity of drawing: aspectuality and narrative virtualities of depiction in caricature


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This article examines the narrative virtualities of pictorial representation in caricature. In accord with the concept of ‘aspectuality’, it departs from the example of the fixity of subjects in pictorial portraiture and highlights suggestions about the momentary states of things represented through such fixity. The article focuses on the morphology of humour in caricature, distinguishing these visual forms from the strict recognitional functionality of depiction. Finally, it discusses some hypothetical connections between the stylistics of caricature and the poetics of laughter, thus entailing pictorial representation and visual narrativity.
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Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics
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Beyond the fixity of drawing: aspectuality and
narrative virtualities of depiction in caricature
Benjamim Picado
To cite this article: Benjamim Picado (2016): Beyond the fixity of drawing: aspectuality and
narrative virtualities of depiction in caricature, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, DOI:
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Beyond the fixity of drawing: aspectuality and narrative virtualities of
depiction in caricature
Benjamim Picado*
Department of Media Studies, Fluminense Federal University, Niterói, Rio de Janeiro
(Received 11 February 2014; accepted 2 February 2016)
This article examines the narrative virtualities of pictorial representation in caricature.
In accord with the concept of aspectuality, it departs from the example of the fixity of
subjects in pictorial portraiture and highlights suggestions about the momentary states
of things represented through such fixity. The article focuses on the morphology of
humour in caricature, distinguishing these visual forms from the strict recognitional
functionality of depiction. Finally, it discusses some hypothetical connections between
the stylistics of caricature and the poetics of laughter, thus entailing pictorial repre-
sentation and visual narrativity.
Keywords: caricature; graphic humour; visual narrative; depiction; portraiture; action
1. Prologue
I propose an examination of the narrative potentials of visual aspects that define humour
in the art of drawing, looking at the dialectics between fixity and animation of the
presentation of human subjects in caricature. My main concern is on the possible
complementarities between the stylistic traits of pictorial genres of portraiture (including
caricature as a plastic matrix to represent human characters) and the very narrative
structure of visual gags in comic strips (here considered as a privileged model to make
actions properly laughable).
However, for the time being, I shall not entangle myself on issues about the sequential
structures of visual narratives in the usual formats of gags and daily strips. Before
considering how actions are truly actualised in sequential ways proper to the art of
comics, I first consider the means by which the most fixed aspectualityof character
presentation in caricature might virtualise the representation of situations that are ulti-
mately dynamic (hence serving for the purposes of actual visual narratives).
The structure of this paper makes use of the notion of aspectualityas a defining
feature of pictorial representation. In the first part of this article, I address the problem of
the particular functionality ascribed to the presentation of subjects in the art of drawing.
Instead of construing this presentation in terms of the visual recognition achieved by
depiction, the aspectual oscillation between fixityand hyperboleis assumed here as the
most important factor for the generation of the narrative virtualities of the pictorial
presentation of physiognomy: both aspects imply a different approach for the analysis
of caricature as a sub-genre of portraiture; that is, one that invests the visual aspects of
pictorial presentation with a capacity to articulate the discursive contents with which
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beholders identify (or from which they infer) the material actualisation of subjects through
In the second part of this article, I present some historical grounds for the emergence
of comics as a complex, hybrid form of pictorial art by combining the styles of drawing,
printed visual forms, and narrative strategies. On such a basis, the particular status of
caricature is then examined, with an emphasis on its stylistic dimension and on the
narrative functions ascribable to it. The origin of this argument is somehow connected
with the discussions particularly dear to art historians about some of the most defining
traits of Baroque art, and with the ways these were transmitted to the drawing lines and
printed formats of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this sense, one might
consider that plastic distortion of the visual forms in drawing (resulting in hyperbole)
emerged as the most important aesthetic aspect of what we now conceive as the art of
In contrast to such historical perspective, my argument stresses a point brought by art
historian E.H. Gombrich about the psychological meaningfulness of the portraiture genres
of depiction. In contrast with the entailments between visual recognition and pictorial
representation, Gombrich underscores the particular importance of the necessary vivid-
nessof pictorial portraiture; he identifies this aspect of pictorial illusionism with a
capacity to generate the interactions between visual icons and the beholders perceptual
capacities for the recognition of the pictorial subjects. I then ponder on the extent to which
the representational semantics of caricature would still be admissible, from the strict
standpoint of visual hyperbole. Accordingly, I propose an important dislocation from
the mere recognitional aspectuality of caricature to the narrative virtualities of depiction in
At the end of this article, I explore the status of actions that might be assumed as
representable through caricature. Considering the aspectual fixity of the subjects as
instrumental in the promotion of more lively contexts of depiction, I argue on the potential
narrativity of caricatural representation. In the broader context of a poetics of laughter that
functionalises visual hyperbole, I propose considering portraiture as a main force in visual
narratives, especially those actualised in daily comic strips or in other serialised contexts
of iconic organisation. In the special case of caricature, one must take into account the
dialectics that lie between the visual morphology of pictures and the interactional
dynamics with the beholders shareas a premise in considering the narrative virtualities
that work underneath the most canonical semantic functions of pictures.
