Comics and film…not that different?

23 Oct

In comic books, the passage of time and what is shown are choices left up to the artist as they give life to the words of the writer. This can be conveyed through what they let the reader see in the panel and how that image is conveyed to further the narrative. Choices that can be made can vary on how something is presented in-panel from a moment to a moment, action-to-action, subject-to-subject, scene-to-scene, or aspect to aspect, or showing two seemingly unrelated images. As John McCloud says, “Consider what you want from each part of your story: do you want to jump ahead to a key event? Do you want to put on the brakes and focus on smaller moments? Do you want to draw attention to conversations and faces? Depending on your answers, you’ll find that certain types of transitions between panels may get the job done better than others” (14). This is done through using the six aforementioned methods of transitions from panel-to-panel.

In this way, transitioning between things in a comic book is a lot like transitioning between moments in a film. You transition between from a moment to a moment on a single subject to show their movement and how they convey emotion, scene-to-scene to transition between two different environments and characters in the narrative, and showing two seemingly unrelated images to provide some foreshadowing for the future. These types of choices can help portray emotions and how something important can be shown early on to set up for a future event. The difference is between comics and movies is that movies have actors and music to help convey what is going on in the shot, as opposed to just reading what is happening and trying to project your emotions and feelings onto the image. With this in mind, ask yourself the question: are comic books and movies that different after all?

Works Cited

McCloud, John. “Writing with Pictures.” P. 8-37.

Emotion in a single image

23 Oct

There is a question that artists have pondered for a long time that is how do you perceive emotion or sensory information through an image or icon? As McCloud states, “the idea that a picture can evoke an emotional or sensual response in the viewer is vital to the art of comics” as “the invisible world of senses and emotions can also be portrayed either between or within panels” (121). The best way that this can be accomplished is through an idea known as “synaesthetics” or a technique that “unite(s) the different artforms which appealed to those different senses” (123). Examples of this can include the way lines are drawn, what shapes are used, and how easy it is to tell what the background truly is. As McCloud states, “If pictures can, through their rendering, represent invisible concerns such as emotions and the other senses then the distinction between pictures and other types of icons like language which specialize in the invisible may seem a bit blurry. In fact, what we’re seeing in the living lines of these pictures is the primordial stuff from which a formalized language can evolve!” (127). As opposed to intensity, these lines and shapes should be used more often in order to evoke an emotional and sensory response from the reader.

What this means is that when an opportunity presents itself, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, if it fits the story in an appropriate way then a few lines and sound effects should be used in a comic to evoke this feeling. The reason being that it will allow for greater ability to relate from the reader and a better understanding of the world that the characters inhabit. If the author or artist can allow for a reader to get a better experience and immersion into the world of the story, why shouldn’t they? Readers ultimately get more out of it and enjoy the story more, and the writer and artist will have a greater appreciation of their work. This could also apply to character design by careful application of lines in their facial structure like rounded lines and big, emotional eyes to convey a sense of childishness. After a while, it becomes evident how much something so simple as a line can enhance a reading experience.

Works Cited

McCloud, John. “Chapter Five: Living In-Line”. P. 118-135.

Keep it Down!

23 Oct

In any medium of storytelling, it becomes clear that the setup and how you establish your setting and characters are nothing short of important for story development. In a visual medium such as comic books or film, this is best done through choices made by the creator such as where you choose to position the camera or point-of-view, if that point-of-view is skewed, if the shot is up close or far away, etc. The technical term for these usages of image choice is intensity, a term that by definition “is a subjective business. For some people, a comic filled with nothing but panels of one person asleep in their bed. Shot from the same angle again and again, might be considered ‘intense’”, but many others like McCloud define it as “those visual techniques which add contrast, dynamism, graphic excitement or a sense of urgency to a panel” (45). On the other end of the spectrum is what is known as clarity, “the path that leads to the goal of understanding” that is accomplished through “the intensity of your presentation while the other relies on the content of the story itself” (53). While it is important to keep a balance between intensity and clarity to avoid a mess, I believe that it can be beneficial to have only a few shots of intensity and therefore have more clarity in your work.

The foremost reason being that if there are too many intense shots, you “ramp up those same elements too much and you get an incomprehensible jumble” that leaves readers feeling confused and the impact lost (49). With more establishing shots and controlled, calm angles that readers can have time to adjust to the settings and characters and their actions can be introduced. With a few intense shots here and there, the audience can be drawn in and surprised by the spontaneity of it. In other words, intensity should be used as a spice in the recipe that you are creating, NOT the main ingredient. Therefore, when you use intense shots and choices be sure to use it sparingly.

Works Cited

McCloud, John. P. 38-53.

