Thursday, January 07, 2016

THE ART OF SPEECH BALLOONS



Speech balloons are both the ugliest and the most efficient way of combining words and pictures.   Rather than struggle to convey a message purely with images, cartoonists simply write out their message and tie it to the picture using the tail on a balloon.
  
Speech balloons were rooted in 18th century graphics but really took off with the birth of the comic strip in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  
Winsor McCay
Little effort was made to unify the words and the picture artistically-- they were simply placed side by side as space permitted.  Over the years, as comics matured, the lettering improved...

Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon
...and mechanical innovations were introduced...

Wally Wood in MAD
...but the basic problem remained: words and pictures co-existed side by side, splitting the integrity of the image.  Pictures were compromised to make space for the speech balloons.  Words were simplified and shortened to leave room for the pictures.  These mutual compromises were one more reason why comics were viewed as inferior art form.

But over the years, some artists have come up with interesting methods of combining words and pictures in a more unified visual statement.  They rose to the challenge and did some pretty cool things with speech balloons.

 In 1430, an artist known only as the Rohan Master painted this picture of a man being judged by his god at the hour of his death:

Note the devil trying to steal the man's soul in the upper left.   Fortunately, St. Michael the Archangel comes to the rescue until God can render his judgment. 
These stylish banderoles were the predecessors to modern speech balloons

In this next example, Jorge Gonzalez uses word balloons as design objects in an almost abstract field of soft values:



Rather than detract from the composition,  these speech balloons actually create it.  They strengthen the design with high contrast focal points.  This  page could hang in any modern art museum.

Next we have the brilliant John Cuneo's treatment of a string quartet:

 

While the other musicians are thinking about lofty subjects such as "the Donizetti cycle" and "Fyodor Druzhnin," the crocodile is thinking about



I love that speech balloon, drawn with the same tremulous line as the rest of the drawing.  For me, its purple hue and the smeared letters are a marvelous blend of form and content.

And finally, I don't know of another 20th century artist who was smarter or more playful about blending written text and visual image than Saul Steinberg.






For 99.9% of comic art, the speech balloon has been little more than a truce line separating text and pictures.  But imaginative artists who aim for something more than peaceful coexistence between the two, and who aren't afraid of the extra work, have done some marvelous things with speech balloons.  



26 comments:

Donald Pittenger said...

So we seem to have two Venn discs.

One is "artistically integrated" text -- part of the composition and style, as in the Cuneo instance. (I could get only one Steinberg to enlarge and its text was random scribbling, not actual words.) The basic problem here is legibility.

The other disc is "functionally maximized communication." That would be represented by the McCay, Raymond and Wood examples.

Since communication is essential if spoken words are to be conveyed, the Venn discs must overlap to some degree in Venn-diagram form. I suppose the underlying issue in David's post has to do with the optimal degree of overlap.

That will vary by circumstance. If I had to put money on it, I'd say that the Alex Raymond (and Hal Foster) solution is the best compromise -- the art being uncontaminated by the verbiage. On the other hand, this separation can lack "punch" of balloon captions where more than one subject is speaking, a dialog taking place in the same frame.

chris bennett said...

For me the real issue is the temporal nature of reading the speech balloon and how this relates to the static instant of time realised by the accompanying picture. It's like overhearing a conversation going on behind closed doors and at some critically chosen moment the door is very quickly opened and shut, allowing us a glimpse of the people talking and what they are up to.

And as far as I can tell, the quality of the artwork itself has little or no effect on how much we believe in the connection between it and the words inside the speech bubbles. The conventions of the form has me believing the words are spoken as much by the characters in weak or inept artwork as in masterful artwork. I might even go so far to say I am more persuaded that the words come from the character's mouths in weak artwork; perhaps because the gap between crude pictograms and the text itself is that much loser.

James Gurney said...

