The Use Of Line

By | Thursday, June 12, 2008 3 comments
Let's study the line, shall we?

When you see a pen and ink drawing, you're often looking at a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. I think most people understand this fairly well. What they often have more trouble grasping, though, is what the lines actually represent. Take this old Peanuts comic...
Many of the lines represent actual objects. More specifically, they represent the change in tone, color, and texture between two objects. Obviously, if you're looking around in real life, you don't see black outlines around everything. What you see are two different objects, adjacent to each other, and drawing a line shows where your brain recognizes that distinction. Such lines are plentiful in this strip...
Also of note here is that shadows, while not objects in and of themselves, still are represented the same way as they show a difference in two areas of color. Often, in comics, they're represented as simple, black shapes.

Lines are often used to convey motion. This is a fairly natural extension of conveying objects, as motion -- especially fast motion -- can occur faster than our brains can process the information. We end up seeing after-images of the object as it moves through space. The comic strip has been using a shortened version, which I believe is generally attributed to E.C. Segar as originating...
Notice that panels 2 and 4, which represent little/minimal motion have none of these speed lines.

One of the earliest uses of line in representing something other than a visual is in conveying sound. This goes back to written language in general, and it seems like a somewhat natural extension to go from lines representing words representing speech to lines representing sound...
Panel 3 is noteworthy because the lines surrounding the word "WHOP!" are used to imply sound, despite not being representative of an actual noise nor being used to direct the location of where the sound originates (as is the case with the actual speech balloons themselves).

We cannot forget, being comics fans, the lines of functionality. Those wonderfully simple lines that delineate one image from the next, framing each moment in the sequence of events as if it were a window we, the audience, are peering through to witness the events on the other side...

Lines of meta-textual content that are sometimes necessary for informational reasons, but can disrupt the narrative flow of the comic...

But then we're still missing this...
It's representative of Charlie Brown's emotional/mental state. Obviously, he's not literally have bubbles floating off the top of his head, but it's interesting to call out it's use here having a physical manifestation.

Putting it all together again...


(Note that I haven't cited every possible use of line in a comic, but I merely came across this Peanuts strip and found it interesting how Charles Schulz happened to use lines to convey several distinctly different ideas and thoughts.)
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3 comments:

Matt K said...

Sean, I just got a call from Scott McCloud. Man, he sounds down. He's convinced you're after his job. ;)

Heh... I appreciate the sentiment but I'm pretty sure Scott's got nothing to worry about from me! :)

I wrote an article about this a waaaaay long time ago:

http://tinyurl.com/3kjylk