Plodding Along


Monday, July 27, 2009

As some readers may remember, a while back I suggested that it would be nice if we could all agree on an adjective that could do the same work for comics that “literary” and “cinematic” perform for literature and film. For various reasons, the post proved somewhat controversial. In the end, the most popular suggestions were, if I remember correctly, “cartoonic,” “pictographic,” “Herrimatic,” and “McCloudy.” Later, the great cartoonist Mark Newgarden told me he had thought of the perfect word, but had forgotten it before running into me. It is a maddening thing to reflect upon for too long.

Anyway, in the comments to Friday’s post, gentleman Jeet Heer recommended an essay about Nabokov and comics by the scholar and cartoonist Clarence Brown. Coincidentally, in the piece in question (which mostly concerns instances in Nabokov’s writings which Brown believes are informed by the aesthetics of comics), Brown advocates for another possible contender to the comics-adjective crown:

I needed a word that conveyed the sense of “comicstrippishness” but that would be less clumsy, a word that conveyed something like the soul or essence of the comic strip. …

Chess is essentially an abstract play of force and counterforce constrained within a rigidly measured grid of relationships; as such, it is quite independent of its material incarnation in patterned board and pieces. Similarly, the procedures of pictorial narrative, the left-to-right movement of figures against a ground and in sequential frames, can be adumbrated in verbal patterns. That, at least, is what I attempted to name when I came up with the term “bédesque.”

The French call a comic strip “la bande dessinée,” or popularly “la BD.” My coinage bédesque has passed the test of satisfying the linguistic intuition of native speakers. I tried bédesque on Alain Besançon, the writer and political philosopher, who was on an opportune visit to Princeton. He first countered with bédique but then decided that he liked bédesque better.

—Clarence Brown, “Krazy, Ignatz, and Vladimir”, Nabokov at Cornell, edited by Gavriel Shapiro

“Bédesque” has the advantage of a French etymology, as “cinematic” did, but also has a disadvantage in that “la BD” isn’t as commonly used in English as “cinema” has been. Somehow I don’t think this will take off, though I can’t think of any practical objections offhand other than that comics fans are likely to reject it as pretentious. In any case, I haven’t been able to find any other references to the term online. Oh well: More grist for the mill.

Labels: , , , ,

21 Responses to “Plodding Along”
  1. Mazzucchelli says:


  2. afdumin says:

    How about "comicgraphic" or "comicgrammatic"?
    Either one seems pretty self explanatory.

  3. Jason Ramos says:

    It is maddening to think about this for too long. For some reason, though, I think the word, whatever it will be, will be French. So we're closer. I just want to make sure I'm saying bédesque correctly. Any help out there? We should be talking to some Belgians about this.

  4. Mark P. Hensel says:

    Wouldn't the English equivalent be comickesque?

  5. ULAND says:

    I like it. I think even if a word were settled upon, it's properties would still be argued over endlessly ( that's part of the point, isn't it?). With that in mind, I think it's as good as we'll get.
    Pretentious? Who cares…

  6. Anonymous says:

    "BD" makes a nice adjective when you spell it "BEEDY."

  7. Anonymous says:

    No no, I'm sorry, I'm very sorry, the correct answer is "Who gives a shit?"

  8. Anonymous says:

    This post is just to counter-balance the negative vibes of the other anonymous post.


  9. Simon says:

    The problem is, simply deciding which term you like the most isn't going to get it into the dictionary. In order for such a term to become 'official' it'd have to pass into common usage, and the only way for that to happen is for people to use it! By which I mean, I think we should stop debating which word to use and start using one. Then the most popular/useful/indicative term will naturally be the one that wins out.

  10. Simon says:

    Personally I much prefer bedesque to any of the other suggestions. I think it has a kind of mystique that's appropriate to comics!

  11. Frank Santoro says:

    How is it pronounced?

  12. Frank Santoro says:

    Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics suggested:


  13. Desert Island says:


  14. T. Hodler says:

    Why you…! I wish I'd never written this post.

    BTW, I looked a little more online, and it actually seems like "bédesque" may be in semi-regular use in France. I don't read the language well enough to say for sure, but maybe someone else can.

    Also, I think "fumettic," to slightly change Mazzucchelli's suggestion, might work.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I just Googled for BEEDY and it looks like it was already voted Word of the Year by Comics Reporter and Wizard Magazine.

    So……discussion over?

  16. T. Hodler says:

    We can only hope.

    I'm not sure how many "Anonymouses" (anonymice? boo! not funny) there are out there, but you should go ahead and start using "beedy" since you like it so much. Myself, I'm going to try and parlay this into as many different posts as possible, for as long as possible.

    PS: I wish Wizard and CR really did have contests for "word of the year."

  17. Anonymous says:


  18. juannavarro says:

    Uhm, how about "Sequential"?

    Sorta surprised nobody mentioned that. All the other suggestions are sort of High-falutin…

  19. T. Hodler says:

    Because "sequential" doesn't apply solely to comics. It's equally valid as a description of films, novels, poetry, music, plays, etc.

  20. DerikB says:

    I'm seeing more use of bédéesque (three syllables) than bédesque (this post is actually in the top results, so it's probably not used much).

    You could anglicize that: comicesque, comicky, comickesqe, though by using the French it avoids the old "comic = funny" problem.

  21. Frank Santoro says:

    RE: "Sequential"

    "Sequential" is tarnished cuz it's part of Eisner's "high falutin'" term for Comics:

    "Sequential Art"

    oh bruddah…don't get me started…

Leave a Reply