I like the Italian word for them—fumetti— "little puffs of smoke." Hope you can do a future post about briffits, blurgits, plewds, and emanata. Never ran across that word "banderoles" before for those little heraldic banners. And glad you showed W. McCay. Interesting to see the first few Sundays of Nemo, how he tried running text below the picture, and word balloons, and both, and finally settled on the balloons.

Anonymous said...

Dave Sim's graphic novel monsterpiece, Cerebus, seems a natural example of brilliance in this context.

Gino Selva said...

@James Gurney
The italian word "fumetti" is for comics.
The ballons are called "nuvolette" (little clouds)
Best
Gino

kev ferrara said...

This is a topic that fascinates me, and some of those ancient cartoons were new to me. I've always loved the different "sounds"(synaesthetically speaking) that different artists' handwriting make. For example, McKay's handwriting always sounds uniquely young to me, and innocent. And, for my money, it plays off the linear precisionism of his architectural rendering in a rather wonderful and expressive way.

My only disagreement with your post would be on that Gonzales page, which, frankly, portrays artistic exhaustion and little else.

If we want to talk about comics, Alex Toth was an authentic master of the theory and art of portraying sound and speech in comics. If he had any say in the matter, he would sequence and orchestrate the visual events that were his balloons and sound effects in the exact same sense in which he sequenced and orchestrated the visual events of his panels. The end result was that the whole experience of his pages, every face, every hand, every sound, every utterance, became subject to his narrative intentions and control; all was equal in terms of the story flow and anything worth putting down on a page was worth composing to achieve visual effectiveness. Very few comic artists had or have such an elastic conception of what constitutes a narrative event. Mostly there is a kind of rote teaching that all balloons go at the top of the panels and the overall read of the text should be a dogmatic zigzag. This system puts the dialogue in parallel with the visual events being illustrated, keeping the symbolic realms alienated from one another. Whereas Toth integrated both into a single event stream.

Bread said...

You might want to take a look at David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, for this one.

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- I think if we look at the compromise as "art being uncontaminated by the verbiage" (or verbiage being uncontaminated by the art") we loose some of the potential of this medium. I grant you, that dichotomy is the way most people view the issue. But I think artists such as Steinberg do something special with the combination that creates more than the sum of its parts. He isn't robbing Peter to pay Paul (or robbing verbiage to pay art). For example, is there any question of legibility in that Steinberg drawing, where the "random scribbling" is contradicted by the outline of the word balloon which says "no."

Chris Bennett wrote "I am more persuaded that the words come from the character's mouths in weak artwork..."

Chris, that's an interesting point I hadn't considered. I've often commented here on how many of today's popular graphic novelists deal with more sophisticated subject matter but employ very weak drawing skills. Perhaps there's a rationale behind it.

James Gurney-- "briffits, blurgits, plewds, and emanata" Wow. I'm always learning something here. And I agree with you about McCay.

He was so extraordinary, he deserves more attention than he gets today.


Laurence John said...

Chris: "For me the real issue is the temporal nature of reading the speech balloon and how this relates to the static instant of time realised by the accompanying picture"

i don't see it like that. when you follow the frames in a comic book sequence the imagination is constantly 'filling in' the missing visual information / movement between static images.
imagining how the character might move from one position to the next etc. this is how comics / graphic novels work. so the drawings are never completely static in the mind. at least, they shouldn't be if the comic is any good.

"The conventions of the form has me believing the words are spoken as much by the characters in weak or inept artwork as in masterful artwork."

what makes the dialogue appear believable to any particular drawing is (for me) simply the quality of the 'acting'. how an artist makes a character appear to be alive, rather than just a well rendered figure study, and how they imbue the character with that 'decisive moment' quality when they appear to be paused mid-speech at just the right expressive moment, is a real skill.

generally speaking, over-rendered artwork will kill the spontaneous-moment quality off. 'fluid', less-is-more styles tend to work much better since they more readily produce that 'before and after' the moment effect in the imagination.

David Apatoff said...

