In this brief essay I reflect on the interactions between the real and the unreal, with a particular emphasis on comics and the city. Comics originate in the emerging city of modernity, and are shot through with both actual cities (in their sites of production and, often, consumption) and virtual ones. Further, few media are as useful for considering the role of the unreal, the held back, the around-the-corner-but-never-in-view, as comics. This reticence is productive, not only of narratives but also of the subjects who read them. Practices of reading comics, when applied to the city itself, highlight the unreal lines of ight that offer potential to see the city anew. From the panels on the page to the bricks of the city we can assemble something unexpected. The first part of this essay traces the early twentieth century emergence of comics in the modern city, and then highlights the multiplication of the city that occurs through its portrayal in comics. This multiplicity is generative of a range of possible narratives, both in the actual city and in its virtual doppelgangers. The second part of the essay turns to an examination of the comics form itself, examining how an interplay between the presented and withheld – the real and the unreal – produces an open-ended narrative that requires constant policing by comics creators. Nevertheless the excess of narrative invariably produces rogue readings. The final part of the essay returns to the city with these insights about comics, and via a reading of Chris Ware’s Building Stories it demonstrates the political potential of reading the city as a comic.

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