2. Fixity and hyperbole: two aspectualitiesof depiction in caricature
The first section of this article mentions aspectualityas a central notion for considera-
tions about narrative virtualities of depiction in caricature. I use this term to mean that the
whole functionality of caricature must be considered within the framework of assumptions
about pictures as representations. According to Flint Schier (1986) and Dominic Lopes
(1996), the notion of aspectualityimplies that symbolic systems underlying pictorial
representation operate by selecting perceptual properties of the visual world that might
work for visual depiction. Therefore, to portray someone or something, a caricature must
fulfil such perceptual conditions established for the recognition of pictorial subjects.
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This is a part of what distinguishes depiction from other forms of representation. Pictures are
not merely selective because they neglect to make commitments about some properties.
Pictures are selective because, in order to represent some spatial features of their subjects,
they are precluded from representing others. The reason is simply that not all spatial relations
between objects in three-dimensional space can be represented in a two-dimensional surface.
Selecting to represent some spatial relations makes other relations unrepresentable. (Lopes
1996, 125)
However, this aspectual presentation of pictorial subjects should not be defined in
terms of purely recognitional functions of depiction. For instance, take the portrayal of
human subjects in modern painting of the early twentieth century (a case in many ways
very similar to caricature): one might ask about the ways in which Picassos painting of
Gertrude Stein could be, rigorously speaking, assumed as a pictorial representation (as, in
fact, many of his contemporaries had done). This question implies a particular view on the
aspectuality of depiction that concentrates mainly on the functions by which the mean-
ingfulness of pictures is solely determined by referential contents.
However, for Lopes and Schier, the recognitional dimension of depiction is something
suggested only by the connections between pictorial aspects (one might call them iconic
featuresof pictures) and perceptual competences (situated on the part of beholders). One
might not be able to grasp the respective subjects of modern portraiture and caricature
independently of the perceptual recognition of their referential contents. But even so, the
very conception of perceptual recognition also involves the kind of dynamism that I
actually identify with the problem of caricature. In this sense, the resulting pictorial
meaningfulness of depiction is one that locates aspectualityas an axis of the dynamic
articulations established between representational features of pictures and perceptual
structures of recognition.
My suggestion is, in sum, that pictures embody information enabling viewers to recognise
their contents and their subjects. The recognition skills we bring to pictures depend on and
extend the dynamic recognition skills exercised in ordinary perception. I have argued that
recognition is not reducible to description, that it is dynamic, aspectual, and systematic, and
that this explains the diversity and generativity of depiction. (Lopes 1996, 149)
Notwithstanding the above, the analytical perspective presented here goes a little
further in terms of what might count as an aspectof depiction and which aspec-
tualityis conceived in connection with pictorial representation (in short, whatis an
aspect and howdoes it work in pictures). In that particular sense, from the point of
view of its artistic meaningfulness, the stable quality of subject presentation in classic
portraiture painting is functionally proportional to this momentaryquality of these
same elements in caricature. In canonical portraiture, we might assume that such fixity
is the aspect under which depiction is defined in the lines of pictorial reference. This
aspectuality signifies the resilience of physiognomical presence in terms of an exhibi-
tion of pictorial signs of character which are, by definition, the most permanent ones
belonging to the sitter.
Caricature and modern portraiture present another whole dimension of the aspec-
tualityproper to the fixity of visual forms in pictorial representation. In this case, the
selection of visual aspects under which depiction indicates its subject does not function
solely in terms of visual recognition promoted by pictures, but also in other levels of
experiencing the pictures. One might consider that certain paintings and drawings are also
suggestive of stories, although not necessarily being able to actualise these in storylines.
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However, while not engaging myself in discussions about a narrative structure proper to
visual icons, I still assume that some of the semantic features of depiction (derived from
aspects associated with the pictorial presentation of its subject) are hardly separable from a
possibly more dramatic functionality of these images.
Furthermore, in addressing the problem of fixity in the visual forms of depiction, I
also target another point on the discussion of narrative potentialities of pictures, one that is
connected to the traditional approaches of pictorial genres: for instance, in portraiture
painting, there is a tendency for the evaluation of the pictorial powers for individuating
subjects, as something entailed by the stability of their physical presentation; accordingly,
the more statuary aspect of the subjects presentation before the painter is artistically
reinforced by the latter, through the figuration of this fixed presentation in the iconological
keys of a more enduring bodily presence of the sitter.
From my perspective, these assumptions about fixity of depiction are entailed by
practical confusions (with further theoretical consequences) between what is required for
the artistic production of these physical signs of the subjects, on one side, and the
conditions for the aesthetic perception of these very qualities of depiction, from the
beholders share. It is only fair to assume that, in the case of the painter producing
depiction, fixity is clearly a defining trait of the subjects presence in the face of the artist:
this is indeed one reason why the models posed attitude is something required by the
painter, allowing for the artistic rendering of such features in a proper pictorial manner.
Still, I continue to ask if that is the whole picture after all. If we consider pictorial
experience as such (thus enrooted in the viewers stance), the subjects fixity in the image
is something to be transcended from its strict artistic intentionality at least if we
conceive such fixity in its entire aesthetic meaningfulness. In pictorial perception, the
subject of depiction is clearly presented through aspectual fixity, but it is also presumably
represented in a momentary manifestation of that most stable presence (thus being related
to a continuous perceptual experience).
