Broken Windows and Slashed Canvases: Digital Comics and Transgressive Horror

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

I investigate digital horror comics as a case study in anxieties about the boundaries between fiction and reality provoked by the remediation of print media forms, such as text or comics, as digital media forms. Because the horror genre often deals with questions of transgression and boundaries, and because the frightening fictions depicted in horror media raise the stakes on questions of the boundaries between media and reality, horror it is a fruitful site for exploring assumptions and anxieties about the boundaries of media. This paper uses Noel Carroll's framework of “art horror” to examine digital horror comics by three authors: Studio Horang's Bong-Cheon-Dong Ghost (2011), Ok-su Station Ghost (2011) and Ghost in Masung Tunnel (2013), Emily Carroll's Prince And The Sea (2011), When The Darkness Presses (2012) and Margot's Room (2011), and Kazerad's Prequel (ongoing). These comics all make use of uniquely digital elements, such as “infinite canvas” pages of different sizes, animation, and sometimes sound, to subvert the reader's expectations and create horrific effects. These comics are effective because they take advantage of expectations about the boundaries of the comics medium which readers carry over from print comics, subverting these expectations by using elements which are possible in the digital comics but not in print comics. Reader's expectations based on what is and is not possible in print comics, make these exclusively digital elements in the comics seem unsettling, as if the digital comics have broken a law of reality and the boundaries between our own world and storyworlds are breaking down; the digital horror elements in these comics make many readers feel as though a monster may literally climb out of their computer screen. Using Janet Murray's framework of immersivity and interactivity for understanding digital media, discussed in Hamlet On The Holodeck, and Bolter and Grusin's theory of remediation and hypermediacy, I argue that when a new, more immersive media form with expanded affordances that allow it to appear “closer” to reality, such as digital media, is first adopted, older media forms are remediated into it and assumptions about the boundaries of those older media forms are at first carried over and taken for granted as laws of reality. However, at some point, the expanded capabilities of the new medium become apparent, upsetting expectations and provoking a period of anxiety as the vestigial boundaries of the old medium are dismantled and the broader boundaries of the new medium are encountered. These digital horror comics discussed in this paper play on the anxieties that breaking these vestigial boundaries provoke, and provide a clear illustration of the process of remediation and renegotiation of boundaries that the medium of digital comics, as well as many other digital mediums are also undergoing.

(Source: Author's description from ELO 2018 site:

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Linn Heidi Stokkedal