Transition Budget

During the first week of Graphic Narratives, as well as trying to define what a graphic narrative is, we took a look at Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, in particular the different types of transitions between a classic comic-book type work’s panels. They were separated into six categories, listed as follows:

  • Moment to Moment
  • Action to Action
  • Subject to Subject
  • Aspect to Aspect
  • Scene to Scene
  • Non-Sequitor

In particular, it was noted that Action to Action makes up the majority of the transitions in action-based comic books. During this session, I took a look at Debbie, a collection of weekly comics published in the UK from 1973 to 1983. Each of the narratives within Debbie were self contained stories of a few pages length, and of note was that nearly every transition was Action to Action or Scene to Scene. Subject to Subject was rare, as if more than one subject was necessary, they would simply be shown interacting in the same panel space. Often, the comic would simply focus on a single subject or a set of them to ensure that there was enough depth of character within the limited page count.

In this case, one can interpret the transitions as being ‘big’ transitions or ‘small’ transitions, roughly ranked from smallest to largest if you follow the bullet pointed list from top to bottom. The ‘size’ refers to how much the transition from one panel to another changes what the reader is looking at. In a very short comic, there is a budget of space, and therefore a budget of panel transitions. In essence, the number of transitions and the ‘size’ the transitions is much like an animation filling time within a video. Unlike a video, a comic can create more or less time depending on which transitions it uses in a given amount of page space. Hence why the action and scene transitions are the most popular, they are considered the most ‘efficient’ way to change the state of the story, on balance of how much time they create and how much space they use, and whether or not the transition has to be ‘big’ [scene] or ‘small’ [action], with not much use for anything above, below, or in-between these two measures.

So, as a starting point, there are some features of graphic narratives I am starting to consider as something potentially worth focusing on:

  • Budgets of space exist within printed works, the number of transitions possible is effectively limited
  • Between pictures or panels, the empty space between them can represent hugely varying transitions and amounts of time and changes of state
  • Unless expressly trying to set a different tone or achieve a specific effect, the transitions comic book authors tend to use only certain types of transitions, or use them in similarly proportionate frequency to one another
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