And then everybody with an opinion or less weighs in about the essence of comics. Excellent.
— me, on twitter just now
That was on a sudden discussion about writers and artists in comics, who does who, whose is larger, and which part of the storytelling is more important. That’s a rather simplistic approach of course, but I still managed to get involved in a debate about the semantics of “writing” in comics.
If a wordless comic is made by a single creator like the above by Henning Dahl Mikkelsen, is it per definition written? What if that artist’s work process includes no verbal stage directions or other text at all? In my view, it isn’t written, though it does tell a story. One could be even more pedantic and say it shows or demonstrates a story, as in the adage “show, don’t tell”.
Writing is a subset of narrative, but it’s absurd to say that all storytelling is writing. Ostriches are birds, but not all birds are ostriches. The major, outset bias of the discussion, however, lies with a specific perception of comics — that the art form is defined as storytelling, specifically linear narrative. The below “visual poem/abstract comic” by Rosaire Appel was posted to the Abstract Comics blog, and brilliantly discards that notion:
While I stand by my arguments in today’s discussion, I regret not taking a broader position on (and beyond) the subject. While some comics are certainly written, and others are shown, not told, still others are put forward in kits to be assembled (eg. Chris Ware’s Building Stories), or deliberately non-narrative conceptual pieces, like my own When the last story is told.
So instead of discussing whether writing or image is more important in comics, I should have asked why more comics aren’t built, or walked, or sculpted, or performed. Writing is fine in its own right, but it’s only one lens through which to view comics as an art form of many uncharted potentials.