From Giotto to Drnaso: The common well of pictorial schema in ‘high’ art and ‘low’ comics

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Title

Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels

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School of Arts and Humanities


Mutard, B. (2022). From Giotto to Drnaso: The common well of pictorial schema in ‘high’ art and ‘low’ comics. In Seeing Comics through Art History (pp. 269-288). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-93507-8_14


In The Aesthetics of Comics, David Carrier argued that at the time of Giotto, all of the visual technology required for making comics was present (2000). This term is analogous to Michael Polanyi’s concept of tacit knowledge (1966) which refers to knowledge that is not explicable, such as how to hold a brush loaded with ink to make a certain mark, allied with knowledge of composition, perspective, colour, shape, line, texture, etc. to depict, say, a building. Ernst Gombrich describes all this as a schema, specifically that of Western Art (1959). This chapter, presented in the comics register, will show how Western comics schemas, originated from the break that Giotto made with the Byzantine iconic, hierarchical tradition, to a humanist form Susan Vogel described as the ‘Western Eye’ (1997). I show how comics schemas arose through the Western art training and interests of eighteenth century caricaturists and Rodolphe Töppfer, leading to the work of Nick Drnaso (2016, 2018), who I argue is as much an adherent of the Western Eye as Giotto and all who came in between. I explain why pictures in Western comics appear as they do and that it is not unreasonable to posit Giotto as the father of Western comics, and not just because his astounding fresco cycle in the Arena Chapel (ca. 1300) is a visual narrative.



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