by Glen Downey, Comics in Education, www.comicsineducation.com
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.
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.
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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.