The Narrative Corpse

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This post originally appeared on the Schulz Library Blog.

Recently I’ve been digging deep into the Center for Cartoon Studies archives to shine some light on the books that excite me most. This week I’d like to shine the spotlight on the Narrative Corpse. I hope to bring you some more reviews of this kind in the coming weeks. 

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Published in 1995, The Narrative Corpse is an experimental comics project edited by Art Spiegelman and R. Sikoryak. It is a book based on Le Cadavre Exquis (The Exquisite Corpse), the parlor game played by French Surrealists in the early 1920s. The aim was to create a graphic chain-story that eschewed traditional narrative.

The idea was first conceived of in May 1990, as a project for Raw. It wound up outliving RAW by 4 years, which closed its doors in 1991. Done entirely via correspondence, 69 cartoonists drew 3 panels after another each only seeing the 3 before them. The Narrative Corpse’s contributors list now reads as a who’s who of alternative and underground comix of the late eighties and early nineties: Kim Deitch, Debbie Drescher, Lynda Barry, Ever Meulen, Joe Sacco, Richard Sala, Savage Pencil, Jason Lutes, Julie Doucet among others!

It’s an incredible artifact in that sense.

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The protagonist of this book, a stick-figure named “Sticky”(pictured above), proves to be the only constant in the ensuing twisting and turning narrative. Not surprisingly, the narrative hiccups and stutters when cartoonists create a great setups only to have the situations hastily restructured by the subsequent cartoonists. Nevertheless, that’s the name of the game in this kind of collaboration.

Like many Raw Graphics publications, The Narrative Corpse is elegantly presented as a large format book .The tabbed pages greatly heighten the production value of this “jam” comic. This innovative presentation further accentuates that in the case of projects like The Narrative Corpsethe experiment is more important than its outcome.

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While you might be hard pressed to find a copy of The Narrative Corpse to read for yourself, you can experience the lively spirit of this publication online in the Infinite Corpse, which follows the Narrative Corpse’s surrealist footsteps.

An online collaborative comic, The Infinite Corpse, has no beginning and no end. Meant to be a source of inspiration for writers and cartoonists, The Infinite Corpse takes the basic premise of The Narrative Corpse and infuses it with Scott McCloud’s idea of the “infinite canvas“. Not having to obey conventional page restrictions allows for this giant comic quilt to grow like a balloon indefinitely.

And does it ever! Do check it out, if you haven’t already!

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