Alongside Lopesassessments on the dynamics of pictorial recognition, Bence Nanay
also insists on the capacities of depiction for synthesising the aspects of ordinary percep-
tion, especially those that are manifested in temporal terms. Considering the arcane
debates on the interdiction for pictures to individuate events (and thus to represent
actions), Nanay criticises the very conception of perceptual experience that is entailed
by such negative arguments (classically put forward by the works of Lessing on the
Laocoon): to conceive fixity as a property of depiction of events, one would have to
assume that the perception of events corresponding to depiction would be a possible
experience of an isolated, atomistic, sliced moment of the entire action.
Perception is not momentary: it has a temporal dimension; we have no reason to believe that
the object of perception cannot be also temporally extended. When one sees a tomato, we do
not say that one sees only part of it (the front) and imagines the other (the back). We see the
entire tomato [. . .], perceiving is like nibbling: when we nibble at a piece of cheese, we do not
only nibble at the part that we actually touch. We nibble at the entire cheese. (Nanay
2009, 122)
In reinforcement of that point, there is an additional problem in considering this
implication between fixity and pictorial experience: if understanding caricature involves
being constrained by perceptual recognition of its subject (if we consider it as a species
within the genre of canonical portraiture), one might probably assume visual hyperbole as
its main semantical trait something partially assumed by Schier, for instance (Schier
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1986, 173). As in the case of visual fixity in pictorial portraits, the formal exaggeration of
a subjects recognisable traits is assumed here as central to the visual meaningfulness of
drawing, something that implies confusion between the physical qualities of the picture
and those aspects derived from the proposed interaction of the images with the beholders
On the contrary, I argue that caricature, being presented through hyperbole, expresses
only a partial property of the general implications of visual anamorphosis, a perceptual
phenomenon related to the ways in which pictorial fixity would be apt to express the
potential liveliness of their subjects. Therefore, considered as immanent aspects of
pictorial presentation, the fixity of portraits and hyperbole of caricature must be taken
as materially important aspects of depiction, but not severable from the ways they
function in aesthetic experience: the meaningful aspects of these more stable features of
subjects presented in this genre of pictorial portraiture can only be achieved through an
exploration of the manners in which representational aspectualityis understood in
perceptual assessment which clearly invests upon the plasticity of these aspectual
From such a perspective, the morphology of visual humour epitomised by caricature
could only be fruitfully approached if the specific laughable quality of its grace could be
addressed as an analytical complement in assessing the general problem of stylistics in the
art of drawing: art historians E.H. Gombrich and H. Wölfflin defined pictorial styles like
these as either lacunaror expressive, both implying aspects under which visual mean-
ings are achieved through association with dynamic potentialities of pictorial representa-
tion either in their inherent plasticity or in their promoted interaction with the viewers
perceptual experience.
In addition, I propose to associate these different qualities of lacunar and expressive
styles with a more poeticapproach of laughter, under which graphic humour could be
generally grasped: the incompletenessor the simplicityof iconic composition in
caricature (or in the cartoon-like aspectuality of daily strip characters) is instrumental to
the realisation of visual narration, but it only does so by implying the actualisation of
narrativity as dependent on the reading/perceptual experiences of beholders. On the other
hand, the hyperbolicor grotesqueaspect of political caricature can also be understood
as resulting from the critical points made here regarding the false dichotomies between
fixed/animated visual forms, together with the equally problematic entailments between
narrativity and actual sequentiality.
As a consequence, the stylistic traits of caricature must be assumed within the frame-
work of the pictorial capacities for suggesting narrative structures proper to graphic
humour (ultimately actualised in the gags of daily strips). The virtualisation of actions,
as a topical manifestation of liveliness in caricature, suggests that the production of
resemblance through physiognomical recognition in visual humour is only a partial
quality of its entire visual or iconic semiosis.
Once again though, the main priority now is the dialectics between the fixity of visual
forms of drawing and the dynamic potentialities of depiction. In considering some cases
of the art of caricature, one might establish some conditions for approaching the very
definition of visual and narrative discursiveness of comics: in treating caricature as a
plastic counterpart of some inchoative visual narrativity, I hypothesise daily comic strip
formats as structured over a synthetic function that articulates the semiotic status of
pictorial likenessand the aesthetic, plastic dimension of livelinessof pictorial
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3. The caricature, between depiction and narration
For starters, let us consider the argument brought in by the cultural history of comics
about the emergence of the cartoon-like printed format art of drawing, which is typical of
the first half of the Ottocento and its abbreviated/hyperbolical plasticity. While con-
sidering the stylistics of caricature, one cannot deny its pivotal point as located within the
historical emergence of the typical printed visual forms of that period: this is a point
brought about by David Kunzles famous characterisation of the importance of Rudolph
Töpffers drawing style, in aspects connected with the traditions of pictorial arts (impli-
cating artistic and technological advancements), and also with respect to thematic choices
and critical assessments on visual storytelling through caricature.
