Help! There’s a Picture in My Novel! “An Investigation into the Imaginative Possibilities of Pictures in Literary Texts”

By Joris Vermassen.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

As a comic artist, I love reading, but like Alice in Wonderland I wonder why there are little or no pictures in contemporary novels. At the same time, I feel restricted by the sequential system of the graphic novel, which is more related to film. These questions started off my research project, in which I’m trying to fill the gap between literature and the visual arts. Gustave Flaubert once considered illustrations as a threat to the imagination, and many writers still think so. I will show that pictures don’t have to be a threat; on the contrary, they can stimulate the imagination of the reader. Following the ideas of Wolfgang Iser in “The Act of Reading”, I am arguing that the text-image can create the necessary blanks for our imagination. Therefore, I am taking a closer look at the work of some writers (e.g., W.G. Sebald, Jonathan Safran Foer…) who are using a substantial amount of images in their novels—not ‘the whole picture’ but merely fragments: people, places and realia. In that way, their pictures are more related to contemporary art than to comics. But sometimes, the interaction between text and images is more related to the sequential art of comics and movies. In the artistic-experimental part of my project, I am adopting the ideas of Iser and the techniques of Sebald and Foer to create an artwork with the literary qualities of the novel and the visual qualities of contemporary art.

Keywords: Contemporary Novel, Graphic Novel, Contemporary Art, Text and Image, Imagination, Wolfgang Iser, W.G. Sebald, Jonathan Safran Foer

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.195-204. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.955MB).

Joris Vermassen

Doctoral Research in the Arts, Doctoral School of Arts, Humanities and Law, University College Ghent, Faculty of Fine Arts – KASK, Hogeschool Gent, School of Arts, Gent, Belgium

Joris Vermassen (1964) has a master degree in graphic design. He teaches at the School of Arts, Hogeschool Gent and is a Ph.D candidate at the Ghent University, where he works on a research project in the Arts. In this project, he is investigating the relationship between literature and pictures. He is also a comic artist, comedian and scriptwriter (pseudonym Fritz Van den Heuvel) who had his own radio show on public radio (Radio 1, 2004–2006). He published in major magazines (HUMO, De Groene Amsterdammer…) and is the author of the prize winning children comic ‘De Bamburgers’ (with Simon Spruyt). He was nominated for the Flemish Culture Awards 2006.