The core mechanism of sequential art, is Juxtaposition.
Even when it’s a single gag cartoon, there is typically a juxtaposition of words, and picture. And the transitions between panels is entirely a mechanism for creating a moment of Closure, through Juxtaposition!
It’s a very powerful tool, important to learn about and explore.
Lets think about how subtle it is. I’m going to borrow an example from
Drawing Words & Writing Pictures!, so let’s think about a drawing of an apple.
You don’t need a word here to tell you what it is,
hopefully I’ve drawn a passable one…
So what does that bring to mind?
New York? ”
One a day to keep the Doctor away”?
How about, Gravity?
Look at them now, and what comes to mind for each?
A whole set if ideas and history? Stories?
Notice how much becomes implicated and associated, which each apple,
simply with the addition of a different juxtaposition of a single word?
Now how about if we use a cartoon apple?
See how the inflection and tone of the symbolism created there changed?
And just to drive home the point, let’s try that with fonts to re-enforce certain memes.
Notice as we moved from a realistic image of an apple and generic hand written text – to the cartoon apple and stylized fonts – that the ideas evoked became more overt, and in some ways focused? The signal for the symbolic somewhat stronger? The sketchy apple and hand written labels are a bit more subtler, softer a signal by comparison.
The style of art, specific choices in what words you use, and what you choose to show, while you tell, will create the story between the moments in your reader’s mind.
And note that style of text, changes the tone of the juxtaposition created as well, in this case making them more individually Iconic of established branded memes?
In the first drawings, it feels more specific, it’s a drawing of AN apple right? More realistic. So the first set, reads more like Ideas via the words bellow it about THAT apple.
When we use a Cartoon apple, the idea of the apple itself became more abstracted from the specific – no longer AN apple, but the idea of one.
And then with the stylized fonts that hearken to branded ideas we’re mostly all exposed to, the apple become a symbol FOR the Ideas. An ICON representing a meme. A logo – sic. I’ve got one more slide here, of the same meme’s represented by either logos, or iconic images.
“Not an Apple” was a joke referencing ‘The Treachery of Images‘ by René Magritte? The first drawing isn’t an apple, it’s a drawing of one! Here we see one of his paintings of this very idea.
And I might have even tricked you further, as I did it from generic memory, it’s not even a drawing of a REAL apple, it just looks like one more than the cartoon. In deference, this is all a reference to Scott McCloud’s use of the Magritte painting of a pipe in his work!
The thing to remember is, Juxtaposition can thrive on the slippery nature of words and pictures and both our readers sense of ‘reality’ and the possible safety of the cartoon. It’s a gateway to your readers imagination.
This juxtaposition created dialog is what makes comics work so well. Cartoon art can symbolically be used to disarm, or arm your narrative. Set the tone, indicate a sub textual meaning that your words never directly address, or enhance one they do. Likewise relative realism, colour, and texture all can act to frame and enhance your story in other ways. I don’t advocate one style over another myself, but rather enjoy trying to find the right one, for each story I attempt to draw.
I’d recommend reading Chapter Two of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, to further explore this subject. Take special note of the ‘Stylistic Pyramid‘, which basically represents the range of visual language and communication accessible with sequential art. And in Making Comics, Chapter One and Chapter Three.
Word/Picture combination styles
In his later book, Making Comics–for which Kelly Tindall I presume names the course after before I inherited it from him at Syn–Scott McCloud also talked about styles of juxtaposition, between the text and images, not just panel to panel relationships. He made another list of seven, seen illustrated here below! They aren’t quite the same thing as Transitions, but
1. Word-Specific – Words provide all you need to know, while the pictures illustrate only some aspects of the scene; 2. Picture-Specific – Pictures providing all you need to know, while the words accentuate aspects of the scene; 3. Duo-Specific – Words and pictures both sending roughly the same message, making for emphatic emphasis; 4. Intersecting – Words and pictures working together in some respects while also contributing information independently; 5. Interdependent – Words and pictures combining to convey an idea that neither would convey alone; 6. Parallel – Words and pictures following seemingly different paths without intersecting; 7. Montage – Words and pictures combined pictorially.