It is indeed remarkable that Töpffers artwork could emerge as an example of the
cultural recognition of drawing styles in Western European art of the nineteenth century
especially in critical assessments such as those of Goethes: in contrast with the satirical
context of British predecessors, such as Gilray and Cruikshank, the genius of Töpffer lives
on as a proper source for the understanding of how graphic resources and narrative
strategies join together to consolidate the format of comics as a genre of visual narrative.
From my point of view, it is important to consider the role played by the functions
ascribed to the depiction of physiognomy: under such a framework, I consider the
implications of Töpffers drawing style with the tradition of caricatural portraiture of
eighteenth century European art. In Kunzles argument, it all starts with the questions
regarding the precise aspects in Töpffers work that came to the attention of Goethe.
His was indeed a new kind of caricature, innocent compared to Gilrays, yet with something
of the impish and whimsical air of Cruikshanks (.. .). In an age of increasing specialisation,
Töpffer bridged the arts, as Goethe himself had done much more imperially. The rapid,
sketchy, casual lithographic strokebespoke sincerity and reckless spontaneity, which informed
the story line as well; and Goethe, with reference to Delacroixs lithographic illustrations to
his Faust, had found such freedom to be the trademark of creative genius. (Kunzle 1990, 30)
Even if such an approach of comics scholarship resulted from certain trends of cultural
history (mainly devoted to the emergence of visual products of modern industrial socie-
ties), this sort of critical discourse on the cultural genesis of comics might also allow for
an altogether different kind of heuristic strategy: one important point is the characteristic
style of caricature that emerges from Töpffers artwork and the practical and artistic
contexts within which it germinates; to achieve a proper account of these problems, the
analysis of pictorial style must lay stress upon the particular semantic realisations of
portraiture through plastic hyperbole.
Insisting on the view that caricature evolves to the point of becoming a form of visual
discursiveness proper to the art of comics, one must ponder on which are the forces that
presented fixed visual forms of the drawing with the potential for animation: for this is a
constitutive part of the discursive economy that ultimately manifested itself through the
visual plasticity of both daily strips and album pages. These are the terms by which I
define the intrinsic interest of thinking about the correlations between the historical
genesis of drawing styles (such as Töppfers), and the predominantly narrative functions
finally ascribed to it. For reasons to be further argued (although not in the present article),
some stylistic aspects of depiction in caricature already contain the fundamental elements
for this consideration about the potential animation of fixed forms of the drawing, thus
working as germs for visual narrativity in daily strips, for instance.
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From the standpoint of what defines the comicsart of drawing in a denser fashion,
one must trace its foundations back to the question of how caricature might appear as
exemplary of a successful style. It is acknowledged that this sub-genre of portraiture was
established as a typical modernist phenomenon, in strict correlation with the transforma-
tions occurring in pictorial arts of the eighteenth century; it is precisely this relationship of
depiction in caricature with the plastic overload of pictorial expressiveness that
indicates the general lines under which the art of comics will be developed as a genre
throughout the following centuries not only as a plastic matrix for the art of drawing but
also as a project for modern visual discursiveness and narrativity.
Thanks to its mocking distortion, a caricature is the graphic signifier transformed into a
stylistic unit as a trademark of the narrative parody genre. For this reason, two skills converge
to its execution: the ones of the designer and [of] the comedian. If one of them is faulty, the
result is diminished. Its essence lies in the exact and amplified choice of the characteristic
physiognomic aspects selected because of their great psychological effectiveness. Because of
its graphic schematics and for the simplicity of its own, caricature naturally has a tendency to
stereotype. Whence shall we conduct a social typology or else a too rigid characterology of
the subjects of the comic. (Gubern 1989, b-3)
Gombrich also evokes the ways under which pictorial representation involves aspects
of our understanding the subjects of depiction in caricature: he states that pictorial
experience has more to do with the vividnessof physiognomy than with the impression
of realityit generates; given the image of someones face, the source of recognition of
these characters results from the assumptions a viewer can make about the entire scope of
the subjects expressiveness, in a much more determined way than the actual individuation
of the subjects defining physiognomic traits.
This is precisely the context within which caricature operates to establish the princi-
ples for visual presentation of subjects: there is something that unifies the most realistic,
canonical portrait, and the most Barroquely, grotesquecaricature, something that is
made more explicit by our perceptual readiness to recognise these two branches of
depiction through their most general traits (i.e. by lifelike animation of their presentation,
ultimately exemplified by our own reaction to physiognomy, in ordinary contexts of
personal interaction):
We respond to a face as a whole: we see a friendly, dignified, or eager face, sad or sardonic,
long before we can tell what exact features or relationships account for this intuitive
impression. I doubt if we could ever become aware of the exact changes that make a face
light up in a smile or cloud over in a pensive mood simply by observing the people around us.
For [. . .] what is given us is the global impression and our reaction to it; we reallysee
distance, not changes in size; we reallysee light, not modifications of tone; and most of all,
we really see a brighter face and not a change in muscular contractions. (Gombrich
1960, 282)
Let us examine these issues under the light of some actual cases of physiognomic
depiction and caricature. In such examples, there is a kind of anamorphic matrix of
depiction prevailing in the drawings rendering of physiognomy. This is something that
might be assumed as a constitutive trait of depiction in caricature the fact that we can
recognise the respective subjects of these images implies that they are presented in
particular contexts of their dynamic behaviour (some might say that they are literally
captured in motion). The characteristic features of visual representation are rooted in an
original aspect of physiognomic expressiveness, becoming more apparent when we
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examine these very properties in contrast to their actual, expressive presentation through
photographs of the same historical period (Figures 1 and 2).