Bleeding Time and Space

16 Oct

While looking at images in a comic book, the typical convention is to read from left to right and top to bottom. This is particularly helpful to comic book writers and artists as they decide on the best way to tell the passage of time in their stories. In the writer’s hands, this includes the amount of words a certain character says or in the artist’s hands how long a panel is or the length of the gutters between panels. In any case, “just as pictures and the intervals between them create the illusion of time through closure, words introduce time by representing that which can only exist in time—sound.” The problem with reading a single image in terms of developing a sense of sound is that “perhaps we’ve been too conditioned by photography to perceive single images as single moments” (95, 97). This is where the beauty of using bleeds plays into developing a sense of time in a comic because the length of the panel lets readers get a feeling of a focus on a longer period of time instead of just a moment or two with dialog helping to establish a time frame.

This is where, according to McCloud, “time is no longer contained by the familiar icon of the closed panel, but instead hemorrhages and escapes into timeless space.” Bleeds, or “when a panel runs off the edge of the page”, are helpful because they “can set the mood or a sense of place for whole scenes through their lingering timeless presence” (103). In a single panel, an action between either two or more characters or even between a character and his/her surroundings could be occurring and the reader would only be able to understand how long it would take to perform the action or move from one place to the other. In a bleed, the reader could better understand through how long the panel is, how long it would take them to read the dialog bubbles, and how much the characters move from one place to another over the course of the bleed. This is why bleeds are more effective at conveying time than increasing the gutters or placing more panels: because it stretches out the area of where the reader looks and is able to better give comprehension of movement through space.

Works Cited

McCloud, John. “Time Space”. P. 94-117.

The Power of the Icon

16 Oct

Everyday we find ways to communicate through text and images in a way that is meaningful and informative. This usage of text can be applied in ways that we may not even understand or in ways that we may not even realize. One way that text carries meaning to us is through the use of symbols: images that have a direct, concrete meaning. Another way that communication is made is through something called icons, which are used “to mean any image used to represent a person, place, thing or idea” (27).  In terms of application, icons can say a lot more as a form of text than simply words can, most evidently in the media of comic books.

As McCloud states, “In pictures…meaning is fluid and variable according to appearance. They differ from ‘real-life’ appearance to varying degrees” and that “the level of abstraction varies. Some…so closely resemble their real-life counterparts as to almost trick the eye!” He then later goes on to say that “by stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.” This is particularly useful when creating a comic because the less realistic something looks, the more meaning it has attached to it that the reader can grasp hold of. That isn’t to say that realistic imagery cannot have meaning, but rather that  “the more cartoony a face is, for instance, the more people it could be said to describe” (28, 30-31).

This is where the application of iconography is more useful and meaningful to have in comics as opposed to simply text and images. The more realistic an image is, the more concrete and grounded the image’s meaning is and the less the reader can project onto it. However, the more outlandish a face or object is, there are multiple opportunities to derive and create meaning. An example of applying this would be in a political cartoon that could have been presented or created during the presidential election depicting Barack Obama as the anti-Christ with horns and a devil tail due to his extreme policies. This is but one way that icons can create more meaning by being more extravagant and outlandish as opposed to sticking strictly to realism.  The power of conveying meaning “by de-emphasizing the appearance of the physical world in favor of the idea of form” leads to the basest form “of concepts” that ultimately allows for more meaning found from the minds of the viewer(41).

Works Cited

McCloud, John. “The Vocabulary of Comics”. P. 24-59.

Tarantino-master filmmaker

10 Oct

Hollywood has a way of charming people, as can be seen by Quentin Tarantino who spent most of his days as a video clerk before directing. Because of him, we have something known as “sensationalism”, meaning “an articulated system of beliefs and practices”. Here in application to Tarantino, it applies to people whom “create sensations through cinematic depictions of violence” through film and other media. Here, Tarantino is “a mythic entity, a cult figure, because he actualized a transformation to which his followers aspire. In him, the Ultimate Fan became the Ultimate Auteur” (616-17). Because of his origins as a video store desk clerk, he learned every bit of info and fact about numerous films from samurai movies from old Chinese cinema, to grindhouse films and classics from Hollywood’s golden age. This is how he impressed Hollywood executives and got his screenplay made into reality. Tarantino’s movies propel the sensationalist culture forward and he creates movies that at first seem void of meaning, but are actually fun.

Thomas De Zengotita wrote, “There is no significance content of any kind” in his work and asks, “What kind of culture invests so much in something so hollow, hollow by design, hollow as a matter of principle?” Simply put, the answer is a “sensationalist culture devoted to fun” (622). Tarantino and filmmakers like him are a rare breed in modern cinema indeed, filmmakers who have intelligence in their film, but also the ability to have fun. Perhaps this has something to do with his days a video clerk, a situation that one can easily imagine him in chatting up customers about films they were renting or buying and giving his opinions and recommendations. This charisma and knowledge of movies is what propelled him to fame, and it is because of this that his films (“Pulp Fiction”, “Kill Bill”, and “Inglorious Basterds” to name a few) are so enjoyable.

