Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Page Layout as Narrative Tool!

Winsor McCay[...]
...He began to vary panel sizes to give visual emphasis to his narrative!
Little panels to focus in on small, intimate actions...
...Big panels for dramatic actions or epic reveals!
Artists learned they could pace cartoon stories to their own internal rate just as writers could use different phrase and sentence length to set an internal cadence for their prose!
 - Comic Book Comics #1
by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey

Comic Book Comics by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey is some of the most fun I have ever had reading comic books. And I'm learning history! And art theory! And copyright law! Their miniseries chronicles the history of the comic book medium with amazing wit, humor, and insight. I can't recommend this title enough. Plus, if you chose to go digital, it's only 99 cents an issue over at Comixology. 99 cents!

Okay, so what does page layout have to do with Wednesday Theology? The same thing as différance: lots! Approximately a fourth of my thesis was about the mechanics and unique stylistic attributes of the graphic literature format. If I had known about Comic Book Comics while writing that, I would have mined the series for its wealth of information.

Just like text, the meaning of the visuals are determined by their size, shape, and location on the page and relation to all the other visuals and text. The meaning is dependent on the meaning of all the other text and graphics around it! Which means I do a great disservice to these examples of graphic literature when I pull a panel excerpt out of its context. But hopefully that will just encourage you to go read them for yourselves!

In my wild imagination, this technique could be applied to crafting a graphic theology. However, I'm not quite sure how. The potential goes well beyond my capacity of artistic talent and visual creativity. Creators like J.H. Williams III (Batwoman) and Jonathan Hickman (Pax Romana) are unbelievably amazing with what they can accomplish with page layouts.

An example I can think of is when talking about the Trinity. Usually we talk of it in a hierarchical fashion, with God at the peak of a triangle and the Son and the Holy Spirit at the bottom corners. More accurately, we probably speak of the Trinity as an inverted triangle with the Father and Son at the top two corners and the Holy Spirit at the bottom (if we bother to include the Holy Spirit at all). But this seems faulty to me. Instead of a static hierarchy, I imagine it as a perpetual, perhaps cyclical, outpouring of Divinity. Kind of like the water cycle: there's no beginning or end, no first or last instance.

A way to speak of the Trinity in this manner utilizing the graphic format could be the implementation of alternating page layouts. Instead of always talking about the Father (Panel 1), the Son (Panel 2), and the Spirit (Panel 3), the creator could mix up the layout each time the Trinity is approached as subject matter. It could then be presented as the Spirit (Panel 1), the Father (Panel 2), and the Son (Panel 3). The actual text could even remain the same for each panel, but the order in which we read the panels would affect how the reader interprets the text. And if the page layout is ever changing, then it would help present a more fluid and dynamic understanding of the Trinity.

Another idea could involve purposefully utilizing vague page layouts. If it was unclear how the reader should proceed from a panel talking about one aspect of the Trinity to the next, it might help imply this dynamic relationship. While vague and unclear panel progression is often a sign of terrible page layouts, I think that, if used intentionally and effectively, it could be a sign of a brilliant page layout.

But like I said, how to actually enact that is beyond me. Wednesday Theology is kind of like my baby, and I want to keep her close to my chest, carefully overseeing what becomes of her. But I realize that if I ever want this idea to grow to fruition and produce some actual graphic theologies, other people far more talented and creative than me will have to become involved.

That is a challenge both to me and everyone who happens to read this blog.



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