Episode 132: Reviews of The Leaning Girl and Unflattening

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The Flat Earth?

On this episode of the podcast, Andy and Derek discuss two thought-provoking books that challenge the way we look at sequential narratives. First, they explore François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters’s The Leaning Girl, the first edition of the Franco-Belgian series, Les Cités LeaningGirlobscures, currently being translated and published in English by Alaxis Press. The guys begin by giving a little background of The Obscure Cities, its spotty publication history in the US, and Alaxis Press’ attempts to bring all eleven volumes of the series into print with new translations. The Leaning Girl is actually the sixth book in the series, although readers do not need any knowledge or experience with the earlier works in order to appreciate it. In fact, the guys emphasize the fact that The Leaning Girl easily stands (or leans) on its own, and its immersive narrative world, as fantastic as it is, effectively draws you in so that you quickly become acquainted with its many facets. There are three story threads that eventually tie together, much like the convergence between worlds that takes place in the book. Translated by Stephen D. Smith, and with photography by Marie-Françoise Plissart, The Leaning Girl is a beautiful European album-sized work of art, one that anticipates and sets the standard for the next planned volumes in the series, The Theory of the Grain of Sand and The Shadow of a Man. Next, the Two Guys with PhDs look at a completely different kind of book, Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening. Published by Harvard University Press, this book is based off of Sousanis’s doctoral dissertation at the Teachers College of Columbia University, and it focuses on alternative and diverseUnflattening1 ways of experiencing the world, making our understanding of existence more “rounded” and less “flat” (thus, the title). This is an extended essay in comics form — much like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics — and it’s divided into ten main sections (not counting the extensive notes and bibliography that complete the text). Sousanis begins with references to Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland and then uses that romance as a springboard into his larger thesis. The first three chapters, or parts, provide a brief introductory overview of epistemology from a historical perspective. The themes presented here are played out over the course of the text. In the fourth section, “The Shape of Our Thoughts,” Sousanis links his broader ideas with the medium of comics, and it’s here where Unflattening becomes a kind of theoretical take on comics. After that, the book plays out the remainder of his thesis. Both guys are fascinated by this project, and as Andy points out, the book is exciting for what might anticipate with future graduate studies, comics and otherwise. Will we see other comics-based dissertations in other disciplines? And while Derek believes this could be one of the most notable books of the year, he nonetheless feels that the narrative flattens out — so to speak — about halfway in, after the “Shape of Our Thoughts” chapter, and that Sousanis merely revisits or repeats many of the points he made in the first half. Regardless, this is comic worth studying, even though it will probably fall beneath most readers’ radar. But as the guys point out, it, along with The Leaning Girl, deserves serious and repeated attention.

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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