Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Thank Eisner

Have you read today's Andy Capp...?
What do you notice about it? Specifically, what do you notice about the art?

What I'm looking at is that, despite the comic being three panels long, there is only one background. Artist Roger Mahoney has very clearly indicated that Andy and Chalkie are traversing their own space as well as our own. The joke here is entirely in the dialogue, so it could have just as easily been shown with two talking heads with largely the same humor value...
But instead, Mahoney has made things more visually interesting by drawing a different background in each panel. And he's designed it in such a way as to give the reader a very clear indication of the amount of walking Andy and Chalkie actually do during the short conversation.

This type of exploitation of the media is largely attributable to the pioneering work of Will Eisner, and it's exactly this type of thing that makes me enjoy and appreciate comics more than other media. This simply cannot be replicated in any other art form.

I wonder of Mahoney considered doing the background as an actual, single panel instead of breaking it up into thirds. Let's take a moment to do just that and compare the results...
The joke continues to read just as well -- again, it's not dependent on the art here -- but it does strike me as a tad harder to "read" the visuals. The difficulty, it seems to me, comes from the relative size of the art. There' not quite enough space between the figures to allow readers to readily see that we're looking at three discreet moments in time. The gutters in the original add a sort of visual punctuation that breaks up the space and more clearly signifies to readers that we're looking at two men talking while strolling along the canal.

Of course, that's not to say that strip can't be done like that! The overall layout could have been designed within a single frame and it's likely that Mahoney would have done the background (and the exact position of the figures) significantly differently if that were that case. Indeed, that shack between the first and second panels is there primarily to show the continuation of the background across a gutter; it would not have been necessary otherwise.

Indulge me, if you will, with a few more tweaks and modifications...
I've moved the first figures further to the left, and tried opening up the space between the first and second panels by fading back the shack and removing the clouds. I've also moved the last dialogue balloon farther to the right. It's certainly an easier read than my previous revision but, ultimately, does it add anything to the original? I don't think so. It does nothing to enhance the joke. The question ends up being: is it more interesting, visually, to break up the overall space with gutters and force the readers to mentally complete the image, or to keep the space singular and force the readers to break up the space themselves? Personally, I lean towards the former. The joke relies somewhat on it's natural rhythm of set-up/response/punchline. The gutters reinforce that rhythm visually, even though it breaks the set-up in two and combines the latter half of it with the response. Thus making Mahoney's published design the more successful.

2 comments:

Rod McKie said...

Nice piece. Of course the writer, Roger Kettle, is also a cartoonist,and that makes a difference when you work together.

I like the way you juxtaposed the talking heads and the gutterless drawings to examine your idea.

I'm going to put a post where Roger Kettle can see it, because he'll enjoy reading this.

Nice blog.

Nigel said...

It's highly likely that Roger drew the background initially. I've seen several examples of Roger's "scripts", and he doesn't just write the speech bubbles, he does the rough draft layout too. A very talented guy.