Works Cited

Zengotita, Thomas De. “She’ll Kill Bill While You Chill.” Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture.

Ed. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 2009. 617-623. Print.

“Violent Nostalgia”-a new experience by Quentin Tarantino

09 Oct

Inspiration comes from many sources and is a common factor in many different pieces of art. Often times, this inspiration can overcome an artist so entirely that their work is almost a mirror of, or even a perversion, it. Quentin Tarantino is a modern day artist that takes his inspiration from films he viewed in his days as a video store clerk. In doing so, he has earned both ire and admiration from critics and audiences alike. This is particularly seen in instances of violence in films like “Pulp Fiction” as “violence in film is a serious matter, and for some people an inexcusable offense” (610). The thing separating films like “Pulp Fiction” and other films by Tarantino from splatter fests found in grindhouse cinema, is that they hold incredible nostalgia and the genres are infused with new life through portrayal of violence.

As author Alan A. Stone writes in his article sharing the same name as the aforementioned film, “Tarantino is playing with convention rather than rejecting or deconstructing it” and that “there can be no doubt that the self-taught Tarantino intends to shock his audience” by “violating the conventions of action-violence films” (611-12). In spite of that violence, Tarantino has crafted a piece that pays homage to pulp fiction magazines of the 1930’s and 40’s, and fills the film with people who are relatable despite of their characteristics. Like many stories of the pulp fiction magazines, the characters are fighting for revenge and redemption. For example, the scenes with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta have them behaving “like college sophomores” and “children of over-indulgent parents” who “have no idea how to clean up the mess” (615-16). Unlike college students or teenagers these are hardened hitmen, and is it is not beer that is spilt, but blood and brains.

With this violence, the reality of the situation helps bring a new life to a genre of film noir. Characters in film noir are typically gritty, grief stricken, hardened, and ultimately given a new perspective on life. Characters in “Pulp Fiction” do so, but are filled with humanity, wit, and wisdom. Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules, is an example of this archetype that also, interestingly enough defies typical stereotypes from 1930’s film noir. Meaning, he is not a reefer addict or a helpless African-American man, but rather someone who is searching for meaning in a profession that has him destroying life. He is searching for redemption, and may find it as the end of the film predicts. This is where Tarantino for the most part shows his understanding of film noir and pulp fiction and also of human nature and demonstrates an awareness of his audience.

Works Cited

Stone, Alan A. “Pulp Fiction.” Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture.

Ed. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 2009. 609-616. Print.

From Hepburn to Heigel: the Romantic Comedy’s Transformation

02 Oct

In old school Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Katherine Hepburn filled the movie screens with their charm, sexuality, and talent. In films like “His Girl Friday”, the beginning of the romantic comedy featured a clash of the sexes as Rosalind Russel lusted after Ralph Bellamy while still being pursued and sought after by her former husband Cary Grant. In this contrast of sexes, comedy arises from the hijinks that occur and the confusion that follows. As David Denby writes, “Romantic comedy is entertainment in the service of the biological imperative. The world must be peopled”, meaning that someone has to end up with someone else in order to continue the idea of consummation (594). In between those initial meetings and final conclusions, situations have changed as decades have passed. Namely, that men must now grow up and that women must learn to accept certain things are out of their control. In the past ten years, romantic comedy has grown to include men who are more relatable to today’s audience than leading men of the past like Hugh Grant have been.

Beginning with Shakespeare, romantic comedy has grown since the dawn of film to include more sex and less ambiguity.  This has led to a somewhat loss of balance that movies like “Friday” had in which the “balance between the sexes” led to a “matched virtuosity more intense than sex.” Devin then goes on to say that “the screwball comedies were not devoted to sex, exactly—you could hardly describe any of the characters as sensualists” (596-97). Men and women today are a lot more sensual and sexual than they were even 20 years ago, and therefore there has been a giant shift between the two in terms of power. Women now ooze sexuality and men are now physically lacking the power to keep up with them (Katherine Heigel/Seth Rogen, Jason Segal/Kristen Bell, John C. Reily/Jenna Fischer). From this we can see that ultimately “achieving balance between a man and a woman in a romantic comedy can be elusive” (598). Yet, perhaps it is this tension and shift that makes the leading men of today’s romantic comedies more relatable than leading men like Hugh Grant or Jude Law. Men who are not physically perfect, have wit, and look like you could pass them any day on the street or in a classroom ending up with the beautiful woman. Movies have always been an escape from reality, so this might end up being why such films continue to be made and do well.

