I've talked about the importance of establishing that visual narrative is a tradition--one that arguably dates back to a period that predates either the oral or written traditions as we know them. However, not everyone is convinced that cave art, Egyptian hieroglyphics, or something like William Hogarth's "A Rake's Progress" is an ancestor of contemporary comics and graphic novels unless they've been fortunate enough to read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. However, as I was shown by Laura McRae from Havergal College at the 2014 CITE Conference, it's pretty hard to argue against the Bayuex Tapestry being such an ancestor!
Take a look at the fantastic animated video Laura showed me that was originally created as a student project at Goldsmiths College. If you can't see the connection between the Bayeux Tapestry and contemporary comics after watching it, I might never be able to convince you that visual narrative has a long and proud tradition.
Thanks for showing me this, Laura!
Time is winding down to my workshop presentations at the annual CITE conference being held at Upper Canada College in Toronto. In one of the presentations, I'll be looking at the graphic memoir, specifically focusing on works in which travel plays a role. Here's the workshop description in case you missed it in my previous blog post.
As I've prepared for the workshop I've begun to see that we can learn a great deal not only from the far ranging travel of artists like Guy Delisle and investigative journalists like Joe Sacco but from the kinds of journeys much closer to home, both literal and metaphorical, of writers like Julie Delporte and Sarah Leavitt.
It has also led me to think about what we learn from others when we travel--from those we meet on our journeys, from those who travel with us, and even from those we leave behind. I've previously discussed my great fondness for Etienne Davodeau's The Initiates, a story where Davodeau asks to learn the art of wine-making from vineyard owner, Richard Leroy, with the latter reciprocating by learning about the graphic novel trade. However, in thinking about why I love the story so much, it suddenly struck me that so many of their interactions are punctuated by sharing a bottle of wine. This is the case right from the very start of the graphic novel.
What I realized is that the way in which Leroy and Davodeau celebrate one another's company-- both through the shared reciprocity of learning about each other's professions and their mutual interest in wine--directly calls to mind the relationship between the title character of Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote (1982) and the Communist ex-mayor of El Toboso he nicknames "Sancho." In Greene's novel, the two travel around Spain in the monsignor's car ("Rocinate") while developing their friendship--often over a bottle of wine.
I've always loved this story, not only because it follows a structure that is similar to Cervantes' Don Quixote (whom the monsignor believes is an ancestor despite characters pointing out that his namesake is fictional), but because of the growth in the compassion and understanding shared between the two central characters. As Davodeau and Leroy journey back and forth to where each of them practices their vocation, we see a similar growth in their understanding of one another, and it makes us realize that the "journey" always has something profound to teach us.
This is how an artist should travel...
If you haven't read Florent Chavouet's Tokyo on Foot, then you've been missing out on a uniquely rewarding experience. Imagine you're an artist with a gift for sharing your own unique perspective on things, and you find yourself in Tokyo with time on your hands and art materials at your disposal. If you're Chavouet, you end up drawing Tokyo.
But not the stereotypical, Western view of Tokyo as a city of bright lights, Buddhist temples and Karaoke bars....
Instead, imagine that you draw the real Tokyo.
By recording what he sees, from the profound to the mundane, Chavouet does what so many great graphic travel writers do. As with my post the other day on Guy Delisle, Chavouet presents us with an honest, insightful look at the sights and sounds of the place he is visiting, perhaps without even realizing at the time what a profound effect these sights and sounds--and his recording of them--will have on his development as an artist.
You see, it's precisely because Chavouet records everything (i.e. that he doesn't make a judgment or shape Tokyo into merely what he wants or expects it to be) that he is so successful in Tokyo on Foot.
This is precisely the idea we should encourage with our students when they are trying to put their ideas down onto paper in front of them. Tell them that you want to see what they are thinking...really see it. They might just end up giving you something like this.
Thank you, Florent Chavouet.
Understanding the language of storyboarding and film enables a reader to talk about comics and graphic stories with a greater degree of accuracy and sophistication. It is especially useful to a writer who must try to give direction to the artist illustrating his or her story. Of special importance are terms referring to the way in which particular filmic shots in a graphic story are framed.