Bread-- I enjoy Mazzucchelli's work but haven't spent enough time with it. Are you referring to the fact that his female characters speak in rounded balloons while his male characters speak in angular balloons, or are there additional features I've missed?

Anonymous-- yes, there are a number of talented cartoonists (Alex Toth is another example) who have attempted to do something more with speech balloons.

Gino Selva-- Thanks, always happy to hear from the polyglots here.

Kev Ferrara-- perhaps one reason McCay's lettering reads "young" to you (it does to me too) is that he seemed to repeatedly make the mistake of drawing the balloon first and then lettering the text, so he frequently ran out of room. You see him squeezing the letters together and shrinking them down as he realizes he's about to run out of space, just the way a second grader does when learning penmanship. I agree with you about Toth-- I even considered adding an example of his speech balloons but I am working out of Chicago this week and didn't have access to the example I wanted.

I disagree with you (not surprisingly) about the Gonzales image. The picture is not just an ordinary panel, it is a full page, and I view it as an act of boldness and strength rather than "artistic exhaustion." It's here primarily because I love the distinction between the sharp edged, high contrast word balloons and the soft, fields of value in the sky. As a reference point, Rembrandt's sky in his Three Trees etching (http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2006/07/how-many-lines-does-it-take-to-draw.html) fills most of the image with abstract designs where changes in value are achieved using line rather than tone.

kev ferrara said...

David,

Regarding McKay: I think the quality mostly derives from the tentativeness of the strokes, that they are handwritten/each letter unique and characterized by the hand, and the lightness of the negative space because of the stroke thinness and the wide, almostly cloud-like kerning. Plus the gentleness of how he is drawing the balloons, which reminds me of the feminine drawing style of the red rose gals. Now and again he does run out of room with his lettering and that is an intellectual index of carelessness which could be intellectually interpreted as youthful. But I'm not sure if that is much of a contributor to the aesthetic tone established by the lettering on a consistent basis, without reference to intellectualized understanding.

Regarding that Gonzales page, I'd be interested in what everybody else thinks about it. Anybody?

chris bennett said...

Laurence wrote: ...when you follow the frames in a comic book sequence the imagination is constantly 'filling in' the missing visual information / movement between static images. Imagining how the character might move from one position to the next etc. this is how comics / graphic novels work. so the drawings are never completely static in the mind. at least, they shouldn't be if the comic is any good.

That's true for sequences of images Laurence, but not while reading the text in the speech bubble and looking at the single frame it accompanies. For me the sense of time evoked by the image sequences is somehow distinct, although related, to that while reading of the text bubbles.

Re your 'acting' observation: I can agree that how the artist 'acts the scene' by way of drawing the character/s does make more vivid the glimpse we have of them when those metaphorical doors are momentarily opened and shut. But I can't honestly say this actually increases my belief that the words I hear coming from the other side of those doors are spoken by the characters.

Aleš said...

Kev, regarding the Gonzales page I think the abstract background is ok but I don't like the city, it looks like a transparent layer that was put on top in Photoshop with a 45% Opacity blend. It does not feel as an integral part of the scene. I also don't think the shape of the balloons fits the mood of the scene, I'd prefer if their shapes would be a bit more rigid. And I would move the balloons more to the left (lets say at least half the width of the large balloon to the left).

chris bennett said...

Kev, I agree with Ales on the Gonzales page. I can only add that although the clouds are rather well done, the placement of speech bubbles for this kind of effect is nothing particularly special in this example.

