(See Part I and Part II here and here).

In the previous two posts in this three-part series, I examined how we determined whether two instances of comics art were, or were not, instances of the same comic type. In Part I, I examined panel layout (with the help of Calvin and Hobbes) and in Part II, I examined coloring (with the help of the 1988 and 2008 editions of The Killing Joke).

Here I look at a case I take to be particularly difficult (and one that also illustrates the tragedy that can result from haphazard archiving of comic art). The second volume of Fantagraphics’ amazing series of Peanuts reprint volumes (edited and designed by Canadian comic artist Seth) contains a short note at the end regarding the status of the May 3, 1953 Sunday strip. After bemoaning the sorry state of newspaper comic strip preservation, the note notes that:

“… one strip has proven at least partly ‘lost'”.

 

This is the aforementioned May 3, 1953 strip. The strip actually included in the volume is described thusly:

“The version reproduced in this volume is a composite of a trimmed but relatively clean copy from the Chicago Tribune extensively retouched and re-inked to incorporate material visible in a very blurry but more complete microfilm copy; the top tier has been created from scratch by the book’s designer, Seth”

The Seth-Schulz collaboration that resulted is reproduced above. The question, of course, is whether or not this is an instance of the same comic that Schulz originally produced.

At first glance, it might seem easy to answer this question. After all, the top tier is a complete (albeit ‘authorized’) fabrication, since no record of the original top tier exists. But this answer might be too quick. After all, the top tier of a Sunday comic was often not printed (as a space-saving device), and comic artists (including Schulz) designed their strips with this in mind.

In my previous posts on identity conditions for comics, I suggested that whether or not two instances were tokens of the same comic likely depended (at least in part) on whether or not the comics in question shared those features that are relevant to our appreciation of them as comics. So one aspect of the question is this: Is it possible for Seth to recreate (or completely invent) aspects of the comic while it nevertheless remains an instance of Schulz’s original work?

In thinking about this question, it is worth keeping the following facts in mind:

(1) The main content of the comic strip (i.e. the ‘gag’) is retained (in tiers 2 and 3) even though Seth retouched and re-inked this work.

(2) The new strip is authorized by both Fantagraphics and the Schulz estate (at least in the sense of it being ‘legitimate enough’ to be included in the collection).

(3) At present, this strip provides the only access we have to the original strip (regardless of whether that ‘access’ is merely partial).

So is this strip a genuine instance of the strip Schulz drew in 1953?

About these ads

About roytcook

Roy T Cook is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. He works in the philosophy of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, and the aesthetics of comics. He is the co-editor (with Aaron Meskin) of The Art of Comics: A Philosophical Approach (Wiley-Blackwell 2012)

3 responses »

  1. Roy,
    I’m hedging my bets here. Is it acceptable to answer your questions with “yes and no”?

    This strip tells the same narrative. It has the same characters. Charlie Brown gets to harangue Lucy a little bit. So yes, this comic is the same as the one that Schulz drew in 1953. On the other hand, it isn’t the same because it has been reconstructed. It’s been rebuilt from parts. It reminds me of an intro to philosophy question: If you’ve replaced all the parts of a car, is it still the same car?

    Not too long ago, I had the good fortune to see the restored version of “Metropolis” at my local independent movie theater, Film Streams. The movie was advertised as being longer than the original release. Was it the same movie? Yes and no. It wasn’t the original release, of course, but it was closer to Moroder’s original length than the original release itself.

    To take another example from SF: my copy of Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” is much, much longer than the original release. The publisher cut a great deal of the narrative to make it a better fit with the SF audience, and Heinlein’s widow authorized the reintegration of the omitted material for later publication. Is it the same book? Yes and no.

    Both of my examples, however, are different from your comic example because they have different content. But they’re still called by the same name. The movie is still “Metropolis.” And the book is still “Stranger in a Strange Land.” They are marketed as (virtually) the same work but, in an ironic sense, also new and improved.

    • roytcook says:

      Frank,

      One one hand, I am at a raw intuitive level pretty sympathetic with the view (which I take to be roughly equivalent to your “yes-and-no” approach) that questions regarding artwork identity (with multiply instantiated artwork) might be indeterminate. Like many other concepts that we find useful in science, art, philosophy, and everyday life, “same artwork’ might just have imprecise application conditions, in which case there might not be a determinate answer in the case at hand.

      On the other hand, I get nervous whenever one tries to take this sort of ‘borderline case’ attitude towards claims that are literally of the form “a = b”. There are well-known logical problems with claims of the form:

      It is not determinately the case that a = b, but it is not determinately not the case that not: a = b.

      (problems that don’t plague claims of the form “not determinately A and not determinate not A’ in general).

      One can read your comments differently, however. One way is to admit that the two comics are distinct, in the literal sense of ‘identity’ at issue in the original question that I raised, but to then point out that, regardless of their distinctness, the two comics in question function in relevantly similar ways with regard to their role as artworks (and as artworks of a particular kind – May 3, 1953 Peanuts strips would be the relevant kind here). As a result, although they are not identical, perhaps we do and should treat them as such in most contexts.

      This seems plausible in the case at hand. As you note, one thing that differentiates this example from the ones you mention is that the content of the Schulz original and the Seth-Schulz collaboration are (so far as we know) for the most part identical. In the Heinlein and Lang examples, however, the content is different. As a result, we commonly argue about different cuts of Metropolis (or different editions of Heinlein), and make value judgements regarding the superiority of one cut or edition versus another. There seems to be little temptation to make similar value judgements with regard to the two versions of the Peanuts cartoon, however (note: Assuming that they are equivalent in content, even if I did remember the original Schulz version, I would not be tempted to say that the Schulz-Seth collaboration was better or worse.)

      As a result, maybe these are different comics, but different in a sense that doesn’t make a difference (contrary to what one might be tempted to say about the Calvin and Hobbes or Killing Joke examples in Parts I and II!)

  2. […] think these questions are in some ways related to Roy Cook’s earlier series, “When are two comics the same comic?” If one reader sees only the ‘main’ web comic but another reader sees both the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s