Understanding comics

For animation class, we were asked to read ‘Understanding comics‘ and reflect on what we have learnt. I have read the book many years ago and it was great to pick it up and go through it all over again after so many years. I had originally read the book before I started design school and I realised that I forgotten so many aspects of the book which emerged to me the second time around. Here is a list of my reflections that I noticed and picked up on my 2nd read-through:

  • The narrative is more immediate as compared to film. While we demand narrative coherence in film as we respond to the flow of ‘time’, a comic is free because it can move through time and space in a matter of few panels. I hypothesize that its one of the reasons why comic book plots don’t translate well on screen where the audience responds more to the flow of events across time rather than the space of a comic book.

  • The role of a narrator: I believe that the narration is the anchor which hold the comics together. Which is why I haven’t seen many works where the narration and visuals are at odds with each other. It will be interesting to see a narrative where the visuals and the narration start diverging and running at total odds with each other.

  • Panel to panel transitions: This was the biggest part of the book that I had totally forgotten. Scott Mccloud does a great job at explaining the various ways in which a narrative can work across time and space using the 2 dimensional paper grid. This got me thinking about the forms that I see back home. Is there an inherent structure to how a story manifests in a mandala or on the wall of an Indian temple? Do similar rules apply> I believe that there should be one but hopefully, I will find a book that talks about it in detail.

One of the biggest things that struck me while reading this book was that the constraint of the medium squeezes out the narrative style and structure. While the boxes might be seen as constraints by some, artists used it to tell their stories in unique ways that have now become representative of the medium. I wonder if there is a similar story with VR. While VR does not have any control over the user’s view-point, what are it’s unique constraints from which VR-only narratives will emerge?