Just for the moment, let us consider the relationships maintained between these
qualities of depiction with the production of humorous effects though caricature: the
visual hyperbole that defines this genre of portraiture works in a fundamental relation
Figure. 1. Patrick Oliphant Yasser Arafat (1974).
Figure. 2. Yasser Arafat © Associated Press (1974).
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with the proper comedic effect that characterises a poeticdimension of graphic humour;
in these terms, the elements that come together into play to produce laughter are the
principles of potential changes in physiognomy (which are mainly presentable in depic-
tion through anamorphosis), correlated with the traits of personal individuation (either
moral, psychological, or political) ascribable to the subject in the drawing style of
Even in the exclusive case of caricatures of personalities (with the roles they fulfil for the
production of daily comments on the social and political lives of contemporary culture), one
can see how flawed it is to insist on supposing that the effectiveness of caricature solely
derives from representational criteria. Obviously enough, the actual recognition of these
subjects is an important and necessary element for the success of drawing (for we could only
laugh at characters that were recognisable); with this clearly being a necessary condition to
define the role of physiognomic depiction, one could still ask whether this is a sufficient one
to define the very comedic effects associated with caricature (in other words, is it only
because we recognise individuals that we laugh at them?).
That is precisely why Gombrich evokes the question of physiognomic representation
in caricature, departing from the analytical platform of the association between depiction
and visual psychology. In the case of portraiture, the success of caricature is not exclu-
sively derived from the fact that we recognise the original subjects (mainly by means of
the fixity of their presented traits), it also connected with the ways by which pictures
mobilise some of our perceptual capacities for projecting recognisable forms as presented
in necessarily dynamic contexts of interaction with the visible world a phenomenon that
originates from ordinary visual experience.
In the case of caricature, the artist works precisely from the standpoint of constant
observation of the subjects most animated features, in straight opposition to those aspects
of interest for realistic portrayal: therefore, cartoonists must neglect the most permanenttraits
of physiognomic presentation in favour of those qualities derived from the subjectssuggested
animation in particular moments; this implied aspectuality indicates the artists attention in a
capacity mainly directed towards the global expressiveness of physiognomy, as solely
presentable in particularly (even potentially) dramatic situations. Therefore, the depiction of
physiognomy, once conceived in virtual and momentary variations (typical of the ways
indicating segments of actions such as yawning, smiling or raging), is probably the most
important centre of interest for the cartoonist especially in regard to the explicit purpose of
portraiture in combining pictorial individuation with personal typification of public character.
We are approaching the area of caricature, or rather that borderland between caricature and
portraiture, which is occupied by images of stylized personalities. Think of Napoleons
forelock and of that gesture of standing with the hand tucked into his waistcoat, which the
actor Talma is said to have suggested to him. It has remained a godsend to impersonators and
cartoonists seeking a formula for Napoleonic aspiration and so have the tricks adopted by
the lesser Napoleons we have had to endure. (Gombrich 1982, 112)
At this point, one must consider the ways under which these stylistic traits of
caricature might be conceived of as axial elements for the discursive production of
humour in comics. In such terms, we must transpose the strict pictorial aspectualityof
depiction (defined solely by the fixityof its presentation) to address the narrative
potentialitiesthat are typical of caricature, in this dimension of the interaction promoted
between hyperbole and expressiveness of its subjects.
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4. From hyperbole to simplicity, the stylistics of caricature and cartoons art of
From all we might have seen to this point, the pictorial rendering of momentary physiog-
nomic expressiveness ends up functioning as both selectiveand aspectualtrademarks
for the recognition of subjects in depiction, which also allows us to think about the
implications between caricature and the pictorial genre of portraiture. It does so in the
sense of bringing into question the dynamic contexts of perceptual constraints of phy-
siognomic recognition in everyday life.
The fixity through which subjects are presented in caricature exposes the characters
most lively aspects, which are only attainable in the temporal contexts of our under-
standing of their actions. As a consequence, the image interacts with the projective
capacity of perceptual experience, with a tendency to promote aspects of human expres-
siveness that are properly selectable by symbolic systems of depiction all of these are
suggestive of representing either the subjects momentary internal states or the subjects
disposition for taking actions in time.
In these terms, I identify the qualities that join together the art of caricature and the
principles of anamorphosis in modern portraiture: the different states of body and phy-
siognomic expressiveness, alongside the changing moods of the subjects, together indicate
the most central locus of the attention of craftsmanship in portraiture drawing. Even if not
conceived as a narrative form per se, caricature must be recognised as fostering such
discursive status for visual depiction through which actions and broadly dynamic situa-
tions compose the most generic thematic universe of depiction as presented through the
potential modifications of physiognomy the global expressiveness of caricature neces-
sarily connotes action, thus suggesting narrativity.
