Fast Forward or Rewind?

Fast Forward or Rewind?

Design can be used to tell stories a variety of ways, including illustrating inner thoughts, change in mood, action, and even time alteration.

In Strip Panel Naked: Negative Space in ‘Jessica Jones’  and Strip Panel Naked: ‘Unstoppable Wasp’ And Dealing With Complicated Layouts , Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou explores the use of design elements to signify the characters inner dialogue. Both comics could have simply used monologues to convey the each characters thoughts, but by adding the design elements, the artists are able to attach a stronger emotion to the thoughts. With both Jessica Jones and The Wasp, we are able to physically see inside their heads, which allows reality to be suspended and emotion to become the driving force, rather than action. With Jessica Jones this is achieved by “floating” her thoughts between white space, essentially splice reality and her inner voices. In the ‘Unstoppable wasp’ a flashback is literally placed within someone’s head and color is used to express mood.

Speaking of mood, we can see in Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s analysis of ‘ Tamaki & Leon’s ‘Hulk’ and Steve Dillon’s Economic Storytelling how design can create mood. In Hulk, we see a disruption of the orderly comic strip – lines askew, uneven boxes, and uneven color – in order to visually narrate Jen’s transformation. Again the artist could have chosen to use dialogue to walk the reader through the emotion, but opted instead to double down on the raw emotion by creating an unsettling image. In Steve Dillon’s work we see almost a diametrically opposed style used to achieve the same result. Nothing is inherently jarring about Dillon’s panels. He instead relies on tight frames and facial expressions to focus the reader on the mood. He only includes faces within the frame that provide context and add to the mood of the story. By excluding all non-essential visuals, we are forced to apply more weight and scrutiny on what is included in the frame.

In addition to emotion and mood, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou also explores how design can be used to show action – primarily by playing with the audience’s sense of time. In Controlling Movement | Black Widow (2016) , Otsmane-Elhaou brilliantly explains how the artists use angles, exaggerated imaginary, and frame selectivity to illustrate action without motion lines. For the most part, using these techniques, the artists are able to almost speed up time and create a juxtaposition in each frame between Black Window and those trying to stop her. It’s action packed  and we feel that. On the other end of the specture, you have Otsmane-Elhaou’s critique in Time Signatures in Comics and Film | Watchmen & Sin City (Youtube) . Both the comics effectively slow down time. This becomes painfully obvious when comparing the comics to their respective movies. The artwork relies much more heavily on the dialogue to tell a complete story. We can find clues in the art, but unlike Tamki & Leon or Dillion’s work, we cannot fill in the blanks without the dialogue. In this respect each panel becomes almost a full story in itself. We have hit the pause button on the action which gives reason to believe each frame hold more visual information then what might initially meet the eye. It feels like the equivalent of slow motion scenes in movies – we know we should focusing on what’s happening. This is in stark contrast to the Black Window frames in which the artists is pushing use through the experience as quickly as possible.

Final thoughts: The most intriguing aspect of these analyses for me was the control of time; the way it is achieved is unique to this form of art. As Otsman-Elhaou points out, in a movie, for the most part, time must be in sync – everything is moving fast, or its movie slow and if it is out of sync, it seldom works. In still painting or photography, who can suggest a pace, but the viewer can interpret that pace differently. Is the blurring because the people are walking fast or in slow motion? Comic strip artists manipulate time by relying on the audience’s response. Six frames of Black Window fighting feel like 6 seconds, while six frames of The Watchman feels like 6 minutes. And I give a “bravo” to anyone who can mess with my head that way.

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