On the subject of hand-rendered text in the image, Ronald Searle's spikey, seismographic lettering at the bottom of his drawings works pretty seamlessly in my view.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John and Chris Bennett-- An interesting series of points. I agree about the importance of "the imagination... constantly 'filling in' the missing visual information / movement between static images." In fact, for me one of the joyful differences between movies and sequential art is that movies spoon feed you all the missing visual information while sequential art melds with the viewer's imagination. The viewer has to work to fill in the gaps and the artist has to be selective about choosing "the moments" to convey. (With sequential art, the pictures stand still so your brain has to move.) A.B. Frost was a master at this. Jack Kirby had it in his blood. And I find it interesting that in illustration (beginning in the 1950s) illustrators such as Austin Briggs (formerly a comic stip artist) deliberately selected off hand, in between moments for their static images so they wouldn't look staged and artificial the way Norman Rockwell's illustrations did.

I agree with Chris Bennett that there is a moment, after you've landed from the previous panel but before you launch into the next panel, when you are dealing only with the dynamic between the text and the image in the one panel immediately in front of you, and I agree with his point for that moment. However, that strikes me as a narrow slice of the ongoing stream.

As for Laurence John's point about "the quality of the 'acting'. how an artist makes a character appear to be alive, rather than just a well rendered figure study," I must say that in my opinion the quality of the acting in sequential art has declined dramatically as the text has become more ambitious over the years. Fans of popular and important graphic novels by artists such as Chris Ware have repeatedly tried to explain here that these images transcend "drawing" and are therefore it does not matter when they look like crap, but I was never able to buy into that argument.

Kev Ferrara-- I think your description of McCay's word balloons was more attentive than mine, and I agree with what you say, although of course I have to distance myself from your phrase, the "gentleness of how he is drawing the balloons, which reminds me of the feminine drawing style of the red rose gals" (which in this day and age is just looking for trouble).

As for your reaction to Gonzalez, I think this is a worthwhile discussion. Given your general antipathy for Rothko, Frankenthaler and those "color field" painters who offer us large, mottled or stained fields, and your affection for strong, deliberate compositions I would not expect you to warm naturally to a page such as this (although I thought the strength of the word balloons might redeem it). But I think this is a terrific page. It is the antithesis of the long tradition of brawny comic art panels where the central figure, the punch, the "big head" are always front and center. Wally Wood's famous "22 panels that always work" are the easy way out. For me, Gonzalez has chosen a more creative, less predictable and subtler path. The 80% of his panel that seems to be empty space is anything but empty. Far from " artistic exhaustion," the Gonzalez page strikes me as "artistic courage." If the Rembrandt analogy doesn't impress you, what about r.o. blechman, who places a slender drawing in the corner of a page to make you focus on a whisper.

Finally, just to reinforce my reason for including the Gonzalez page to begin with: I am impressed by the way he uses speech balloons as the anchor for his composition. He doesn't use them to fill up the space, and he doesn't put them in the predictable location at the top of the drawing. He places them at the bottom and off to the side, where a modern artist might put high contrast, strong compositional elements that weren't word balloons.

Aleš said...

David, my sensitivity regarding these aspects is probably low because I didn't grow up with comics and generally don't have much experience with them, so I'm just thinking out loud here -> why would balloons need all that attention on them? I imagine the most important aspects in a single frame is an image and text, while the purpose of the balloon is to deliver the text and occasionally express the mood of it (like those spiky balloons or colored balloons). I agree that the balloons have to be harmonically incorporated into the image and that they can also serve various design functions (decorative, or the way we read the narrative, etc), but after all that is accomplished the balloons should be aware that the world doesn't revolve around them. They are a necessary part of a harmonic whole but at the same time even If they are positioned in the middle of the image they should try and go by unnoticed. To me those Gonzales balloons seem like they want too much attention, It feels like other aspects of the image content are being subordinated to the graphic effect that the balloons perform in relation to the background.

kev ferrara said...

But I think this is a terrific page. It is the antithesis of the long tradition of brawny comic art panels where the central figure, the punch, the "big head" are always front and center. Wally Wood's famous "22 panels that always work" are the easy way out. For me, Gonzalez has chosen a more creative, less predictable and subtler path.

The very weakest way of defending anything is to attack its antithesis. In fact, false dichotomy is one of the standard-issue fallacies of argument. Don't we get enough of this as witnesses to the reductive stupefactions of political partisanship?

