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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Maximizing Image

I read a graphic novel recently, Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine, and I was somehow disappointed that the expensive book only featured people talking. The story itself had enough emotional depth to qualify for an arc of character development, but the creator didn't play too much with the visual aspect. Two people talking in a restaurant. Two people talking in a bedroom. Two people walking down the street. People talking.

In short, the story, while readable, didn't quite suit the medium. It would have been more effective as a stage play for an intimate audience than a graphic novel. The images seemed to weigh less than the words--Tomine used a realistic style that, while pleasing to the eye, allowed no room for visual experimentation or styling.

Then, of course, the question: is visual experimentation required? The answer is no, especially if you're doing a story like Shortcomings. The issue is not the way a story is presented, but the medium used to present the story. The actual question should be: is your story the kind that maximizes the potential of the image-text interplay? Or, specifically, are you maximizing the image-text relationship in your work, despite the kind of story you choose to present?

One of the best examples I can cite that maximizes the possibilities of both words and pictures is Blankets. It is a beautiful book, with a visual style that reinforces--even intensifies--the gravity of the words. Despite the story being quiet and introspective, it was very moving. Conceivably, if Craig Thompson had used a more realistic style, the book would have lost a lot of its power.

Another example is Kick-Ass. John Romita Jr.'s rough kinetic, even cartoony, style offers the necessary edginess to Mark Millar's script, effectively taking the story beyond the confines of the violent superhero story into a visceral experience. If Jim Lee had drawn Kick-Ass, the effect would have been different, if not out of sync.

It's not enough that the graphic novelist master the fundamentals of anatomy, perspective and composition. The graphic novelist must have the ability to make the art side flex its own storytelling muscle, while matching the mood and atmosphere relayed by the text. Will a comics page still be interesting--keep a reader on his toes--if the words were taken out? That's the challenge.



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