It’s interesting what emerges as I bring the first chapter 01 to a conclusion.
Simplicity is best. I’ve devised some fairly tricksy sequences and narrative flows, but find in the final analysis that I don’t like them as much as a less showy narrative flow. Which is not to say there’s not still some interesting and innovative storytelling techniques being deployed, but you can go too far. Better to be subtle.
Dialogue or caption narrative? Caption narrative is heavily utilised in comics, whether in literary work like Fun Home or pulp fiction like Daredevil. But I’m finding more dialogue and less narration works better here. You have to be careful not to make dialogue too expository, of course, while still conveying what people are feeling or thinking more subtly. It’s more challenging to pull off naturally.
Wordless panels work wonders. Whenever I see an opportunity, I edit down words or remove captions and balloons entirely. I’ve always loved wordless moments in comics: time and mood conveyed, or visual character expression. My exploration of the different qualities of the visual and verbal have probably led me to use more of the former because I’ve found things to express that don’t work as well in words: Dappled light in a summer forest, the heady thrill of kissing your first love. There’s also something unique about the interplay of images over an extended flow of time, which I’ve used to bookend the work.
It occurs to me as I work that there’ something more relaxing about reading pure prose, due to the procession of consistent input (letters), the unambiguous directional flow of reading. With a comic, you’re constantly interpreting the visual and the verbal in different combinations and directions. Your eyes are looking around the page in a more questioning way to discern what is next, and how it all links together. Comics are closer to the experience of living, in that you look round the world and interpret the ‘story’ while interpreting words and images. Of course, comics lack a full range of sensory input types in the range or sound, taste, smell and touch. They’re also limited by the comic itself, the direction of reading and the confines of the page/comic book.
I’ve also been playing around with the relationship with word balloons and artwork (though the one truly innovative example of that doesn’t appear in the first chapter, or issue). I’m interested in how the balloons can exist outside of the panel. The verbal element, the balloons and captions, has its own rhythm, and the artwork within borders has a rhythm too. The two usually work in sync to form one beat. But they can veer off too, like a kick beat of a jazz fill, before coming back to each other. They can overlay each other, at different syncopations, effortlessly. It’s helpful in this regard to think of the panel border, and the line around a dialogue balloon or caption, as the same thing. The latter isn’t necessarily dependent on the former, they can exist independently and still make a coherent comic. Both encircle verbal or visual lexia, inviting the contents for inspection, dividing the text or art up into a unit of time. I’m interested in the idea that a ‘panel’ can be just words, which we see in work such as The Dark Knight Returns (Miller, 1986) or Gemma Bovery (Simmonds, 1999). Of course, it’s not the same thing as a panel of artwork, but there are functional similarities in how they can be deployed.
An important distinction between the two, is the way imagery can be understood at one glance. Artwork is much faster to understand than words. Simply looking at one part of the artwork allows you to understand it all, thanks to peripheral vision. The composition of the image is a factor. It seems to me that the panoramic view and focalisation of the artwork is a key factor here. In the real world, outside comics, theres a certain section of what you’re looking at that you can understand at one glance. This includes a good deal of perpipheral vision. For example, in a typically sized room one can ‘understand’ the view incorporating the whole of the opposite wall just by looking at the the centre . Usually, a good portion of whatever’s in view along the side walls too. But directly to the side, 90 degrees to the wall opposite, requires another look and a turn of the head or eyes before it can be seen and understood in a second glance.
Thus, a typical medium shot or close up in a comic panel can be understood, at a minumum, simply by looking at one part of it. A much more panoramic view, either vertically or horizontally, might require two or three looks in different places to understand it all.
This describes the minimum effort needed, whether looking at the opposite wall or comic panel. Naturally, people may glance around at will at something particular that catches their eye, or seems interesting, following the initial glance of understanding.
This is in marked contrast to how one understands the contents of a word balloon or caption, as many of you will know. Generally, one understands sentences by looking at groups of letters in one glance, typically whole words or sections of much longer words. The number of glances needed to understand a word balloon is thereby many times higher than the single glance by which a panel of comic book imagery might be understood. They’re ‘read’ and processed in different ways, the verbal and visual, despite the fact that the process of looking begins both processes.
This is one of the reasons why comics with less words, relying more on imagery, seem easier and lighter to read. Verbose comics seems denser and more challenging to comprehend. They can become wearing to read more quickly, if you’re not careful. At the very least, a good balance between information tramsmitted through image and text is advisable. Whereever possible, it’s better to transmit meaning through imagery alone when nothing is added by words. The speed and power of it is emotionally powerful and resonant, and by juxtaposition images can be complex, nuanced, and multi–facteted in their cumulative meaning.
Which is why I’ve been taking words out of my comic, whereever possible. 🙂