Comic Page-Spread Analysis: Exploring How Sequential Art Works

BlanketsPages 442-443:

Blankets page 442Blankets page 443

There are five panels on the left (“Panels 1-5”) and two panels on the right (“Panels 6-7”) on pages 442-443 of Craig Thompson’s Blankets (2003).  This page-spread depicts a moment in time when Raina’s father discovers her embraced in sleep with her young love, Craig.  Subtle aspect-to-aspect closure is facilitated by increasingly revealing views.  Panel 1 encapsulates many details within the love story – the walls are filled with images in angular mini-panels; Raina’s father is just inside the doorway.  Panel 6 moves in for a medium-distance bird’s eye view of Craig and Raina, with blanket piecework and an exquisite pillow coming into focus.  The sequence of Panels 1 to 6 to 7 includes images (of the embrace) that unwind counter-clockwise, ending with a close-up bird’s eye view highlighting peace and light in Raina’s profile and hair.

Beneath Panel 1, the gutter leads to a tier of small panels showing the father’s juxtaposed set of facial expressions in Panels 2-5.  His face is simple and cartoonish, and communicates his overall reaction in slow motion, almost directly to the reader.  There are stereotypical depictions of surprise and concern, a quick look away (to gather his thoughts?), and a tentative mouth poised to speak.  In Panel 5, the shaft of his speech balloon leads to a suggestion of thought (. . .).  The shaft reappears in Panel 6, effectively connecting with Panel 5 over the central gutter, then wends and propels the balloon – which never reaches the couple.  The suggestion of thought lands in Panel 7 and fades within the profile of Craig’s face.  The balloon is gone and the reader must narrate retrospectively.  Whatever the father had thought is unvoiced, secondary to the bond between the lovers and silenced by his daughter’s happiness.  Raina’s profile is in the center of a white background, dominating the page-spread and vaguely over-layered by Craig’s coexisting silhouette.  Raina’s grace and beauty, with hair and light radiating, are reminiscent of other angelic, transcendent pages/panels and one of the comic’s irrepressible themes: tender hope.

Black and white art allows the reader to react without the influence of color.  Shadows appear around the young lovers (in blanket folds, behind Raina’s father, and emanating from the father’s feet), but their relationship is set apart by faces and skin accentuated with light.

Thompson’s drawing style uses graceful lines when tranquility or loving connections exist, no matter what is pictured nearby.  In Panel 6, the reader is drawn close to Craig and Raina, and they are enveloped in swirls, wavy lines, curls of hair, flowers, and the blanket’s curves.  Such graceful depictions appear in other comics that include tender, loving moments (e.g., at times when a widow thinks of her lover in The Color of Earth (Kim, 2009), or when a man gazes at his wife in This One Summer (Tamaki, 2014, p. 97).

Several themes in Blankets are represented in this page-spread.  Craig’s arm wraps warmly around Raina, but there is a trace of the unforgettable history of abuse in the right-angle of Craig’s arm; it resembles the monstrous jaw held open by Craig’s father when locking Craig’s brother in “the cubby hole” (p. 16).  Raina’s wrist is angled, showing the couple’s connection.  Rejection of certain tenets of faith is represented in the cut-off portrait of Christ on the wall.  Trees appear in this comic in scenes of relief, retreat, hope, and peace; in this spread, Craig’s tree-painting on the wall leads the reader down to a tree-like arrangement of blanket folds on a calm bed.  The “blankets” theme appears literally, enveloping and protecting Craig and Raina.  Just their upper torsos, arms and heads show, presenting their relationship as greatly cerebral.

As a reader, my reaction to this spread acknowledges angularity but is touched by desire, embrace, and serenity.  (I’ve been there and I’ve cherished it.)  For librarians, the spread is an example of the ability of comics to depict realities, yearnings, sweetness, hope, and respite.  For analysis, the spread is compelling because it is infused with the universality of young love amid struggle, such as found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  From the beginning of Blankets, the depictions of life experiences swathed my thoughts and settled into a deep spot in my spirit.

References

Kim, D. H. (2009). The color of Earth. New York, NY: First Second.

Tamaki, M. (2014). This one summer. New York, NY: First Second.

Thompson, C. (2003). Blankets: A graphic novel. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.

 

Trying Owly’s Flying Lessons

Owly

Flying Lessons (Runton, 2005), the third comic in the Owly series, is a meaningful story for all ages.  It involves the friendship of Owly (who cannot fly) and Wormy (who helps Owly experience the joy of flight).  Another key character is a flying squirrel who is afraid of owls.  A Booklist review notes that the author “hits the mark” in a tale about “confronting and overcoming fears” (Booklist reviews, n.d.).

