by T. Hodler
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.
“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.