Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U: Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud, is an amazing book about storytelling in "comic books" -- "sequential art," more accurately.

I found it useful because I'm the sort of writer who's following a mental movie as I write. There's a lot here that boils down to being a better director, in the sense of guiding the reader's eye. Which you do, as a writer, even more than a comic book artist or a movie director. Your words are the only window into your world.

Four chapters in particular were very useful to me.

Chapter 3 discusses different types of transitions between image frames. Chapter 4 discusses sequences of events and covers timing in the process. Both of these are just as important to prose as to sequential art.

McCloud speaks in terms of image frames, since that is the basic unit of information for sequential art. In prose, one could think in units of a paragraph or even a sentence.* The relationship between one sentence/paragraph and the next falls into one of six types and those relationships have a direct impact on one's voice, timing and pacing.

Chapter 6 discusses the interplay between image and text -- and prose is limited to just text, but consider: the interplay between descriptive paragraphs and dialogue/action.

Chapter 7 is more abstract. It tackles McCloud's theory of "art" and the development of artists. He takes a very broad definition of art -- which, in later years, he took a few steps away from -- and that's his opinion. I found his presentation on the six layers of art persuasive, though.

The rest of it is fun, too, looking at the power of icons and visual media. I was especially struck by his pointing out that characters with a generic appearance invite the reader to place themselves in that character's shoes, and I wondered how that applied to prose characters as well. I thought of reviewing Understanding Comics, in fact, while writing my entry for Z... which tipped over into a discussion of beauty. Stay tuned for that.

* I've heard it argued that the paragraph is the basic unit of information in prose, not the sentence. And they may have a point, since a sentence can tell you something but a paragraph also provides context. And we know how much of meaning in English rides on context... most of it, it seems like. 

1 comment:

Siv Maria said...

Interesting post. Not a big comic book fan, I can see however how understanding them could help. Stopped by from the A-Z challenge. Nice to meet you.

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