This is a shot that "establishes" a sense of the place where a given action in a story is happening. We know of these kinds of shots from film when, at the beginning of a romantic comedy, for instance, the camera swoops across the city where the action of the story will take place, accompanied by music that attempts to establish the appropriate mood. We find much the same in a graphic story, with a long or overhead shot of a given place giving the reader a clear understanding of the time, place, and sometimes even the circumstances of a particular scene.
In graphic storytelling, a long shot is typically one in which a character's entire body is at a far enough distance away from the perceived camera that it can fit entirely within the panel. A long shot can be used for a variety of purposes, such as reinforcing the vastness of a given location, a particular character's isolation or aloneness (because of his or her lack of close proximity to the viewer), the physical distance a character has traveled or will travel, as well as a variety of other uses.
A medium shot is an oft-recurring shot in a graphic story, and generally occurs when characters are shown from somewhere between the knees to the waist up. It is a very natural type of shot to depict a conversation between two characters since it allows the reader a kind of intimacy with the dialogue exchange that the long shot does not afford.
Once characters get within the distance of the medium shot described above, they are generally acknowledged to be in close up. This shot brings the reader/viewer and subject being looked at in close proximity to one another and can therefore have an increased intensity. Such a shot gives the reader a clearer depiction of a character's emotions or even intentions while also preventing us from seeing contextual clues that would be visible in a medium or long shot. Just as a long shot can have an impact by virtue of the significant physical distance it puts between viewer and subject, so too can a close up have an impact by putting them in close quarters.
Extreme Close Up
When a close up begins to close the distance from a head and shoulders type of shot to something closer still, we find ourselves looking at an extreme close-up. These can be among the most intense types of shots because the object of our gaze typically fills the panel. We cannot look somewhere else in the panel t o avoid the subject because, for all intents and purposes, the panel is the subject.
One of the most confusing things about comics is the plethora of terms that is used to describe it. I think it’s fair that if we are teaching our students about comics, graphic novels, or visual narratives, we should be clear what we mean by these terms. In English, we’ve traditionally chosen a “funny” word to describe what we’re discussing: comic. The word “comic” has an etymology that goes back to the ancient Greek word for “revel,” and which we use interchangeably either for someone who makes their living telling jokes or for sequential art. Below is a chart that can help us come to terms with some of the basic definitions of the genre.
A visual story told as sequence of drawings or images, either in color or black and white, relating a comic incident, adventure, mystery, or some other manner of narrative. It isoften published in serial form as a sequence of panels and gutters, having dialogue printed in balloons and narration in boxes.
Graphic Novel *
A book made up of comics content that usually features a longer narrative than that found in a comic book. The term is often intended to include fiction, non-fiction, and anthologized collections of single issue comics . It is distinguished from the term "comic book", which is used for comics periodicals.
A story that is told primarily through the use of visual media, including still photography, illustration, or video, and which can be enhanced with graphics, music, voice and other audio.
A term used for art that tells a story or narrative through a sequence or series of images, so a form of art rather than a style. Graphic novels, comics, and cartoons are all sequential art.
A term reserved for Franco-Belgian comics that have their own unique style and history. Literally deriving their name from the idea of “drawn strips,” they do not linguistically contain the idea of something humorous or funny as North American “comics” do.
A genre of cartoons and comic books originating in Japan and popularized by Osamu Tezuka and others whose style and form go back to the 19th century and ultimately derive from traditions in Japanese art.
* Some writers and illustrators of comics take great umbrage at the use of the term “graphic novel,” suggesting that it’s simply a way of dressing up “comics” and making them seem more pretentious than they need to be. Others prefer the term, believing that it specifically refers to comics collected in a longer format with a more literary sensibility akin to what we often find in manga. The important idea, however, is that these terms often contain, touch upon, or overlap one another. Both bande dessinée (like Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, etc.) and manga have their own distinctive styles, with the latter drawing inspiration for its characters from the exaggerated, wide-eyed characters of early 20th century American comic book characters, like Betty Boop.
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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