Words Without Borders February: Framing Stories in Graphic Novels

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Turning to graphic narrative for its 14th time, ‘Words Without Borders’ looks at the axis between text and visuals in framing.

Vicente Reinamontes, from ‘Al sur de la alameda’ (Ekaré sur, 2014). © 2014 by Vicente Reinamontes. Image: Provided by Words Without Borders

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Framing Means Choosing’
Graphic novels, nonfiction, and poetry stand as one of those topics in the wider industry of publishing that seem to be continually “new,” strangely needing to be “introduced” over and over.

At Words Without Borders, this is not the case. The magazine for the nonprofit translation organization this month is featuring its 14th volume of content from international graphic novels as its lead, with an introduction from editorial director Susan Harris and her curation of six graphic pieces—three nonfiction, two fiction, one work of poetry.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, France’s Festival d’Angoulême recently had its 47th iteration and other festivals and fairs in world publishing are widening their embrace of the many variants of visually developed storytelling that fall into the sector.

Susan Harris

It’s harder to determine whether headway is being made in terms of broadening consumer interest in graphical work. While there’s a growing interest in it for purposes of sales and artistic latitude, the world of comics and other graphically developed forms seems to have the sort of appeal that black-and-white photography has: you either like it or you don’t. And while one image or one narrative work might surprise a non-believer from time to time, the general preference for mostly visual or mostly textual work may not be as fungible as we might wish.

Suffice it to say that Words Without Borders is doing its part to expose its followers to the value of graphic narrative. And in her introduction, “Framing the Story: Six Graphic Narratives,” Harris makes a good point about the editorial element—in the strict sense—of a graphic literature artist’s work. She quotes one of her six authors from this month’s feature, Melanie Leclerc, in a reflection on Michel Leclerc’s cinematographer’s commentary on framing.

Have a look at this. Here are two few frames from Melanie Leclerc’s 2019 graphic memoir, Contacts (Mécanique generales, 2019), in which her dad hands over his beloved Leica. As he introduces his daughter to the nature of the camera and how to think of foreseeing a shot, he tells her that framing is the key to the best work.

From Melanie Leclerc’s ‘Contacts,’ an excerpt in the February 2020 edition of ‘Words Without Borders,’ translated by Sean Gasper Bye

“Framing means choosing,” he says, “out of everything it’s possible to see, what’s going to stay, what’s going to tell the story.”

And so it is with textual editing—framing, if you will. What an editor leaves out, what she or he chooses to include, is at the heart of good narrative, whether in fiction or nonfiction.

Contacts is excerpted in the new edition here, in Sean Gasper Bye’s translation from French.

As Harris, a known and faithful believer in graphic work, writes about Leclerc’s work, “From a hushed night at a museum to a noisy protest in a teeming city, in moments of private reflection and public confrontation, the resulting works reflect the storytelling power of this endlessly expressive form.”

Here’s a list of the work you’ll find in this month’s edition, as Harris writes, “prime examples of the graphic novel’s powerful and infinite range.”

Items in the February Edition

Contributors to the February 2020 edition of ‘Words Without Borders, from upper left, are Thomas Matthieu; Juliette Boutant; Schneider Bastian (image: Pierre Horn); Walter Paminger; Marlon Hacla; Mélanie Leclerc; Rima Barrack; and Kone Moussa

  • “A Seam of Light and Black,” nonfiction by Moussa Kone (art), Walter Pamminger (concept), and Bastian Schneider (text) of Austria, translated from German by Verena Aschenbach.
  • “Contacts,” nonfiction by Mélanie Leclerc (Canada), translated from French by Sean Gasper Bye. Leclerc is an artist and photographer who lives near Montreal.
  • “South of Alameda,” fiction by Lola Larra (text) and Vicente Reinamontes (art) from Chile, translated from Spanish by Cael Orrego. Larra is a writer and journalist. Reinamontes is an activist who participated in the Penguin Revolution.
  • “The View,” poetry by Marlon Hacla (text) and Apol Sta. Maria (art) from the Philippines, translated from Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim. Sta. Maria is the author of several graphic works in both English and Filipino.
  • “Crocodiles Are Everywhere,” nonfiction by Thomas Mathieu (text) and Juliette Boutant (art) of France, translated by Edward Gauvin. Mathieu and Boutant are the authors of “Projet Crocodiles,” a Tumblr depicting women’s experiences of sexism and harassment in which men appear as crocodiles.
  • “The Beirut Trilogy,” fiction by Barrack Rima (Lebanon), translated from French by Carla Calargé and Alexandra Gueydan-Turek. Rima’s work has appeared in Arabic and English as well as its original French.

From ‘Crocodiles Are Everywhere’ by Juliette Boutant and Thomas Mathieu, an excerpt in the February 2020 edition of ‘Words Without Borders,’ translated by Edward Gauvin


More from Publishing Perspectives on ‘Words Without Borders’ is here, and more from us on translation is here. More on graphic novels is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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