THE LOST VOCABULARY OF VISUAL STORYTELLING, day 2
Today I'd like to offer a few examples of how Starr staged complex drawings. Here is a scene involving the dynamics between three main characters who are rehearsing for a play:
Oh yeah, and here is a fourth guy, who has no name and is just a low level functionary:
Why in the world would Starr squeeze an unnecessary fourth character into the backgrounds of those cramped panels, along with all that dialogue?
It turns out that this anonymous character performs a very important function: he informs the reader, better than words might accomplish in this limited space, of what is going on. The handsome star of the show is an abusive bully, and the role of this fourth character is just to stand around and cringe and furrow his brow, so readers understand who is behaving unreasonably:
In this way he performs the same function as a Greek chorus: he has no individual identity in the play, but he provides a running commentary for the audience.
Most comic artists today would balk at trying to insert four speaking characters into such a small space. Without the right storytelling skills It would be too dense and unmanageable. But Starr manages to do it employing a tool kit of visual techniques that are largely unemployed today.
As long as we're looking at these pictures I would like to add one postscript:
These drawings were published in a newspaper at a size approximately two inches tall.
The printing technology at the time was nowhere close to what it is today, so much of the charm of the original drawings and the subtlety of the facial expressions was lost in translation. Yet, the anonymous fourth character is drawn with more precision and care than the main character in almost any "realistic" newspaper strip today. I consider that a mark of bygone craftsmanship.