|David Krančan, Stripburger
RAZ, DVA, STRIP! #1
GOD BLESS YOU MRS. ROBINSON*
I graduated! But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Life for me has not changed significantly due to that fact. A naive guy like me may even be tricked into getting married. But enough of that. Let’s rather talk about comics; which, incidentally, was also the topic of my diploma thesis.1
First of all, I should thank my mentor. In all seriousness: one couldn’t desire a better mentor than Professor Milan Erič. Next, honour and glory to my dear friend Jakob Klemenčič for his sharp critical assessment. God knows I needed it. Hugs and kisses also to all others who helped me.
In the next few editions of Striburger, in the Raz Dva Strip section, I would like to present some of my views on the basic principles of comic strip narration and form. Consider these as essays in comic strip form. Like a reflection, an introspection to the comics métier in general. If I got something wrong, please correct me.
meta-panel after Eisner
In order for the reader to find the key, he /she must make a conceptual leap. How are comics read? Separate scenes are perceived as sentences or clauses. During focused reading, one is only seldom aware of how the individual fragments work as a whole. However, in designing a comic, this is crucial.
Only now can we behold the entire format in our view. The narrative is moved into the background and gives way to the artistic composition. In it we can recognise the silhouette of a key constructed by the combination of large, dark surfaces.
1 KRANČAN, David, Na prvem tiru in kratke zgodbe, diploma thesis,The Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Ljubljana, 2012
2 EISNER, Will, Comics & Sequential Art, p. 63, Poorhouse Press, NY 1985.
3 RUS, Gašper, Drawing in Slovene Comics, p. 236, exhibition catalogue, Muzej in galerije mesta Ljubljane, LJ 2011.
panel-to-panel transitions after McCloud
This means that they are placed in chronological order. In order to be able to talk about a sequence, we need at least two links consisting of images. These two links, however, must conform to two basic conditions if we want to talk about comics.
The first condition is two images set in juxtaposition. This means that they are close enough to each other that their relationship in the sequence is unmissable. The second condition is that the juxtaposed images provide a logical connection, so that we can combine them into a correlated event. The easiest way to identify such a correlation is if the two scenes contain the same elements. The images may not be semantically connectable at first glance but we can still place them in a common context through juxtaposition. This only broadens the field of possible interpretations.
The title of the comic that you read in the following pages alludes to the first Slovenian grammar book entitled Arcticae horulae succisivae by Adam Bohorič. With this I particularly wanted to emphasize that my work represents an attempt at reading the grammar of comic strip language, since the transition between two scenes is the key element of comic strip grammar. This transition does not always take place in the same way. McCloud categorises transitions into six basic principles. Each of the six strips in Winter Hours illustrates one such principle.
This principle gives the impression of slow motion. It highlights moments within a short period of time. It extends and intensifies the perception of the happening, which thus becomes packed with suspense. Despite the slow pace of development, the reading pace is still rapid; this is further highlighted in the present example by the narrow frames.
Here I would like to add that only two panels or scenes suffice for the breakdown of all the following principles. The first principle is best described by a slightly longer series of panels.
Boundaries between principles, as with most kinds of boundaries, are usually not sharply defined. The motion in the second strip, as is the case in the first, is still minimal but it illustrates a different principle: action-to-action.
Here we follow the subject – or in our case, the object – through the various stages of the action. Observing this action in micro-view, a minute detail can change, such as a tiny bit of the pencil tip breaks off, and this constitutes the consequence of an act. Through this micro-prism the action acquires even more weight.
The first scene of the third set shows a pencil that draws a semi-circular line – at least for now, when we do not yet know the final shape, it can be reminiscent of a smile. In the second scene of the set we observe a smiling man who draws on paper. McCloud calls this principle subject-to-subject.
The principle shows either different entities describing one connected event, or the transition from object to object, as in our case, when both the object in the first image and the subject in the second image are carriers of a single event or conveyers of a single message.
In the fourth strip, we observe the man through the window – from a different angle than before. In the next scene, the view is even more detached and focuses on the scene (locale). The scene-to-scene principle describes the transition through a larger temporal or spatial distance.
In our case, there has been a spatial shift. In the second picture we can see a snowed-out house with a lit window. The strongest logical link is that this is the same window that was present in the previous image, indicated only by the window frame. McCloud points out that the analysis of this principle often requires a greater effort of deductive reasoning than the previous principles.
In the fifth strip both the subject and the action are absent. The role of this component is to establish the comic’s atmosphere. The aspect-to-aspect principle portrays the transition from one point of view of place, idea or mood to another.
The still life with drawing accessories and the moon over the snow-capped trees places the events in a specific time-frame – a silent and peaceful evening – in which even the tip of a pencil breaks a lot louder than usual. The representation of the atmosphere is extremely important because it gives credibility to the storytelling mode. Thus we can now understand the micro-movement of the pencil from the second set, in retrospect, in the context of the established atmosphere.
Context is absolutely paramount in the last part. The transition between the two images, if they are excluded from the comic and observed alone, seems illogical, incoherent. The principle of non sequitur is a series of seemingly meaningless and unrelated images and / or words.” ⁵
There is no obvious relation or link between the man who rummages through the refrigerator and the geometric shape that would help us to understand the events. However, images in comics are never considered exclusively. The sequential nature of comic strip narrative requires us to read it in context. As with interpreting any other sequential form of art, when reading comics we also record earlier scenes in our memory. These recollections later enable us to understand the scenes that follow in sequence. In our case, we can come to the conclusion that the man is treating himself to a midnight snack after having drawn a stylized moon on a piece of paper.
In my opinion, this last principle lies in the area bordering the comic strip realm. In this sense, the first principle is also non-standard. Let’s consider: the principle of slow motion approaches the thinking of animation. The more intermediate stages between the key scenes we have, the greater the similarity with animation. If we removed all the intermediate stages between the key scenes from the principle, we would actually be talking about the action-to-action principle. However, we have already observed that the first principle plays an inherent role in comic strip communication. By its very nature it is still characterised by the reductivity typical of comics since it makes use of much fewer frames than would be needed in animation and, most importantly, these images are still. It is true that this principle is moving towards the edge of the comic strip narrative; yet it nevertheless remains firmly within the field of the medium.
The position of the last principle of non sequitur is much more questionable in this respect. If the difficulty of the first principle results in an extremely short time-space interval between separate images, this distance in the last principle is too great to allow only one correct link to be formed.
This principle is thus subject to diverse interpretations of the events, which also depend on the reader’s understanding and experience. Unconventional meta-stories shown only according to this principle can be interpretively extremely interesting since it is impossible for the author and reader to be fully on the same wavelength in their understanding of the representation. Thus the reader himself becomes the narrator. If in this challenging role the comic strip narration fails to create and convey a satisfactory idea, it is bound to disintegrate into a multitude of images, which, despite their comic strip appearance, do not form a comic.
However, authors usually do not only apply one single principle. In the context of a uniform narrative, the non sequitur proves to be an excellent narrative technique, since it is perfect for expressing the enigmatic nature of dreams, delusions and the unconscious. Misunderstanding becomes a shared experience of the carrier of the events and of the reader.
4 McCLOUD, Scott, Understanding Comics, p. 9, Tundra Publishing, NY 1993
5 Further reading: McCLOUD, Scott, Understanding Comics, pgs. 70–72