Fightin' Fallacies: More Mythbusting with Bucky
Here is what I wrote in my response to my the co-author, with their original text not included for the sake of privacy:
I have strong thoughts on how people are viewing narrative, comics, and linearity that might surprise [folks]...
People talk about graphic novels as nonlinear texts and think that this nonlinearity is an important "special" feature of the form that helps inform thought about narrative and sets the form apart. I do not agree completely because of how the arguments are often framed (i.e. incompletely and in "either/or" talk). The problem is that comics are linear and are read linearly, and I and others would argue that narrative will always be linear. Even formed thought, and especially formed thought put to paper, has a progression to it in that there are points of beginning-middle-and end. Fuzzy sometimes, sure, but they're there.
The simultaneity issue [----] is key to the understanding/misunderstanding comics as nonlinear texts: It's not that they aren't linear; it is that they are linear while simultaneously being nonlinear. :)
If by no other frame than that a person starts reading at one moment in time, progresses through measurable time in his/her reading, and then stops, a linear narrative is formed.
Even if they stop, go back, and re-read. Even if the comic is beset with flashbacks and flash forwards and cut screens. These flash forwards and flashbacks and cut screens still have their specific places in the overall narrative. The reading can be measured with a clear beginning and ending.
Now, within the linearity of the reading of the comic, there may be any number of splinters and breaks and fusions, via a re-reading or simply due to the nature of the form, what Thierry Groensteen calls the iconic solidarity of the form, the space-place of the panels and pages, which are always framed by narrative frames, even if they are cognitive. As is often the case with theories of reading that come from outside literacy studies but somehow end up influencing them, many are forgetting that there is an actual social interaction with the text, something that Rosenblatt still doesn't get her proper kudos among contemporary theorists for pointing out (but let us all drool over Barthes, who is saying similar things).
.... I can tell you that education folks are starting to get interested in that notion of the "specialness" of the graphic novels, but I have to admit that even as a proponent of the form, I think people have jumped the gun too early on thoughts of "uniqueness" tied to narrative and linearity because they want to see something that is there but don't want to acknowledge that something can be there and not be there simultaneously.
All in all, the most rational argument for anything high-end theory dealing with comics that I feel can be made today is this: "It is but it isn't but it is."
.....I've been thinking for a long time on these issues of narrative, linearity, simultaneity, and what we might call the growing "fascination with fallacies" concerning comic art that have yet to be named as such.
OK, so maybe you heard it here first: "it is but it isn't but it is." Educators are wanting to focus on what the graphic novel can do that other forms can't. Well, that's all fine and good, but let's get it right before we start labeling things and let us not continually fall victim to our simplistic either/or thinking, which permeates even language and theory that sounds high-end but is just as susceptible to wrongheadedness.
It's just as important that sequential art can do things that other forms can do while doing things that maybe they can't as it is to try to highlight what makes the form unique. Not noting this important aspect leaves us vulnerable to making statements that are ill-formed and incomplete and may lead to the development of "fallacies of fascination" concerning forms that education folks might see as "new" but that in actuality have been emerging for centuries.