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Stephen Von Worley (#110 of 1)

Thierry Groensteen’s Comics and Narration vs. Nathan Yau’s DataPoints: Visualization That Means Something

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Thierry Groensteen’s Comics and Narration vs. Nathan Yau’s DataPoints: Visualization That Means Something
Thierry Groensteen’s Comics and Narration vs. Nathan Yau’s DataPoints: Visualization That Means Something

Comics and infographics—two of the trendier, if not trendiest, ways to make visual art these days, a means to take either stories or data and turn them into something pretty. Two new books have come out that try to explain and unpack these forms of creativity. Theirry Groensteen’s Comics and Narration deals with the cartoons, and Nathan Yau’s DataPoints: Visualization That Means Something deals with the infographics. Unfortunately, both of these books are tedious and pedantic, albeit in different ways, and both of them fail to light up the material they deal with. The only redeeming factor here is when the authors just take a breath and actually let you look at the stuff they’ve been talking about, and in so doing introduce you to some artists and some projects you may not have heard of before.

Groensteen is a French-speaking comics theorist, born in Brussels, who’s been publishing criticism for over 20 years. The University Press of Mississippi has begun translating his books, starting with his System of Comics in 2007, and now this year with Comics and Narration. My only previous experience wading into the waters of theories about comics were Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics, both of which are graphic novels in and of themselves and feature a cartoon version of McCloud poking his critical head into the frame. Both of those books were speedy, down to earth, visually dense, and philosophically insightful. (In my own case, McCloud’s books helped me finally realize what the difference was between cartoons and comics, namely that cartoons are a way of drawing, a way of taking a person or an animal or a building or whatever and simplifying it down to its geometrical and emotional essence, while comics are a way of linking together into a sequence a set of panels and the information those panels contain, which then means that comics don’t necessarily have to contain cartoons.)