The 80% of his panel that seems to be empty space is anything but empty. Far from " artistic exhaustion," the Gonzalez page strikes me as "artistic courage."

John Byrne did scores of panels just like this during his 80s heyday. Its long been a stock solution. And one that is often used extensively by amateurs who don't yet understand that their readers aren't fooled by shortcuts. And anyone with insight into how the professional sausage gets made will know that sometimes comic writers will write such pages to give their artists a break. Particularly when deadlines loom.

I've already praised Gonzales on this comment section before. I'm just dissenting on the value of this one page.

although of course I have to distance myself from your phrase, the "gentleness of how he is drawing the balloons, which reminds me of the feminine drawing style of the red rose gals" (which in this day and age is just looking for trouble).

Next time you pretend to be a friend of science, David, remind yourself that you essentially denied the existence and function of both androgens and estrogens in this conversation. I don't know if this is an example of Lysenkoism or just craven sociopolitical obsequiousness. But what I do know is that you just stood at attention and saluted to somebody.

David Apatoff said...

Aleš wrote: "why would balloons need all that attention on them?"

That's part of what I like about the Gonzalez page, Aleš. For 99.9% of the history of comics, balloons have been viewed as a necessary evil, for the reason you raise. They compete for space with the art, and artists are always looking for a place to stash balloons where they will perform their necessary function and yet interfere as little as possible with the art. It seems to me that Gonzalez reverses the old perspective. He looks at the balloons foremost as design shapes and uses them to perform a crucial visual role. Rather than looking for a place to hide the balloons, Gonzalez gives them a color and hard edge that make them the most striking elements on the page.


Kev Ferrara wrote: "The very weakest way of defending anything is to attack its antithesis."

This revelation will come as a blow to Plato, Hegel, Marx, Hindu philosophers and other great thinkers throughout history who have believed that pitting a thesis against an antithesis is the way thought progresses.

"John Byrne did scores of panels just like this during his 80s heyday."

I've never seen such a panel, or seen Byrne work in a medium that would permit such a soft field of values and achieve the effect I described to Ales, but I don't claim to be an expert on Byrne. If he did, good for him.

"Next time you pretend to be a friend of science, David, remind yourself that you essentially denied the existence and function of both androgens and estrogens in this conversation."

I don't recall denying the existence of androgen and estrogen. Surely that's not the same thing as suggesting that it can be dangerous to assert that "gals" draw in a "gentle" style? I know you don't believe my caution makes me an enemy of science, any more than your reaction makes you an enemy of humor.



"

Laurence John said...

David, i really like that Gonzalez page but i think it's going a bit far to say the balloons 'perform a crucial visual role'.

they're just one of many examples of similar looking balloons / boxes throughout his work which are placed on soft value panels. they're necessary, functional, tastefully placed, and suit his overall aesthetic, but they're not a crucial part of the image.

i can imagine several other ways they could have been placed and the page would still 'work'.

kev ferrara said...

This revelation will come as a blow to Plato, Hegel, Marx, Hindu philosophers and other great thinkers throughout history who have believed that pitting a thesis against an antithesis is the way thought progresses.

What is this, The Daily Spin? What you were trying to do was prove (or at least bolster) the value of a thesis by attacking its antithesis. But Hegel's actual idea is that the transcending understanding, brought about by a merger of the thesis and the antithesis, is the advance in thought... aka the synthesis. And even this assumes that the issue is binary, which is its own fallacy of reason... If Pauly The Fixer's sworn enemy turns out to be a murderer, does that make Pauly The Fixer a hero? Of course not, because there's no direct forcing physical relationship there. This isn't physics.

(I've never seen) Byrne work in a medium that would permit such a soft field of values and achieve the effect I described...

