Diegesis

Diegesis is a form of storytelling that appears in literature, film, comic books, and other types of media. All methods of storytelling convey a story’s information (plot, character backgrounds, etc.) to an audience. In comic books, diegesis often involves a narrator commenting on the story. While narrators usually share the common goal of giving readers inside information in to the comic’s story, they go about this in unique and different ways. The following three examples briefly show how diegesis can function in various comic books and how it has changed during the history of comics.

An unseen narrator introduces certain panels in this issue of
Figure 1. An unseen narrator introduces certain panels in this issue of “Captain America.”

In this Captain America issue, printed in 1976, the narrator speaks in the third-person and provides information that the audience would not know otherwise.

Without the narrator’s commentary, this comic would only show the story happening to the reader, a method of storytelling known as mimesis. Throughout this Captain America issue, the narrator’s diegetic commentary remains neutral and objective. Diegesis helps the readers connect the characters’ and story’s context to the events that are occurring in the comic book’s present time.

This Calvin and Hobbes strip, published in 1987, contains a narrator who is also the main character of the story. Diegesis conveys information through Calvin’s third-person speech bubbles.

This gag strip depicts Calvin's daily internal conflict.
Calvin faces internal conflict on a daily basis.

Calvin is the main character and the reader’s source for understanding this imaginary scene. His comments express his reactions to events occurring in the plot. This type of diegesis can make the character more empathetic or relatable. The reader invests more in the main character who opens up his or her feelings and thoughts to the audience. However, in the case of these specific panels, Calvin’s diegetic commentary lets the reader know that he is, in fact, not a slug.

In this Archie comic, the narrator is the main character.
Figure 3. In Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ Archie, the narrator is the main character and breaks the “fourth wall” in comic books.

This diegetic panel from the recently rebooted Archie comic (see Figure 3) involves a narrator giving readers the not so widely known inside scoop into the Archie world.

Like the Calvin and Hobbes panel above, the main character also acts as the narrator. Archie not only provides contextual information to the Archie world, but also feelings and opinions that he chooses to reveal. He directly addresses the reader, breaking the fourth wall in comics, as though the reader were a good friend of Archie’s or another character in the comic. This form of diegesis encourages the reader to grow more attached to the main character and the comic’s story. As Archie’s confidant, the reader may feel like he or she is a part of the story, rather than just a bird’s-eye observer.

REFERENCES

Kirby, J., Berry, D., & Cohen, J. (1975). Captain America and the Falcon(195th ed., Vol. 1, p. 14). New York, New York: Marvel Comics Group.

Diegesis. (2015, December 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:57, December 5, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Diegesis&oldid=693755094

Fourth Wall. (2015, March 16). Comic Vine. Comic Vine is a collaboratively updated comic book site published by Whiskey Media.

Waid, M., & Staples, F. (2015). Archie (Vol. 1). Archie Comic Publications.

Watterson, Bill. Calvin and Hobbes. Vol. 1. N.p.: Andrews McMeel, n.d. Print.

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