To achieve this point about the narrative virtualities of caricature, one has to consider
the terms under which physiognomic expression is, to say the least, indicative of a
narrative. More precisely, one needs to think of how portraiture can be implied by visual
discursiveness, especially in the sense that it is considered as narration. In other terms,
what aspects of the physical presence of the pictures sitter are of importance when one
considers it as implied in her actions or in the dynamic situations that she might be
engaged in? Regarding these points, Bence Nanay addresses the problem of the defining
status of actions that matters here, departing from the perspective of the beholders
engagement in narratives:
Is breathing an action? How about standing? And holding a balance? Being aware of these
actions usually does not seem to have much to do with narratives: on many portraits, we see
someone sitting, and it is unlikely that this will make our experience of the picture an instance
of narrative engagement [. . .]. My claim is that the actions that we are aware of while
engaging with pictorial narratives are likely to be goal-directed actions [. . .]. Although
breathing is often not a goal-directed action, some token performance of it might be goal
directed (say, when someone needs to make an effort to do so in thick smoke). (Nanay 2009,
124, 125)
Accordingly, the theoretical exploration of caricature advanced here could only
integrate the recognitional dimension of depiction within the framework of narrative
representation of actions. Hence, there must be an assimilation of pictorial representation
within the principles of a poetic composition of narratives. The ways in which I synthesise
iconological structures of caricature and symbolic systems of textual meaning must have
become clearer by now: the theoretical corollary of these entailments under which
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comics strips will be ultimately integrated is an assumption about hypothetical com-
plementarities between disciplines of textual interpretation (Narratology, Semiotics,
Literary Hermeneutics) and those belonging to the field of Kunstwissenschaften (particu-
larly Iconology, Pictorial Aesthetics, and History of Art).
One aspect to be highlighted in graphic humour is the particular plasticity of visual
characterisation of its main subjects. The most special features of style in caricature stand
out in this variant of comics, under various titles, among which I emphasise two of the
most important artistic programmes that are in operation here.
(1) Poetics of pictorial exaggeration. The case of visual hyperbole of caricature has
already been explored here through the dynamics underlying the overload of
recognitional traits that shape the visual commentary on current subjects and
personalities of various kinds; the traits function as iconological counterparts for
the virtualities of dynamism and animation ascribable to physiognomic expres-
siveness, thus suggesting a narrative discourse placed as a virtuality within genres
of pictorial portraiture.
(2) Stylistics of simplicity in linear drawing. The predominance of a loose style of
drawing is usually defined as the main trend in pictorial representation of the
nineteenth century (its most remote roots bringing us back to the peak of Baroque
style of the Settecento); in this fashion, the laughable genre of caricatures in the
printed illustrated media of the last two centuries (with its genesis found in the art
of Töpffer) prolongs a comedic aspect of the pictorial arts, thus defined by the
simplicity of linear compositions.
Considering the stylistics of caricature from a retrospective analysis of its effectiveness
upon beholders, one will conclude that its success is somehow connected to the capacities of
depiction to foster perceptual predispositions to dramatise such fixity. This leads me to
propose an examination of the drawing style in caricature, starting from those aspects that
suggest animation. Our attention is especially directed towards the expressive treatment of
techiques of drawn traits and to the functions ascribable to this purpose of dynamism
through plasticity of depiction. I explore the range of these narrative potentialities of
fixed traits in caricature by means of three main issues associated with the dialectics
between aspectual fixity and experiential liveliness of this particular style of depiction.
(a) The representation of emotions by means of caricature. If we associate the
historical lineage of caricature with philosophical and artistic backgrounds of the discus-
sions on the powers of physiognomic expression of inner states (such as anger, surprise,
boredom), then, we must separate this more economicpresentation of style in humorous
drawing from any evaluative connotations of realism in pictorial representation. In con-
trast, this abbreviated aspectuality of the charactersappearance in comic strips could be
taken as a result of the narrative structures of comic strips, which is usually defined as
mechanical formulasfor the representation of actions.
On the other hand, more than assuming a deterministic view on the constraints played by
such narrative mechanics(Fresnault-Deruelle 1993) over the stylistics of drawing, I prefer to
assume this more lacunar trait of visual presentation of characters as a phenomenon connected
with the beholders experiential share of competences: the general context of the narratives
schemata of gags in comics (defined as a self-conclusive episodic structure of physical
accidents in the normal course of the characters lives) makes more sense for the explanation
of the abbreviated stylistics of drawing in comic strips especially considering that such
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evolution of actions is contextualised within the definition of the charactersvery range of
moral, physical, and emotional dispositions.
It may be that popular graphic narratives employ a schema of a limited set of character
emotions displayed through a number of facial cues that are readily recognised and relatively
stable across cultures. The more complex graphic novel may renounce from using this
schema altogether, either because it is too explicit or because the emotions that characters
have are too complex to be toldthrough the face. Of course, the analysis has to be extended
to other popular and literary graphic narratives, and the role of other devices for representing
character subjectivity need to be taken into account. (Tan 2001, 45)
(b) The interactional dynamics of physiognomic depiction. Let us consider this point,
especially in the ways suggested by physiognomic representation in caricature. In David
Carriers small book on the aesthetics of comics (Carrier 2000), this point is taken into
account, although he seems to consider these narrative potentialities from a narrower
standpoint of a definite aspectual opposition between fixityof depiction and sequenti-
alityof visual narrative.