Byrne did not use wash, that is true, but he still went for some vague field effects in his giant minimalist-desolation panels or pages. More to the point, I've seen many others since, influenced by Byrne (directly or indirectly), who have used wash media on similar panels. All these different iterations didn't look exactly precisely like the page we are talking about, but the general idea was the same.

Regarding the beanbag-tossing of Rothko and Frankenthaler into the question... I just remembered seeing an experimental Jeff Jones comic page from a late 70s issue of Heavy Metal that posited the aesthetic question, "what would a comic book drawn by a color field painter look like?" Although the feeling was of dissipation, lacking narrative force as one moved from panel to panel, it was still a valid experiment. What we have here is not that.

Surely that's not the same thing as suggesting that it can be dangerous to assert that "gals" draw in a "gentle" style?

Hold on now. That's a different question. "Gals" may draw any way they like. The question is whether there is such a thing as a feminine drawing style. Or even, is there such a thing as femininity in general, which has certain characteristics commonly associated with it that includes; tactile sensitivity, sweetness, softness, gentleness, a kind of shy intimacy, a preference for tranquility over rancor, charm over force, and a love of decorative beauty. (All of which are associated with estrogenic compounds floating around in the body and brain long term)

So, the great humorless question would be, are you reacting against the idea that there is such a thing as femininity? Against the idea that estrogenic compounds cause such personal and physical qualities or tendencies? Or are you just reacting against the "danger" of saying any of the above?

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- If I ever had to bet which image, or which point, will create the most controversy in these posts, I would lose every single time. Who knew that the Gonzalez piece would trigger this much reaction?

I did not intend to suggest that the Gonzalez panel was a unique and radical departure from other speech balloons. I agree with you that there are similar looking speech balloons out there. I only meant to say that I think it is a very strong example of how speech balloons can be incorporated into the "art" of the panel. A number of artists who paint soft value comics pages (such as Kent Williams, George Pratt, Muth) try to minimize the visual weight of the speech balloon, for example by abandoning the balloon altogether and writing the text on a light part of the background. I like that Gonzalez flipped that popular approach and made the balloons the hardest, most conspicuous elements in a very delicate (or as Kev would say, girlie)image.

Kev Ferrara-- Well, at least Hegel and I are both guilty of fallacious reasoning. Perhaps he and I can seek consolation together in tankards of German beer, over a copy of the Phenomenology of the Mind.

In the meantime, I don't know how you envision this magical "merger of the thesis and the antithesis" is supposed to achieve "the transcending understanding" without elements of the thesis and antithesis clashing and prevailing over each other. My view is (and calling it "spin" or "girlish" hasn't changed that view yet)that the vast majority of comic panels in history are muscular images designed to achieve what you call the "narrative force" to propel the story forward. I like that Gonzalez took the opposite approach here, and I think he did very well with it. We could have the traditional argument over Rothko (I am a fan, I gather you are not) but that would address only half the issue. I like the juxtaposition of the Rothko/quiescent color field decentralization against the hard edge of those word balloons. It seems to be more of a Rauschenberg look, or Jasper Johns. But anyway, it takes on the problem of the speech balloon by charging head on-- a nice combination of androgen and estrogen, if you will.

My strategy for succeeding in this debate is not to persuade you on the substance, but rather to lure you into continuing to talk about the gentleness of the gals. One day, your mail will start coming back marked "return to sender, addressee unknown."

But speaking of androgen and estrogen, if anyone has a copy of the Jeff Jones image that Kev described, I'd be very interested in seeing it.

kev ferrara said...

David, in all seriousness, I'm flattered you are making an effort to engage here while so distracted. But if you happen to get a few free minutes in psychogenic clear, it really would be of interest to know if you think there is such a thing a femininity. Tinting me as retrogressive, however subtly, on the question while baldly avoiding sharing your own beliefs is not something to let pass without comment.

So I'm "calling you out," as the gunslingers say...

In your view, is there such a thing as femininity?

