Mid-page scene changes

I’ve been away for a week, so I haven’t had a chance to post anything in the blog, but I saw this post (http://www.bleedingcool.com/2012/06/01/how-to-pitch-your-comic-by-or-possibly-to-larry-young/) by Larry Young on Bleeding Cool today and had to comment. He writes:

Don’t switch scenes in the middle of a page. You would think people would know this one, but they don’t. I agree it doesn’t look jarring as you’re writing your script, but the minute an artist starts to draw it, your boat’s leaking water. If you ask the artist to draw an establishing shot on panel three, you’ve lost your way.

I’ve seen this kind of advice before (even from Alan Moore), but frankly it is fucked. For two reasons.

1. Ever read Love and Rockets? Gilbert Hernandez changes scenes whenever the hell he feels like it. And don’t tell me, “But you’re not Gilbert Hernandez.” Of course I’m not. My point is: why stick to this as an absolute rule, when it obviously is NOT one. One can certainly change scenes mid-page if one applies oneself to making it work.

2. As for “establishing shots on panel three,” ever read any Joe Sacco? With comics you can put the establishing shot anywhere on the page because the reader scans / sees (at least unconsciously) the whole page before he reads panel 1. Failure to understand this UNIQUE function of comics is to assume that comics need to function the same way as TV and movies. Here’s a quote from Sacco from an interview in TCJ #301:

One of the great things about comics is that somehow what’s going on in the whole composition can reflect what’s going on in one panel — for example, you could have a picture on the right hand side of the page: it might be an opening scene that gives you a lot of information about where people are, but in the preceeding panels you have people talking that are in the bigger picture. You can rely on the person’s eye, or the way they’re looking at pages next to each other for them to say, “Oh, well, that’s where they’re walking, even though I haven’t gotten to that page yet.”


BONUS: My opinion on thought balloons from a message board post in 2006, in response to something else said by Young.

From: Kumar Sivasubramanian (KUMAR) [#31]
 14 May 2006

Comics are a visual medium, show don’t tell, yada yada yada, I know but… Comics are between books and film (I know how loaded that statement is — don’t hate me!), and sometimes I feel like a comic without thought balloons is like a novel that doesn’t tell you what any of the characters are thinking. There’s an element missing.

Yes, you can show the characters personalities through their actions, but this necessitates that you design proactive characters and avoid passive characters simply because of a formal convention. (Although a comic about a purely passive character might not be such a good idea in the first place.) Or you have to create characters who talk openly about their feelings which again demands you mostly eliminate certain personality types. I mean, can you imagine reading Hate without knowing what Buddy is thinking?! (Maybe this is a bad example as it falls in the comedy category other people have already forgiven.)

And you could say that only villains think but heroes ACT but that makes the heroes sound like unthinking two-fisted morons to me. Peter Parker used to think plenty back in the old days but it didn’t make him any less heroic — maybe even the opposite.

And in terms of the structural changes needed to replace thought ballons: Although I loved Preacher I didn’t entirely like the John Wayne trick of getting around the thought balloons. In Punisher, though, Ennis does an excellent job with captions for present tense thoughts. That’s a-ok in my book. That said, there is still something vaguely less immediate about captioned thoughts — they seem more measured, more contemplative somehow without those bubbles coming straight out of the character’s head.

So I guess the problem with thought balloons is only when they’re badly written (like everything else). I guess you could say they look ugly on the page, but regular old word balloons look pretty ugly too, you know. Personally, I think they’re beautiful — that soft cottony goodness reminds me of Downy.


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