Yet, there is an important connection that he makes between the fixed forms of physiog-
nomy in depiction, on one side, and the representation of causality, on the other: this point
brings considerable force to the arguments about an inchoative narrativity proper to physiog-
nomic depiction; and the fact that Carrier brings these whole intuitions back to Gombrichs
famous principle of the eyewitness(which implies the projective powers of ordinary
perception employed by depiction) only acts in reinforcement of such theoretical proximities.
How is it that from one isolated image we envisage earlier and later moments of an ongoing
visual narrative? Caricatures pose this equally interesting but much less discussed question.
Gombrichs argument that making successful representations involves projection may also
help to explain caricature. The artists aim is to enable the spectator to form some hypothesis
about what is depicted. If that process is successful, the spectators hypothesis matches the
artists intention, and that viewer sees illusionistically represented what the artist desired to
depict [. . .]. Thus, we understand many caricatures by forming some hypothesis about the
previous or the next scene of the action. (Carrier 2000, 14)
(c) The dynamics of visual forms in pictorial styles of drawing. In the theoretical
traditions of formalism in art history (within which, by the way, one might find striking
connections between tasks simultaneously ascribed to history of painting and visual
aesthetics), this question on the drawing style in caricature is a characteristic point of
inflexion, thus helping us to trace it back to the distinctive artistic features of pictorial
styles (for example, in Dürer and Rembrandt). Separated by no more than a century and a
half, the boundaries between these two artistic manners (presented in their respective
workings upon painted dashes and strokes) help us to illuminate something that Heinrich
Wölfflin had already noticed as the most important transformation in the history of
Western art one which marks the end of classical painting and the harbingers of
modernity marked by the Baroque.
This passage is marked by the famous division between the linearand painterly
styles: when Wölfflin summarises these ideas, he identifies, for instance, the most notice-
able aspects under which the plastic sense of change in the visual traits of Baroque art is
already a part of Rembrandts style; the particular vibration removing visual forms from
their original inertia is precisely what calls for the formal interplay of these internal
features of painting with a more dynamic context of the presentation of actions and the
potential psychological animation of visual depiction.
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These very effects of the potential animation of stable visual forms are not only
noticeable in painting but also in drawing. Still within the realm of stylistic differ-
ences between Rembrandt and Dürer, Wölfflin reiterates the formal implications
between the distinctive aspect of the drawn facture and their aesthetic qualities,
especially the tactileones. While looking closely at the problem of physiognomic
representation in the painterlystyle of drawing, he looks at a portrait of the Dutch
poet Jan Vos, which is made by his fellow countryman painter Jan Lievens (both
friends of Rembrandt), evaluating in particular the fulfilment of the contour of his
physiognomy, in clear contrast to the completeness of drawn lines (proper to a linear
style), thus resulting in one unstable composition of the visual shapes of the subjects
face, and finally implying an elliptical treatment of the limits of the models
The expression completely vanished from the edges and sits in the interior parts of the form.
Two dark, lively glancing eyes, a twitch of the lips; here and there the line flashes out, only to
disappear again forthwith. The long tracks of the linear style are completely absent. Separate
fragments of lines define the form of the mouth, a few broken strokes the form of the eyes
and eyebrows. Sometimes, the drawing stops completely. The modelling shadows have no
longer any objective validity. In the handling of the contour of cheek and forehead, however,
everything is done to prevent the form from developing a silhouette, that is, to exclude the
possibility of being read in lines. (Wölfflin 1950, 35,36)
These workings on the dynamics of linear shapes introduce here the most decisive
matrix through which one might evaluate the functions ascribed to the art of drawing in
the production of comedic effects as a fundamental aspect of visual forms in caricature.
From the standpoint of its historical genesis, the poetics of comedic drawing is structured
upon the discursive and narrative features that are primarily suggested through caricature.
In the measure that these are conceived as results of a style that invests in the suggested
interplay between contrasted aspectualities (such as those of fixityand animation), the
pictorial qualities of subjects of caricature will forcibly be presented in a realm far beyond
this exclusive fixity of depiction.
Notes on contributor
Benjamim Picado is a Full Associate Professor of Semiotics and Aesthetics of Communication at
Fluminense Federal University, Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He writes extensively on issues of
pictorial plasticity and visual discursivesivess applied to the study of documentary photography,
photojournalism and grapahic humour. He is the author of O Olho Suspenso do Novecento:
plasticidade e discursividade visual no fotojornalismo moderno(Rio de Janeiro: Azougue, 2014).
Carrier, D. 2000.The Aesthetics of Comics. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Fresnault-Deruelle, P. 1993.Léloquence des Images. Paris: PUF.
Gombrich, E. H. 1960.The Experiment of Caricature.In Art and Illusion. New Jersey, NJ:
Princeton University Press; 279303.
Gombrich, E. H. 1982.The Mask and the Face: The Perception of Physiognomic Likeness in Life
and in Art.In The Image and the Eye. London: Phaidon; 105136.
