In this exercise I needed to;
find examples of different visual conventions used to convey time/or place/space – frame by frame storytelling, handling of perspective, use of speech bubbles – from different time periods.
I also needed to use the exercise to develop research skills through the use of OCA online resources, websites, or visiting local libraries.
The exercise information listed several key words or terms which might prove helpful in research, such as; cartoons, graphic novels, cartoon-stripes, visual stories, frame-by-frame and murals.
I decided to begin by searching using the phrase ‘graphic novel’, since this is generally considered a visual form of storytelling. I thought I’d broaden my approach by searching for the same term in two different search engines; Pinterest & The Bridgeman Education Online Library. I also felt like Pinterest would reveal much more contemporary examples of visual conventions and Bridgeman Education would probably reveal more historical examples.
The Pinterest Research instantly revealed a whole host of interesting modern Graphic Novels, perhaps too numerous to search through, so I decided to select links to Guides to The Best Graphic Novels or similar summaries by well know newspapers or writers.
I found The Guardian piece; The 10 Best Graphic Novels In Pictures, also The Guardians; Best Starter Graphic Novels for YA readers, helpful for finding names of authors/designers of Graphic Novels to look into further. I also read a post from a Blog I regularly read Called A Cup of Jo; Five best Graphic Novels and finally an online article from Vulture; The 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2015.
From these articles I then began to search for a series of Graphic Novel Authors and Titles to use as examples of the use of Visual conventions for Time and Place.
Adrian Tomine – name was mentioned frequently, he is well known in the comic art and graphic novel industry. Perhaps best know for the Scott Pilgrim series, but more recently acclaimed for his Graphic Novel;Shortcomings and series of Short Stories (in a graphic novel format) entitled; Killing and Dying.
Lucy Knisley – works as comic strip artist, book writer, her books – French Milk, Relish, Displacement. Are semi-autobiographical and deal with issues of identity, place, food, the list goes on. I actually really like the look her work, it follows some of the convention of visual story telling but also breaks some of them. Particularly her book Displacement: A travelogue. She manages to move between conversational moments, reflective moments and into exploring her grand fathers own journals during the war all within one book.
I discovered that I could read part of her book, and others using Google Books. An online library so to speak! It allows you to see a sample or the whole of a variety of books. This seems like an excellent research tool for when you’re physically unable to reach a library or can’t afford to buy the whole book.
Here’s a link to a sample of Displacement: a travelogue by Sophie Knisley. This research method also allowed me to look at sample pages from the graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki. Also, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel.
Primary Research ~ Books from the Library:
I wanted to find some examples of the visual conventions used to express time and place in two comic’s I used read when I was younger; Asterix & Obelix and The Adventures of TinTin. So I borrowed some examples from my local library.
In these example pages it’s clear that the passing of time is shown by a sequence or frame by frame boxes in which the story unfolds. The passing of time is also demonstrated by characters speech in speech bubbles, for instance at the top of page 11 TinTin says to snowy, “Hello, the wreckage of the plane that crashed last night..” So we as the audience know time has paced it’s now the next day…
Another way of indicating the passing of time is demonstrated on p.26 (see photo left), the light of the sky is darkened to indicate passing into night time. The sky is brightened again to show the arrival of a new day over the next few pages.
An example of indicating or revealing the place or space the characters are in is by use of different perspectives. In p.40 you can see shifts in perspective; a close up of TinTin and snowy walking, then a zoomed out wider frame showing the mountains and landscape, then back to a close up of Snowy.
In the example left passing of time or change of location or focus is indicated by small yellow text boxes in the top left or bottom left corners of the larger boxes. Place is also indicated in the story, by deliberate placing of road signs or village names in the frame. You can also see the use of a zoomed out frame to indicate distance from a location. Another example of perspective is seen in the image below, where there appears to be an Arial view from the roofs of the houses, it allows the audience to see the Roman office is lost, in amongst the houses.
I also decided to do a little black pen drawing capturing some of the visual conventions for indicating, time, place and speech in the Asterix & Obelix comics. You can see this in the image below…
Further Primary Research: Displacement a Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
I decided to buy this book so I could take a closer look at the style Lucy Knisley uses to approach the subject. It’s a really beautifully put together collections of her thoughts and responses whilst on a cruise with her ageing Grandparents. The idea in itself is refreshingly warm and humanistic, it certainly is worlds away from the violence and explicit nature of some comic books or graphic novels. Any way back to the point of this exercise…
There are moments where this little travelogue sits within the visual conventions mentioned previously. For instance the frame-by-frame boxes on the page left, which indicate the passing of time, except they are interspersed with illustrations which are not boxed. Which is strangely refreshing.
In other areas of the book there are no boxes, more like illustrations with some thoughts around them.
These looser illustrations seem to indicate moments when the narrator slips between the past and present day, the fluidity of the drawings and the text around the page give the impression of a the movement of a persons train of thought. It’s an interesting visual portray of different states, past, present, future.
She does however stick to the convention of cloud shaped bubbles for inner thoughts/monologues, and rounded bubbles for moments of speech. See the image on the left for an example of this.
She also adds a cover page noting each day before illustration the series of events, this helps keep the audience aware of the passing of time, (see photo below).
I’ll admit I found this part of the research harder, I decided to search the Bridgeman Education online library for older examples. My initial search was ‘Graphic Novel’ but I found this didn’t really offer a great return, so searched instead for ‘Cartoon’. This pulled up a few examples from the 19th Century. I’ve included links to these images below:
The image found via the link above, is a Cartoon from American School, 19th Century – I’m not entirely sure what that is. It’s a good example of perhaps where the frame-by-frame idea originated, the story is read from box to box. However there no speech marks or clear indications visually of time passing (apart from the boxes). The perspective is the same in all the boxes so there’s less of a sense of movement.
In the illustration linked to above, more visual conventions emerge – the boxes are different sizes and widths indicating longer passages of time or giving a greater view of a landscape or place. Lines of text sit in boxes above the illustrations denoting different days activities.
Having seen this example I refined my search by looking for images from ‘The Graphic’, like that found above.
The Graphic Newspaper seems to have been one of several Illustrated Newspapers which rose to prominence during the 19th Century. It was apparently well regarded, and was published weekly from 1869 until 1932. I can’t be certain but I wonder if this and the rise of other publications like it gave way to a wider interest in illustrated stories and comics which in turn have birthed the visual conventions we see today.