I tried to enjoy Flying Lessons, but never took flight.  I am a slow reader with most of my experience in text-based literature and picture books (wherein images usually support text), and my reading kept stopping and stalling to the point of losing the story along the way.

The features of this comic that caused my frustrating response involve visual literacy.  I was challenged by the salience of Owly’s round shape which overshadowed the masterfully drawn, expressive eyes.  The gazes of characters bridged many gutters and prevented me from delineating panels and benefiting from pensive ‘breathing space.’  In the conversation- and thought-balloons, the use of images instead of text often brought me to a full stop in order to decipher meaning.  Because my already-slow reading slowed further, the black-and-white pages became monotonous and homogenized.

As a library science student with a background in literacy development, I realize that the features that frustrated me might very well be features that support other readers. Those with more comics experience are likely to fly through this title at a speed which supports comprehension of the story line.  Readers with strong spatial intelligence (as per Howard Gardner and explained in Lyga, 2004, p. 2) are likely to enjoy decoding images in the balloons.  Those who might be distracted by color variances are likely to benefit from the use of black-and-white pages.

References

Booklist reviews. (n.d.). Retrieved on May 7, 2016 from the online catalog of the Comsewogue Public Library [cplib.org] at http://contentcafe2.btol.com/ContentCafeClient/ReviewsDetailID.aspx?ID=2077018

Lyga, A. A. W. (2004). Graphic novels in your media center: A definitive guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Runton, A. (2005). Flying Lessons. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.

Sequential Art Enables Trinity to Provide History and Readers to Share Questions

Trinity

J. Robert Oppenheimer was an academic prodigy, a central figure in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and eventually an anguished scientist.  On the front cover of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012), Oppenheimer’s eyes stare at the reader.  An atomic-bomb cloud glares above.  Readers of this title will stare as well; the visual energy on each page will rivet their eyes and minds on science, history, and the formidable powers inherent in ‘The Manhattan Project’ that created the first atomic bomb.  Readers will be held in an imagistic grip, and will surely feel compelled to look at other comics and related media.

There are 152 rich and efficient pages in Fetter-Vorm’s comic about the development and use of the atomic bomb by the United States during a secretive, deadly campaign to force Japan’s World War II surrender.  The sequential art makes many facets of this history accessible, and it includes images, terms, and historical figures that readers have likely encountered before in academia or in popular culture.  These include ‘atomic fission,’ ‘nuclear chain reactions,’ Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, U. S. President Harry S. Truman, U. S. General Leslie Groves, Trinity, Los Alamos, and Hiroshima.

A particularly effective use of graphic panels, layout, and text boxes appears on page 49, where essential processes jigsaw together and the essence of “criticality” is explained:

Trinity page

Broad expanses of black and white on several pages of Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb represent the profundity of science and its ability to destroy peoples at war.  The predominance of ashen gray backgrounds, however, illustrates the involvement of moral, ethical, and philosophical questions and uncertainties (i.e., ‘gray areas’).  Two examples are “Does the need to end a war justify the propagation of phenomenal destruction?” and “How do common folk participate unknowingly in massive violence or other aggressions?”

It’s hard to look away from the science, history, possibilities, dilemmas, revelations, and cautionary tales in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic BombFor further exploration in several media formats, start with these titles:

Bird, K. (2011). American Prometheus: The triumph and tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer [Electronic resource eBook]. New York, NY: Random House; available electronically via Overdrive.

Chute, H. L. (2016). Disaster drawn: Visual witness, comics, and documentary form [Comics format]. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University.

Gonick, L. (1991). The cartoon guide to physics [Comics format]. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

O’Neal, M. (1990). President Truman and the atomic bomb: Opposing viewpoints [Print]. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven.

Pellegrino, C. R. (2014). The last train from Hiroshima: The survivors look back [Audiobook on CD]. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor.

Wells, H. G. (1914). The world set free: A story of mankind [Print]. New York, NY: E. P. Dutton. [This title is described on page 6 in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb.]

World War II [Videorecording DVD]. (2005). [Place of publication not identified]: Komax Licensing.

Reference

Fetter-Vorm, J. (2012). Trinity: A graphic history of the first atomic bomb. New York, NY: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Sequential Art in the Public Library: Sorting, Shelving, and Service

Escher

M. C. Escher. (1948). Fish / Duck / Lizard Image (No.  69): Ink, watercolor. Retrieved from the website of the M.C. Escher Foundation and the M.C. Escher Company, B.V. at http://mcescher.com/gallery/back-in-holland/no-69-fishducklizard/

Many public libraries are laying out the welcome mat for comics readers and sequential art (i.e., ‘graphic novels’ and ‘comics’).  Firm footing for connecting readers with titles is supported by effective cataloging, careful placement in library collections, and ongoing study.

