I use the term "conceptual comics"1 to describe comics works that have been made by applying the methods of conceptual art. With conceptual comics, it is more important to understand the implication and intention of the artist and the method than to read the work from beginning to end.
Stefanie Leinhos’ conceptual comics oeuvre studies the fundamental questions of visual media and art as well as comics.
1. Repetition, Movement, & Time
The comics reader creates the movement, passage of time, and continuity from the sequence of static, discrete, and discontinuous images as she reads the comics. In Is There Something I Should Know (2013), the same half-opened curtain is repeated again and again for the entire publication. The curtain is opening, so the reader expects the movement/action to proceed, but the repetition of the image converts action to inaction. The repetition of the same image resists the progression of time and instead yields the impression of an eternity that is impossible.
The action represented in Is There Something I Should Know is of course inconceivable. Everything in the world changes. Even if the object is at rest, atoms in the object vibrate, and molecules on the surface collide with molecules in the air, changing the surface. They are images and figurations, not representations. This is a concept (or idea), not a representation.
2. Original vs Reproduction
The impression of eternity generated by the repeated image appears again in The Long Goodbye (2014, Printed by Stephan Rosentreter & Photo by Peter Hermans). The "long" in the title acknowledges the endlessness. The forever departure has another conceptual meaning in addition to the appearance of the work. According to the artist:
The drawings … were made directly on the zinc plates and only existed for the time being of the printing process itself. The plates were washed out afterwards and handed over to the next user.
Say Goodbye to the original drawing and Hello to the original print!
The original is destroyed, and the reproduced becomes (the nearest to) the original. In The Long Goodbye, Leinhos literally erases the privilege of the original.
If you order Leinhos’ Throwing Stones (2013), Leinhos “will tear the paper to format, bind the book and do the drawings… you will get your very own copy.” Every copy is different and original, but has the same images of throwing stones. Reproducing by hand, Leinhos again blurs the line between the reproduction and original.
3. Sign and Image
It Will All Be Worth it in the End (2013) and Read It Out Loud (2018) show every possible black-and-white variation of a single image. Some images are parts of Disney characters. That they are recognizable as Disney characters means that these images operate as a sign. However, the images here simply act as a template for the repetition and variation and do not bear any special meaning — either denotation and connotation — for being parts of Disney characters. Instead, the the reader is invited to examine the relationship between the sign and image/shape. Even when it is not working as a sign, we read the shape/image as a symbol.
The Goddam Language (2018), published by Editions Matiere, visualizes that semiotic struggle of sign-images. Signs (alphabet letters) are confined in a building. They are tired. It is hard to read them, but we try our best by shedding light and revealing shadows. They are trying to escape the building that signifies the imprisonment of semiotics: one is trying to fly over the window; one is breaking the wall; others are looking at the hole on the floor. At the end of the leporello is a trace of Donald Duck running away from the building. Did he succeed? Even if his body makes it, in this building (our world) his sign lives on.
So far we have seen how Stefanie Leinhos questions the relationship of the signifier and signified, the hierarchy of the original and reproduced, the impossibility of the representation, and the representation of time. Leinhos interrogates the critical issues of visual media, especially of the representation, through the conceptual comics.