in Writing

Apropos comics, a conversation with Dave Crane

Ever so often I have interesting conversations on twitter – more often than not about comics – that I want to preserve here in their entirety. I’ve tried different formatting in the past, but to avoid the screenplay look in this exchange with improvisational cartoonist Dave Crane, I have edited the tweets down to paragraph text with links to the source marked by hashes (#). as all noteworthy conversations on twitter, this one begins with one party sharing a snarky image:


Allan Haverholm: oh man, I missed this by watching only the documentary channel all night 🙁 🙁 🙁 #


Dave Crane: The essence of comics is combining words and pictures in a way that generates friction. (Also — hee! hee!) #

AH: Oh no, don’t involve me in hybrid theory! Comics are a visual form, words are only accessories 😛 #

DC: Yeah, but even when there are no words, the lack of words adds to the meaning 😛 (same goes for pictures too) #

AH: Nnnot really. That’s like saying instrumental music “lacks” singing. Or that movies pre-Avatar lacks 3D… #

DC: I don’t buy the avatar/3D argument, that was a tech-driven gimmick. But the music analogy raises an interesting point. #  My thinking was comic readers will typically expect words (90-odd% of comics have them), so choosing not to is deliberate choice # …but music, hmm — traditionally, that’s been more like 50:50, so my argument run aground a bit there. # I’ll have to have a think about that one… # Oh, and yeah, I know there’s a truck-sized gap in any argument based on cultural norms — which we’re all free to ignore 🙂 #

AH: Oh, no need to think about it. I’m right 🙂 # Correction for cockiness: It’s the basis for my work and thinking re: comics, and I’m pretty sure it’s accurate… #

DC: Yep, you are on an entirely valid path, placing the visual elements as central (not that it’s my call whether it’s “valid”) # …and not alone. Lorenzo Mattotti says he “illustrates” the pictures with his words, for example (similar-but-diff emphasis on visuals). #
AH: I think Mattotti is spot on. Images and text both have shortcomings and may supplement each other. #

DC: But there are other approaches too, that take a different emphasis. Nothing inherent in the medium that puts visuals first. # The obvious counter-example is words, but this discussion makes me wonder if there are others e.g. rhythm: # If an abstract sequence is based on, say, rhythm (e.g. alternation between black & white panels, or alternation in shape), # then is that the “visual” element predominating, or a temporal one? (I don’t know the answer to this, btw). # Such an exercise would be limited in appeal to the scholars/wonks like us who do this sort of thing, but that sort of exercise # could also inform more “mainstream” storytelling (i.e. stuff with narrative) — in addition to being complete in its own right # PS: I totally dug your “cocky” reply 😛 🙂 #

AH: But the matter of dominance: yes, comics have historically mostly included text. That doesn’t make the words essential, though # It’s just evidence of the direction taken by early comickers and later generations following their lead. # If we imagine early comics had also allowed simultaneity and non-linear juxtaposition, the image/text balance might differ. #

DC: Agreed. We operate in a cultural context, and can choose to step outside it (and comics’ context is darn weird!). # McCloud’s good ol’ book has that section w histograms, and structural differences between manga and Euro-US tradition #obviousexample #

AH: Because early-1900s comics could have been employed as a modernist art tool. The cubists would have loved it. # In my work and teaching I’ve tried to dismantle comics and throw away non-essential parts. Words went rather early… #
DC: That too is an aesthetic choice: do we throw away non-essential or elaborate it (e.g. rococo architecture)? #
AH: Of course, but for the sake of analysis we cut off parts of the patient to see how long he survives without them 🙂 # If you look at comics as a form rather than genre or medium, it becomes clear that words are absolutely non-essential. # That doesn’t discredit genre work or the works of comics writers. I’m just pointing out a larger territory to explore. #

DC: it’s definitely not a genre. But distinction between form and medium is new to me: thanks. #
AH: Print or Web are media; comics or literature are forms (of art or communication, take your pick). #

The text/linear narrative (+ humour/adventure) aspects af early comics were dictated by the requirement that they entertain. # So if we don’t need text, do we need the linear narrative? If that goes, the space=time convention in comics is meaningless. # But there are still formal elements of comics that hold water without the time/space illusion/sleight of hand — like montage. # (I rant about that here) # Think Kuleshov/Eisenstein montage, pulled out of a cinematic context and into a graphical juxtaposition. # Basically McCloud’s closure concept, with the (optional) temporal aspect peeled away. So we arrive at your rhythm example 😉 # In music and cinema, rhythm is temporal. yet in architecture and pictorial arts it’s considered visual/spatial. # (rhythm is both auditive and visual in cinema of course, oops!) #

And here the line went dead. Dave and I had carried out our discourse over the evening of one weekday and the morning of the next — menial (and paid) work called for our attention and left the thread hanging. Perhaps to be picked back up in the comments section below?

Also on:

Write a Comment