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The otherly graphic novel. Part 2.

A week or so ago I wrote about how comics are particularly different from just about any other medium. I tried to illustrate this by showing, in the words of Scott McCloud, that “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, (1993:8)” fine-tuning by the artists hand, and deliberate planning by the writer can use visuals carry the weight of paragraphs of exposition. Don’t get me wrong. Reading pages, paragraphs, or sentences of exposition are probably my favorite part of fiction, better in some cases that the evolving storyline. Why? Because, when it’s done well, you can see it in your incredibly opulent imagination. In comics, which we have come to agree in this blog is what a graphic novel is when it’s not being self-conscious, the burden lies heavily on the visual. In this respect, sequential art shares something with the movies. But as the prolific, acclaimed writer of comics Alan Moore says, a film moves at a predetermined pace, “…if I’m watching a film I’m trapped in the rigid framework dictated by the film’s running time. I must immerse myself in the flow of the film and hope I’ll pick up on enough of the constant flow of details to make coherent sense of the story at the end.” (2007:5). This brings to light the idea of time and how only comics, thus far, can address it in a wholly unique way. On the comics’ page as the panels flow from one image to the next, we can capture time, past present and future within the same viewspace. Ah, but with a DVD, I can go back and forth as well. Yes, but currently that is still a linear experience. I cannot see them all at the same time and because they are all in front of me on the comics’ page, I am getting a unique and particularly different experience.

Add to that the multi-modal braining that is required to interpret image and word along with the leap between panels (the gutter, the gap, the whitespace) the “closure” required to bridge what is happening from image to image is yet another example of the otherly nature of the art form. And this is by no means an exhaustive list of what separates the comics medium from the rest of narrative form — just another one.

McCloud, Scott. 1993. Understanding Comics. New York: Paradox Press.

Moore, Alan. 2007. Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics. Rantoul, IL: Avatar Press.

 

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The otherly graphic novel. Part 1.

The Urban Dictionary describes otherly as “Different in a specified manner or in the manner of that or those implied or specified.” We might suffice to say, particularly different. This comes up as discussion for today’s blogging as I am ankle-deep in the 356 pages of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. After just completing my screenplay and not yet ready to hit the “convert to screenplay” button in Celtx, I am feeling envious of the traditional novelist’s ability to wax on about the way things look or the clothes people wear. In the prose novel, the author can call attention to these things overtly and more easily. In effect the author can say, “Pay attention to this. This is what it looks like. It has meaning.” In my effort, the graphic novel, while I do not  have the advantage of the same deliberate and unavoidable syntax of pure prose, I have the decided advantage of showing what it looks like. Because I intend on adding, strategically vivid detail, I can be as obsessive about the visual as the author is about the description, limited only by my command of the visual language. Of course, even in a graphic novel, I am afforded the opportunity to add words. There is nothing stopping me. Indeed, you will find pages of pure prose exposition or backstory in some of the most renowned graphic books. In my mind, however, if you have to apply a belt and suspenders either one is overkill or something is not functioning properly. So, if I’m not careful, I run in the danger of having the audience miss it entirely.

Ah, but therein lies the challenge. In the aforementioned Gibson novel, the presentation case of a particularly snobbish and, well, bitchy designer, Dorotea, is described thus, “On the table in front of her, perhaps a millimeter too carefully aligned, is an elegant gray cardboard envelope, fifteen inches on a side, bearing the austere yet whimsical logo of Heinzi & Pfaff. It is closed with one of those archaic fasteners consisting of a length of cord and two small brown cardboard buttons” (10). I see it clearly. So, how would I show it? Exactly as it looks, of course, and then close up, maybe, camera low to the table with Dorotea’s slightly out of focus knees in the background. Maybe if it is of particular importance, it could be a separate panel absent of words and any other possible distraction.

Therein lies a specifically different, otherly aspect of the graphic novel (there are more for another day). In Robert C. Harvey’s The Art of the Comic Book- An Aesthetic History, he states, “Only in comics can the field of vision be so manipulated: the size and arrangement of images control our perception of the events depicted, contributing dramatically to the narrative effects produced” (162). Just one of the differences, I thought I’d mention today, an advantage perhaps for for a visual artist, and serving to separate the medium from the prose novel; not necessarily superior to, but particularly different.

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