28 Dec 2015

Groensteen (1.5) The System of Comics, ‘The Site'


by Corry Shores

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[The following is summary. My own comments are in brackets. Boldface is mine.]


Summary of
Thierry Groensteen
The System of Comics

Chapter 1:
The Spatio-Topical System

The Site


Brief summary:
The  comics panel bears geometrical relations to the hyperframe (the boundary around all the panels on a page). The location of the panel within the hyperframe determines its spatial place in the sequence of panels that we proceed through in our reading, and thus as well it determines the temporal location in the unfolding of the story’s plot.




Groensteen returns to the topic of the panel, which is “the base unit of the comics system” (34). Recall from section 1.2 that the panel “is defined first, from the spatio-topical point of view, by its form and its area” (34). [He wrote previously: “they are the form of the panel (rectangular, square, round, trapezoidal, etc.) and its area, measurable in square centimeters. This spatial dimension of the panel is summarized | and resides in the frame. The frame is at the same time the trace and measure of the space inhabited by the image” (28-29).]

 photo Eisner hyperframe.with data_zpsq1tllnod.jpg

[Recall from section 1.3 that the hyperframe is the visible or implied boundary around all the panels on a page. Groensteen’s next points seem to be the following. The panels may either have a shape that is similar and proportional to the hyperframe (being homomorphic) or not (being heteromorphic). And the total hyperframed area may or may not be evenly divided into panels. But check the quote, as I am not sure I understand the second idea regarding area:]

Now, under this double aspect, the panel enters into a particular rapport with the hyperframe. Relative to the form, this rapport is of homomorphism or heteromorphism. Put another way, if it is postulated that the hyperframe is a rectangle in which the base is the smallest side (in the case of the traditional page), there exists an important alternative: the panel is itself a vertical rectangle, or it assumes any other form and is opposed, through this, to the hyperframe (the second term of the recovered alternative, of course, of a very large range of possibilities). With regard to the area, a proportional relationship is established, a rapport that the eye of the reader appreciates with some approximation, but which the researcher can establish accurately. Thus, a panel of 8 x23cm will occupy, for example, close to one fifth of the area of a hyperframe of 20 x26.5cm.

[I think the next idea is that the panel occupies a region of the hyperframe, and each panel has a spatial relation to the hyperframe as well as to the other panels.]

From the topical point of view, the rapport that is established between the two units is one of regionalization. The panel is a portion of the page and occupies, in the hyperframe, a precise position. Following from this position (central, lateral, in the corner) and the general configuration of the page layout, it maintains numerous neighboring relations with other contiguous panels.

The site of the panel within the space of the hyperframe determines where it belongs in the order of our reading of the panels.

The panel’s spatial coordinates within the page defines its site. The site of a panel determines its place in the reading protocol. Indeed, it is from the respective localization of the different pieces of the multiframe that the reader can deduce the pathway to follow in order to pass from one panel to the other. At each “step,” the question is asked at least virtually: Where must I direct my gaze next? Which is the panel that follows, in the order assigned by the narrative? In practice, the question often is not asked, because the response is evident right away. But one knows (and sometimes a laborious sequence of arrows regrettably attests) that it is not always so easy.

[I think the next idea is simply the following. The sequence that we read  is a temporal sequence and not just a spatial one, since it takes time to read each panel, and we read each one in succession rather than somehow read them all simultaneously. Therefore, the spatial position is as well a temporal location in the unfolding of the narrative.]

The positional coordinates of the panel do not stem merely from the parceling of the space; they are also determined by a partition of time. The position of a panel in the page corresponds to a particular moment in the unfolding of the story, and also in the process of reading. If the page layout defines the spatio-topical parameters of the panel (its form, its area, and its site), it is the breakdown —t he agent of restrained arthrology — that confers its temporal coordinates.


Thierry Groensteen. The System of Comics. Translated from French to English by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. Originally published as Systém de la bande desinée. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1999.

Images from:

Will Eisner. The Dreamer. New York: DC Comics, 1985.

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