Even on the front cover, this strange, and frightening misshapen face, mouth open in a seemingly endless cry, accompanies the other non-descript faces, standing out from the visual style of the comic. It represents some sort of symbol, a diversion from the norm, or maybe even a culmination of events. In this blog post, I will try to decipher what the screaming face means in the graphic novel and how it represents one interpretation of the novel.
The screaming face appears suddenly, shaking the reader from the usual visual language. It is like the font of a book changing mid-sentence or paragraph, or becoming all-caps. It does not fit with the other faces in the work, but what interests me is how the reader still identifies it as a face. Our eyes have the ability to transform meaningless lines into a recognizable shape, such as with butts, or making constellations with stars. Distant objects may appear to blurred for the viewer to know what exactly they are, so one tends to create weird shapes (at least in my experience) that are often completely different from what the real object is. We can recognize a human face by its individual features: two eyes, a nose, a mouth, largely-symmetrical construction, everything mostly positioned around the center. We can see faces in wall plugs, because we see the upper two grooves as eyes, and the lower one as a mouth. Therefore, it is no surprise that this face still looks very much like a face. It may not be perfectly proportioned like the other professionally drawn faces, but it still has many of the core elements.
When looking at the screaming face, one assumes that it is drawn by a child, because, naturally, most children (and even some adults, including me), do not possess the skills to draw a more true-to-life face. This links directly to the child characters in City of Class, Quinn’s deceased son, Auster’s son, and Peter Stillman Jr. And why does the face seem to cry out in terror? Obviously, one can link it to Peter’s confinement in a dark room, the crudeness of it symbolizing both Peter as a young child, and the horrors that his mind is experiencing. But the face is also used alongside mention of Quinn’s son. Does it mean that his son was also locked up? Or could this be an internal, childish expression of his inner fears? The fact that the death of his son caused him to retreat into his own dark room, locking out his social life and attempting to find ‘God’s language’ in the mystery novels he writes. (Maybe the mystery novel, with its search for the truth, can be seen as a search for God’s language, but I’m digressing here).
But what I believe the screaming face largely symbolizes is the act of drawing uninhibited by language, visual language in this case. Each artist may have their own drawing style in which they interpret the shapes, images and colors of reality in their own terms. But Peter Stillman Jr. is and was definitely not an artist, and so his drawings come from humans’ innate desire to draw and express their ideas through images. He knows what a face looks like, but he does not know how to draw a face the ‘right’ way. But he does it anyway, and this could be a more personal, closer expression than what visual artists portray. Like the word standing between the thing and the meaning, the visual language can stand between the thing and the drawing. Maybe alongside developing new languages and straying from ‘God’s language’ they designed new ways of drawing that divided people into those that can draw and those that cannot. Like the different languages we speak that allow us to see the world in different ways according to the words we assign to different objects and the grammatical structures in which we order our sentences using, the different visual languages artists use in conjunction with the crude drawing style that non-artists use can be seen as an imperfection, a deviation from the original state of innocence. So all in all, the screaming face may be Quinn or whoever else communicating to us through the language of God.
One thought on “The Screaming Face in the City of Glass graphic novel”
Very intriguing reading! It definitely looks like a child’s drawing, and a child’s drawing would be less likely to be mediated by rules or conventions of visual language and closer to just what they’re trying to communicate. It also reminds me of the cave painting on p. 18, which would be in a similar kind of situation of not being mediated by conventions (or perhaps only not mediated by conventions that we have today, though there may have been some other ones then).