Works Cited

Denby, David. “Apatow and Tarantino: Two Contemporary Filmmakers.”

Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture.

Ed. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 2009. 591-601. Print.

The Morality of Apatow

02 Oct

These days in cinema, comedy has been reduced to simple fart jokes, misogynistic references to women, and usage of marijuana to obtain laughs from the audience. In fact, other than “Napoleon Dynamite” (which could only elicit a few laughs from me), I cannot think of any comedy in the past ten years that has been truly funny. These days, main characters are trying to obtain a different sort of goal: to lose their virginity, and the events that occur are quite scandalous in nature. Although full of heart, most sex comedies tend to be devoid of any sort of meaning or message. As writer Alex Wainer puts it, “We are currently in the era of the boy-man”, but are these boy-men capable of becoming men (604)? In films that Judd Apatow has had a hand in making, the boy-men do just that, become men, and they do it in films that serve as morality tales.

In films like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up”, Apatow has given us characters that face the need to grow up, “to put away childish things and belatedly face responsibilities” (604).  Wainer’s article goes on to say that both films serve as modern day, R-rated morality tales because of this realization to leave behind what childish hopes, things, and desires they have to lead a more full life. In “Virgin”, the main character Andy must put away his action figures, video games, and comic books to woo Trish, a young grandmother, and to lose his virginity. He does so, but only after he has married her. In Apatow’s second film, “Knocked Up”, Ben, a 20-something, stoner, impregnates Alison, a aspiring TV personality after a drunken one night stand. Rather than having her abort the baby or have her raise the child herself, Ben stands by Alison and her decision to keep the baby, and helps her raise the child. In that first step of maturity, he ends up beginning to fall in love with Alison and her with he.

The New York Times claims Apatow’s movies have “conservative morals the Family Research Council might embrace—if the humor weren’t so filthy” (607). I can’t help but agree as both films, as well as movies that he has produced, have one thing in common: a man at the beginning that needs to give up childish things in order to mature and embrace the woman he loves. Does this mean that love serves as a medium in which maturity is reached? Perhaps, but nonetheless, it is a great pleasure to see that though they are raunchy, that Apatow is producing films that have a meaning behind them, a message. It’s great to see morality tales still exist in today’s movie theatres.

Works Cited

Wainer, Alex. “Freaks, Geeks, and Mensches: Judd Apatow’s Comedies of the Mature.”

Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture.

Ed. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 2009. 603-607. Print.

Learning By Powering-Up

25 Sep

Mindless, self-indulgent, repugnant, useless, and time-consuming playthings that diminish intelligence and keep children from developing social skills: I am of course, referring to video games and what conservative parents think of them. The truth could not be farther from these statements and beliefs as authors such as James Paul Gee and gamers like myself believe that what you learn in a video game can be applied to the real world in certain situations. That is realistically speaking of course, as it isn’t possible to use a save point before a confrontation with a soon-to-be ex or take more than one bullet in a gunfight with an enemy and still live. Rather, as Gee puts it, “you build your simulations to understand and make sense of things, but also to help you prepare for action in the world” (385). From video games, we can use the same ability to critically think and carry the drive we have to accomplish our goals from the game into our everyday lives.

To help us accomplish this task, we control a character or avatar around a pixilated world that you level up and can distribute skill points to depending on the game. Eventually, “by distributing knowledge and skills this way—between the virtual characters (smart tools) and the real-world player—the player is guided and supported by the knowledge built into the virtual soldiers.” In doing so, “we can study and exercise the human mind in ways that may give us deeper insights into human thinking and learning, as well as new ways to engage learners in deep and engaged learning” (388-89). Schools today generally don’t have students very involved in their learning as they sit and take notes from powerpoints, lectures, videos, and articles. In short, they are without stimulation or engagement and feel less compelled to try hard and succeed.

By connecting something like a school subject to video games, it will be easier for the student to want to learn and develop concepts they are taught in the classroom. These concepts range from the ability to problem solve through critical thinking and creative strategizing to understanding something in what is deemed a “sandbox environment”. This name has been given due to that “sandboxes in the real world are safe havens for children that still look and feel like the real world” and help learning by putting the person “with risks and dangers greatly mitigated, they can learn well and still feel a sense of authenticity and accomplishment” (401). So if a math teacher were to associate something like defeating a boss with solving a math problem, students could begin to understand the need to critically think and find strategies around problems. It is my hope that teachers in the future will begin to associate such things with video games to stop negative thinking about games and bring more positive association that comes with the level of thinking involved.

Works Cited

Gee, James Paul. “Good Video Games, the Human Mind, and Good Learning.”

Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture.

Ed. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 2009. 383-405. Print.

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