A strategic, spatial assembly of separate images
There you go. I’m picking up on my comics studies reading, currently a good way into Nick Sousani’s Unflattening, and as usual when somebody delineates comics I wince just a little and go “Yeah, except…” – so I foolhardily hacked out the short description above. Just a quick note to say that I’m wholly enjoying Sousani’s book, it was just an unfortunate springboard for me to finally write this.
This is not to say that my version above is more “right” than others, but it’s probably more open to different modes of comics making; based on my own experience experimenting with the form (not genre or medium), and may also unveil some new perspectives for comics studies*.
If we dissect the contents and deliberate omissions of my description, we can start with the choice of “assembly” rather than “juxtaposition”, which is an attempt to dodge any notion that the images must be made by the comics maker. Obviously, this is based on my recent collage work methods where I have worked from a base of found materials. Also, there’s enough mixing up between comics making and the act of drawing already, let’s keep that hornet’s nest out of this equation.
I call it a “spatial assembly” to avoid the hoary comparison to film, as well as embracing both sequence and the segmentivity approach to comics analysis (and reading!). That’s why it’s also a “strategic” assembly because that hopefully covers any execution of intent on the maker’s part, whether the message conveyed is linear narrative, poetic or other. I chose “strategic” over “deliberate” to not only emphasise intention but also the considerations involved in the arrangement of panels. Going with “strategy” you may imagine the maker at their worktable in an admiral’s uniform, brooding over whether the next day’s battle should be in the form of a full page spread, or several smaller panels scattered across the page.
The “images” part, then. In When the last story is told, I have a few panels that are just one solid colour, so we’re talking the very basic level of images. You might say “visual information”, or “visual content”, but a) those sound unnecessarily technical for what is meant to be a short, even glib term, and b) once we open for visual information, writing is right outside the door.
There’s the major point of divergence from other definitions of comics: I don’t buy the bit about comics being a hybrid or compound form of text and images. True, most comics integrate the two, but what people forget or overlook is that like music, comics work perfectly well without words. There are surely things you can only tell, not show, or which are less complicated to say than to illustrate, so you write them – or, perhaps, leave them out because you’re making a comic, not a frigging essay. In any case, the assumption that most comics use text, so by default comics must use text, is a logical fallacy. Comics aren’t by definition hybrid, so I’m leaving it out of the definition (without being blind to the obvious).
What I said about putting it short to the point of glibness? At least I may have succeeded with one of those… I hope readers have winced “Yeah, except…” repeatedly during this transmissions. Please post your objections, corrections, and demands for satisfaction in the comments.
* Or at least new to me, I claim only a limited perspective of that field.