Gubern, R. 1989.La narration iconique au moyen des images fixes.In Degrés. 59: b-1, b-30.
Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 13
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Kunzle, D. 1990.The History of Comic Strip: The Nineteenth Century. Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press.
Lopes, D. 1996.Understanding Pictures. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Nanay, B. 2009.Narrative Pictures.Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 67/1: 119129.
Schier, F. 1986.Deeper Into Pictures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tan, E. S. 2001.The Telling Face in Comic Strip and Graphic Novel.In The Graphic Novel,
edited by J. Baetens. 3146. Leuven: Leuven University Press.
Wölfflin, H. 1950.Principles of Art History. New York: Dover.
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... The purpose of this study is to explain and analyze caricature artworks in the 2017 edition of SuaraMerdeka newspaper that have relevance to the value of education in the community, so that the kariktur artworks can entertain the public because of the presentation of funny pictures, enough to contain humorous content, in accordance with Benjamin's research Picado [3], which focuses the morphology of humor in caricatures, distinguishes visual forms that discuss the relationship between the style of caricature stylist and laughter poetry. ...
... Nous montrerons ainsi que la reproductibilité itérative des disjonctions soutient l'hypothèse que le gag formerait une sorte de « chapitre » qui serait propre aux genres comiques véhiculés par la presse quotidienne. Enfin, nous proposerons de considérer la bande dessinée humoristique comme un cas exemplaire d'un phénomène plus général mettant en lumière les potentialités ou « virtualités narratives » des arts graphiques et de la caricature (Picado 2016 (2008), la notion de « chapitre narratif » repose sur un modèle conceptuel de structuration épisodique des segments narratifs, qui a été consolidé, en littérature, durant la période classique. Si l'on se base sur cette définition, il est dès lors possible de comparer la segmentation d'une bande dessinée publiée en épisodes avec le chapitrage romanesque. ...
Full-text available
This article proposes an elementary structure of graphic humour, departing from the examination of its more constant narrative schemes. From the visual gags of daily newspapers, we identify the most frequent themes of graphic humour, all of a disjunctive and iterative nature. The article will also examine aspects of a mutation in narrative and graphic universes of visual humour, comparing the canon of the daily comics with the new inflections found in this segment of the laughter genres.
There are many ways to picture the world-Australian x-ray pictures, cubist collages, Amerindian split-style figures, and pictures in two-point perspective each draw attention to different features of what they represent. The premise of this book is that this diversity is the central fact with which a theory of figurative pictures must reckon. The author argues that identifying pictures' subjects is akin to recognizing objects whose appearances have changed over time. He develops a schema for categorizing the different ways pictures represent-the different kinds of meaning they have-and he contends that depiction's epistemic value lies in its representational diversity. He also offers a novel account of the phenomenology of pictorial experience, comparing pictures to visual prostheses like mirrors and binoculars. The book concludes with a discussion of works of art which have made pictorial meaning their theme, demonstrating the importance of the issues this book raises for understanding the aesthetics of pictures.
From Gary Larson's The Far Side to George Herriman's Krazy Kat, comic strips have two obvious defining features. They are visual narratives, using both words and pictures to tell stories, and they use word balloons to represent the speech and thought of depicted characters. Art historians have studied visual artifacts from every culture; cultural historians have recently paid close attention to movies. Yet the comic strip, an art form known to everyone, has not yet been much studied by aestheticians or art historians. This is the first full-length philosophical account of the comic strip.Distinguished philosopher David Carrier looks at popular American and Japanese comic strips to identify and solve the aesthetic problems posed by comic strips and to explain the relationship of this artistic genre to other forms of visual art. He traces the use of speech and thought balloons to early Renaissance art and claims that the speech balloon defines comics as neither a purely visual nor a strictly verbal art form, but as something radically new. Comics, he claims, are essentially a composite art that, when successful, seamlessly combine verbal and visual elements.Carrier looks at the way an audience interprets comics and contrasts the interpretation of comics and other mass-culture images to that of Old Master visual art. The meaning behind the comic can be immediately grasped by the average reader, whereas a piece of museum art can only be fully interpreted by scholars familiar with the history and the background behind the painting. Finally, Carrier relates comics to art history. Ultimately, Carrier's analysis of comics shows why this popular art is worthy of philosophical study and proves that a better understanding of comics will help us better understand the history of art.
The Telling Face in Comic Strip and Graphic Novel
  • E S Tan
Tan, E. S. 2001. "The Telling Face in Comic Strip and Graphic Novel." In The Graphic Novel, edited by J. Baetens. 31-46. Leuven: Leuven University Press.
Deeper Into Pictures
  • F Schier
Schier, F. 1986. Deeper Into Pictures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The Mask and the Face: The Perception of Physiognomic Likeness in Life and in Art
  • E H Gombrich
Gombrich, E. H. 1982. "The Mask and the Face: The Perception of Physiognomic Likeness in Life and in Art." In The Image and the Eye. London: Phaidon; 105-136.
La narration iconique au moyen des images fixes
  • R Gubern
Gubern, R. 1989. "La narration iconique au moyen des images fixes." In Degrés. 59: b-1, b-30.