This exploration highlights two related sources, and this blogger’s recommendations are listed.

Karen Green (November 9, 2010) speaks to a number of challenges in the academic library.  Although the Library of Congress (LoC) Classification Outline can be used to collocate graphic novels or comics by branch of learning (e.g., Theatre) [para. 2-3], this may not always place related items where one might expect to find them (para. 4-8).  For example, some items from one learning area may be on the ‘Literature’ shelves and others from the same area may be on the ‘Fine Arts/Drawing’ shelves.  Some items may not be categorized as ‘graphic novels’ because they were added to the collection before this LoC format heading existed.  Green notes that comics creators may not adhere to conventions that facilitate collecting or cataloging, such as applying for ISBNs and seeking nationally recognized cataloging copy (para. 14).  Given these considerations, Green has a personal record that tracks collections in order to help patrons who might not find what they want in the library catalog (para. 15).

Lessons in library science and public-library practicalities can be gleaned from Green’s comments.  These include the work that must be done to meet challenges in acquiring graphic novels and establishing them as searchable in both the catalog and on the shelf.  At this time, collecting graphic novels in the public library might only be acquired from certain vendors, and collection development might require scholarly review.  As a result, public librarians may not have access to materials in the comic market that are ‘underground’ or self-published.  Public librarians can consider the following ideas.

Quinn Recommendations

  • Pay attention to cataloging of new items to ensure that ‘Graphic novels’ is in the record to facilitate searching.
  • While weeding, identify old records for updating.
  • As per Green, keep note of as many details as possible concerning individual items in collections. This can expand and enhance skills in searching and readers’ advisory.
  • Visit local comics stores and bookstores to learn about items available.
  • During reference interviews, ask patrons about comics they read or like.
  • Seek out professional development opportunities related to graphic novels classification.

Laurel Tarulli (2010) speaks to challenges with the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system, technical services operations, and changing library practices.  The article includes  an intense medley of earnest efforts to serve patrons, maintain cataloging excellence, and ensure high quality collection development.

Because graphic novels and comics might be processed in a technical services department before they reach a reference librarian, they might be catalogued according to “traditional . . . models” or catalogued without information such as illustrator names (Tarulli, 2010, p. 213).  In addition, current and recent cataloging may have placed graphic fiction and comics within the 741.5s and graphic non-fiction within a myriad of non-fiction collections.  Further, patrons may be interested in browsing comics by publisher or being presented with a variety of items collocated by character [not by format] (Tarulli, 2010, p. 219; What is, 2016, para. 2).

Tarulli also points to the importance of a “long-term view” that accommodates readers’ needs concerning series on shelves and in the catalog (p. 216), and processes such as applying “graphic novel sticker[s]” to identify new items before they hit the shelves.  The discussion goes on to include practices that may inadvertently censor materials, networking that can support the excellence of the library services, and possibilities such as opportunities to browse by catalog images instead of items in hand (pp. 218-220).

This blogger’s recommendations that follow are focused on public libraries.  They aim to consider Tarulli’s observations, to acknowledge that “pop culture moves quickly” (Lyga & Lyga, 2004, p. 13), to allow for prompt but careful change, to uphold a “long-term view” for assessing library practices, and to incorporate patrons’ needs.

Quinn Recommendations

  • Place distinct stickers on the spines of graphic novels and comics – both new acquisitions and items already held. This is both a service for patrons and a stopgap process that does not alter cataloging and location until they have been carefully assessed.
  • Have local technical services staff meet with on-the-desk librarians to discuss cataloging and processing.
  • Support awareness of graphic novels and comics with displays.
  • Be aware that not all public librarians learned about graphic novels and comics in library school.
  • Attend or ask for seminars about graphic novels and comics at library systems.
  • Discuss the possibility of working relationships with local comics stores.
  • Create a short survey (on paper and online) that invites patrons to voice their needs concerning graphic novels and comics in the library. The paper surveys could be placed at reference desks and on the shelves where such items are located in the library.
  • Offer graphic-novels/comics discussion programs for children’s age groups (About good, 2016, para. 2) and for adults, where readers and librarians can share their enjoyment (Jacobson, 2010, p. 29) and knowledge about individual titles or this literature in general.

