Thursday, February 04, 2016


by Nick Sousanis

This comic book (aka sequential art, visual narrative, graphic novel, etc.) is about the power and potential of visual communication techniques to open new perspectives. It aims to be rather intellectual by quoting lots of intellectuals and academics (philosophers, linguists, and semioticians — oh my!) and referring to them usually by last name only. (Because of course everyone knows who Gilles Deleuze is. Do you even deconstruct, bro?)

The author/artist does a great job of combining and manipulating text and image in unexpected and innovative ways that are also useful to understanding, rather than just technically virtuosic or unnecessarily complex. He presents some very interesting ideas but also a lot of "undergraduate" philosophizing and naive opining about how conformity sucks, man. I guess I'm just old, jaded, and stuck in "flattened" ways of thinking and looking, but to me the author's line of reasoning seems to frequently mistake metaphor for reality and/or conflate metaphor (a vehicle for meaning) with actual meaning (the content of metaphor).

I took some notes, and could have taken more, but, in another example of my jadedness, I don't really care enough to go into that kind of detail here. I'll just say that one particular weakness is the author's failure to grasp certain neurobiological realities. He rejects one facile explanation of right- and left-brain difference only to substitute an equally simplistic interpretation that still ignores the fundamental connectedness and interactivity of the two hemispheres. Most appalling, given his Deleuzean leanings, is his overlooking the fact that the human brain is the ultimate self-referential rhizomatic structure! (If you know your Deleuze and Guattari, you'll get the significance or rhizomes.)

Anyway, despite my quibbles, Unflattening is a worthwhile addition to the body of works legitimizing comics (by any name) as not only an art form but a vehicle for information and ideas.

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