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Brecht and Comics

May 10th, 2011 by Jeremy Potterfield · No Comments · Uncategorized

Last class we discussed sympathy in comics. We we also lightly touched on purposeful and accidental alienation between the reader and the comic. This reminded me in many ways of Brecht’s theory of epic theater. In epic theater, the audience should always be aware that they are watching a play. To ensure this estrangement between audience and play Brecht uses techniques such as breaking the fourth wall and having one actor play multiple roles. In Brechtian theater, the actor will narrate what the character is feeling — instead of embodying and channeling the character in a realist form. The goal of epic theater is to free the audience from thoughtless emotion. That’s not to say there cannot be emotion in the play — but rather that emotion should be thought-driven. In his plays, Brecht aimed to elicit social change. Brecht required that the audience truly think about the societal dilemmas he staged.

Purposeful alienation frees the audience from the blurred lens of their emotions and requires them to analyze a situation rationally. Has/could this technique be used in comics? The best example I have in mind is the Harvey Pekar Name Story. Pekar speaks directly to the reader in each panel and the background is bare. In a way, Pekar is presenting a dialectic to the audience to be questioned and evaluated. This is quite Brechtian.

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