References

About good comics for kids. (2016). Retrieved from the Good Comics for Kids blog of School Library Journal at http://blogs.slj.com/goodcomicsforkids/

Green, K. (November 9, 2010). ‘Whaddaya got?’: Finding graphic novels in an academic library.  Retrieved from the website of Publishers Weekly at http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/45109-whaddaya-got-finding-graphic-novels-in-an-academic-library.html

Jacobson, A. (2010). Party on! at your book discussions: Shouldn’t a book club be for the fun of sharing? American Libraries, 41(8). Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/ps/i.do?ty=as&v=2.1&u=cuny_queens&it=search&s=RELEVANCE&p=PPMI&qt=TI~%22Party%20on!%20At%20your%22~~SP~28~~IU~8~~SN~0002-9769~~VO~41&lm=DA~120100000&sw=w

Lyga, A. A. W., & Lyga, B. (2004). Graphic novels in your media center: A definitive guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Nyberg, A. K. (2010). How librarians learned to love the graphic novel. In Weinger, R. (Ed.). Graphic novels and comics in libraries and archives: Essays on readers, research, history and cataloging. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Tarulli, Laurel. (2010). Cataloging and problems with Dewey: Creativity, collaboration and compromise. In Weiner, R. G. (Ed.). Graphic novels and comics in libraries and archives: Essays on readers, research, history and cataloging. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

What is appeal?/Some examples/Character. (2016). Retrieved from the website of Novelist at https://www.ebscohost.com/novelist/our-products/novelist-appeals

 

Terms and Concepts for a Comics Newbie

MindBoggleFramed

Google Advanced Image retrieved on February 7, 2016 from https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi_g7WA8-TKAhVDPz4KHcYRCi0QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnovastartalk.nvcc.edu%2Fabout%2Fstandards-for-foreign-language-learning%2F&psig=AFQjCNH-o_MtW1czsiJSJVlPGCzOFuERyA&ust=1454908528771975

A first step in studying comics literature is to learn about arranging visual language and written language to tell stories (Cohn, 2013, pp. 2, 13; Eisner, 2005, p. 7; Eisner, 2008, p. 7; McCloud, 1994, pp. vii; Wolf, n.d., as found in Eisner, 2005, pp. 1, 8).

Will Eisner explains in Comics and Sequential Art that depictions and words together in sequence can produce both meaning and aesthetic impact (2005, p. 8). Eisner’s remarks and comics examples (from his mid-twentieth century work) are highly detailed and mesmerizing. The presentations are academically complex, and visually powerful due to illustrative intricacy and copious tone gradients of black and white. As such, Eisner can – to the point of ‘brain-strain’ – sate a student’s wish to understand mechanisms that function within comics. (Pushing through any intellectual fatigue, however, is worth it because the result is utter fascination.)

Neil Cohn’s introduction to visual language in comics (2013) leads the reader down sophisticated linguistic lanes, winding through the use of tools such as modality [e.g., visual markings], meaning [e.g., abstract or practical suggestions], grammar [e.g., a system of rules for visible presentations], and sequential units [e.g., frames and placement] (pp. 4-8).

Moving forward in Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art to a chapter on “The Frame,” there are presentations more accessible to a comics-neophyte, including encapsulation of events and flow of the narrative (p. 39). There is more text than illustration in these lessons, with step-by-step commentary about the creation of panels (pp. 42-44, 64-89), borders (p. 44), outlines (pp. 53-60), dimension (pp. 50-52, 54, 59), illustration as narration (pp. 45-50), and perspective (pp. 92-101). These presentations elicit feelings of curiosity and awe concerning the mastery needed in order to create comics that speak to readers.

(Please note: Eisner presents R. Crumb’s “A Short History of America” [which depicts a geographical location over time] (2005, pp. 46-47], a grand example of subtle content and panel sequencing which make it almost effortless to read the images. Crumb’s panels bring to mind the visual impact of Virginia Lee Burton’s splendid Caldecott-winning picture book, The Little House (1942), which tells the poignant story of the House’s evolution from rural-to-urban-to-rural.)

Scott McCloud’s ‘gift’ to comics newbies, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1994), encompasses the concepts above and shapes them firmly into an effective foundation for the study of comics. This is the text that brings together Cohn’s and Eisner’s lessons (and surely others) for the neophyte! McCloud’s presentations are bold and contain a wide variety of pedagogic examples; there is a targeted “Introduction” on page viii and a logical, enthusiastic development of comics-creation processes on pages 2-23. After studying Chapter 1: “Setting the Record Straight,” the reader will shout a literary “Hallelujah!” because they will understand that comics are “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (p. 9).

McCloud also enlightens with a helpful lesson in similarities and differences between film and comics: Visual animation contains a procession of filmed images on one screen in prearranged time, and comics contain a procession of images in spaces, which readers explore in their own time (1994, pp. 7-8).

References

Burton, V. L. (1942). The little house. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Cohn, N. (2013). The visual language of comics: Introduction to the structure and cognition of sequential images. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Eisner, W. (2005). Comics and sequential art. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse.

Eisner, W. (2008). Graphic storytelling and visual narrative: Principles and practices from the legendary cartoonist. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York, NY: HarperCollins.