Two books are essential: ‘ Understanding Comics’ and ‘Making Comics’ by Scott McCloud.
They are comics which explain comics in ways that only a comic can.
The core of his definition of comics is ‘sequential’ – a series of images and/or texts which does with space what film does with time – orders them in such a way that the reader undergoes a meaningful experience, from start to finish. He calls comics a ‘sequential art’ (a term borrowed from Will Eisner). He includes many works in this definition which are not normally seen as ‘comics’ – for example the Bayeux Tapestry and the woodcut novels of Frans Masereel. He does NOT include single-panel comics, considering them another medium.
He uses the term icon to mean a graphic symbol in the broadest sense.
He created a model which situates styles according to how realistic the representation is (realist or abstract), and how the meaning is conveyed (picture or language). This model will help you to make choices of styles of comics.
Transitions – what’s between the panels? He refers to this as ‘closure’, i.e., the reader’s mind ‘closes’ up the gap by imagining what happens in between. This is where the excitement or engagement is really created, because this is where the reader’s mind comes into play.
He identifies 6 kinds of transitions. That means: six ways of establishing relationships between panels.
- Moment to moment – requires very little closure.
- Action to action – the same subject doing two different actions that require more closure.
- Subject to subject – subject portrayed changes, while staying within the same story or idea. This requires more reader involvement – they have to know more about the background and context.
- Scene to scene – transports us across significant differences in time and in space. Like subject to subject, but the distances and differences are greater.
- Aspect to aspect – doesn’t clearly indicate time change, but wanders rather freely through several aspects of a place, idea or mood.
- Non-sequitur – no logical relationship between panels.
Note: when he examined the amount of these kinds of transitions, he found a clear difference in Japanese and Western comics: the proportion of aspect to aspect transitions in Japanese comics was very much greater.
Expressing time: the use of space on the page creates the sensation of time in the story.
Words divide the mental experience of time. The size of panels can increase the sense of time spent in a specific action. This is different from film, in which viewer has no choice as to exact length of time spent viewing something.
Graphic and expressive qualities. He gives an analysis of graphics – how certain graphic qualities are closely linked to emotion, with a few specific examples of styles.
In ‘Making Comics’, he presents five CHOICES which are central to the creation of a comic.
- Choice of moment: What to show, and what to leave out.
- Choice of frame: from which distance, angle – through which ‘window’ – are we looking through at the scene?
- Choice of image: what style and graphic qualities and media will you use?
- Choice of word: what should be communicated with words, and why?
- Choice of flow: the visual flow of panels on a page.