I started this post loooong ago. Before even arriving in Korea--maybe before I'd even interviewed for EPIK.**
There's a current trend in education about media literacy, and I believe that extends to media that's often forgotten in academic circles. Children's lit, comic books, music videos... even cartoons have a certain literary nuance to them that many would ignore.
SO now that I've gotten the inspiration over again?
Let's talk about comics and how to read them first.
**yep, just checked. I started this draft back in January
A lot of people already know how to analyze literature, how to analyze film even. We've got a lot of talking points on dutch angles or reoccurring motifs, but if I said that the potency of graphic novels was stuck in the gutter, most people don't understand--or they might think I loathe the low art of Sunday funnies. (And for reference, when talking about comics, gutter is that space between panels and is seen as where readers supply--or complete--the story.)
Anyway, I'd like to think of the following as essential graphic novel concepts:
I've narrowed down a lot, choosing these three points as the bare-bones minimum to reading comics for analysis. Of course there are artistic nuances like color scheme, line value, etc. but I wanted to focus on these three as they seemed the most unique to comic books. I'm hoping to do a three part series that explores each term more fully, or maybe I pick a few of my favorite examples. For now, I just want to define these concepts. Again, playing around with the idea of a YouTube channel, but that'skindofascarythought andneedsmoreplanning butlikeialsowanttomakeagetlitseries wherei'mdrunk andtalkingaboutclassicliterature.
ANYWAY AGAIN, most of my information comes from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, a textbook I'd read multiple times over for at least three different classes (two English, one education) and is an amazing read. If you're into comic books and comic book theory you've definitely already heard of it. It's also written as a graphic novel itself, so you experience, visualize, and learn about all these concepts at once. You can access a lot more from the book here.
Symbols, Cartoons, and Abstract Universality
Take a second--just one!--and picture yourself. Do me a favor and tell me what you imagined in that second. Maybe some general descriptors like brown hair, large eyes, or some features you might be self-conscious about.
But for the most part, it takes time and effort for our minds to picture our own faces in detail. For example, I have to actively recall the shape of my jaw, the twisting of my expressions whether I'm laughing or crying. I don't see myself at every second, and it's easier to imagine my friend's expressions than my own. Of course I know what I look like--I can recognize myself. But in everyday, conscious existence we are aware of our most basic features--eyes, mouth, nose.
Scott McCloud identified an idea that claims cartoon's abstract forms--like the bare-bones emojis at the top of this section--relate to more people. Even when cartoons include more detail, like the bitmojis, they lack a lot of detailed physical markers. Essentially, in McCloud's own words, "the more cartoony a face is...the more people it could be said to describe."
Sequential Art, Panel-To-Panel Transitions, and the Gutter
The idea of sequential art and panel transitions is that, together, these pictures tell a story. Juxtaposed, they create an aesthetic or share information. Pretty simple. Okay--time to get more complicated.
Within panel transitions there's different categories. Things like panels that jump from action-to-action (A person picking up a book, then a remote control) or even subject-to-subject (one character is talking throughout, the panels transition to different characters' reactions). If we look at these panel jumps, it's easy to think of them as cut-scenes in film. It's also easy to see that different panel transitions require different work from the reader to piece together the story and can range from plot-driven to abstraction.
This is where gutters come into play. These empty spaces between panels are where our minds do the work. It is where we make assumptions about the actions, subjects, themes, and plot. If we want to think really abstract then we can think of comics' gutter as a fourth dimension, a place where we can step back and experience events and images outside the realm of where they exist.
Maybe that's why comic book characters breaking the fourth wall often do so by stepping out of the panel and into the gutter space.
Manipulation of Time Panels
Just as the gutters help readers understand what happens between images, the length, size, and shape of these panels also manipulate our understanding of time in comic books. If I had to show you examples, it would look something like this...
Of course these are only the most basic ways to divide time in panels. You'll often notice more dynamic shapes, sizes, and positions in superhero and action comics. This isn't to say simple or dynamic, one or the other is more sophisticated or advanced. The way a comic book creator manipulates time plays into the story's overall tone and what fits best.
Alright! Now that this comic guide is out of the way, I can start planning the music video post--or that YouTube thing. Wish me luck, everyone.