Francesco Floris

Panel 2B: Comics and Sequential Narrative/2
Session 2 – July 1, 15:30 – 17:30

Morrison and Burnham’s Nameless: a case of cosmic horror remediation

Cosmic horror revolves around the concept of inspiring terror without ever giving a complete description of the object of fear. This mechanism was formalized by the eponymous founder of the genre (Lovecraft 1927); it has, however, encountered significant obstacles in its transcodification to visual media. One reason is that, while prose writing disposes of an array of instruments for avoiding description, figurative arts have a greater challenge to face. This is mostly evident in cinema: even though Lovecraft’s influence is paramount to contemporary movie horror, it is difficult to find direct adaptations. 

Nevertheless, comics have shown a tendency to confront the challenging nature of cosmic horror. Many visual solutions to the problem of representing the indescribable have been developed: showing hints of the monstrous, characters’ reactions, or negative spaces. However, these solutions tackled cosmic horror modelling it on the structure of prose, in a case of remediation (Bolter, Grusin 1999) of a genre strongly based on prose or poetry. 

Nameless (Morrison, Burnham 2016) presents itself as a case of cosmic horror redesigned for comics. This text shows formal solutions that rely on the structure of comics language – going beyond remediation, towards a new horror grammar for visual arts. In Nameless, the ‘indescribable’ is also conveyed by bending the mechanics of sequential storytelling. The result is a narrative form that delivers horror using instruments unavailable to prose writing: comic book structural elements such as panel borders, panel format, lettering, and gutters are used as powerful instruments to guide the reader’s emotional response. 

This case might show how cosmic horror has the potential to cross medial borders without losing its specificity – in fact becoming a transmedial genre that exploits each language’s own pivotal instruments (Rajewsky 2018), without creating a hierarchy among them.