I don't know how you envision this magical "merger of the thesis and the antithesis" is supposed to achieve "the transcending understanding" without elements of the thesis and antithesis clashing and prevailing over each other.

I don't, of course. But that's not what you were doing. You asserted that what Gonzales was doing was good because he wasn't doing what Wally Wood was doing when Wally Wood was bad. If you want to claim this either-or reasoning as a species of Hegelian dialectic, you'll have to forgive me for ducking out for some air.

And I would assert that indeed, Hegel's dialectical method, as useful a formulation as it is, is mired in linear modes of thought.

The Jeff Jones I referenced is not an image, but a few page of continuity. The images are highly abstracted landscapes, if I am remembering correctly.

Bread said...

Oh, I actually hadn’t even noticed the gender difference with balloons in Asterios Polyp! :D I was talking about the interesting way in which he varies the shape of balloon and even typography of the text depending on the speaker, creating very rhythmic compositions even when the progression of the panels are linear. Similar to your John Cuneo example, probably on the more traditional cartooning end of things though.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "You asserted that what Gonzales was doing was good because he wasn't doing what Wally Wood was doing when Wally Wood was bad."

Well, I suppose in a way I was doing that, but my point was that Wood catalogued a list of conventional solutions for comic artists-- solutions that have been rehashed a million times. I don't deny they are sensible, practical ways of using small boxes to advance a narrative. But the Gonzalez reached for a more unconventional solutions; he used a composition that Wood would have rejected as feeble. The reason I think it works for Gonzalez (apart from the half tone values, which Wood didn't have) is those stark white speech balloons. As I said, that could be a strong abstract expressionist composition.

"In your view, is there such a thing as femininity?"

Well, in a long history of odd topics on this blog, that one may be the farthest afield. I assure you that I love femininity; the world would be an unbearably poorer place without it. I also think that the role of yin has become richer and more complex as more potential has opened up for femininity. I was giving you a hard time because I was entertained by your use of the retro term, "gals." I know some "gals" who would eviscerate you like a capon if they thought you were being condescending to them.

Bread-- That's a good example. It has been a while since I looked at Asterios Polyp. Thanks for sending me back that way.


kev ferrara said...

my point was that Wood catalogued a list of conventional solutions for comic artists-- solutions that have been rehashed a million times. I don't deny they are sensible, practical ways of using small boxes to advance a narrative. But the Gonzalez reached for a more unconventional solutions; he used a composition that Wood would have rejected as feeble.

As I've mentioned, given the last 30 years of explosive experimentation in the comic book medium, I don't agree that such a page constitutes an unconventional solution.

Moreover, I think you might have a mistaken idea regarding Wood's 22 panels. For one thing, he never actually compiled those as some kind of teaching aid for aspiring comic artists. He didn't advocate for these panels in any sense. I believe those were cobbled together into a teaching sheet after his death. His reason for having these ideas set down at all was to remind himself to be less noodly because it was killing him in terms of his work flow. (You'll recall his rocco sci fi panels during his EC days.) The guy who actually cobbled together those panels and distributed it as a teaching sheet is the one who put the heading on there stating that these were stock solutions to use in order to get variety when dealing with boring script pages. The artists who would have gotten this sheet as a kind of directive to improve would not have been the average professional in the 1980s, but more the rookie freelancer or the so-so bullpen artist.

I'm glad to hear you aren't in some kind of postmodernist-induced denial of the existence of femininity. You had me worried that you had been "gotten to" by the zombie hordes of correct thought (It's all been forcefed to us by the patriarchal hegemons, dontcha know?) I don't see how "gals" is condescending, in the same way I don't see how the idea of the Red Rose Girls' works having a feminine quality was worth singling out for "distancing." Having recently been knocked sideways by the acting in Carol, I would hardly be one to diminish in any way the strength of talent and artistic courage of differently-SRY-ed individuals.

Giovanni said...

You might be interested in the paintings of Mira Schor, who often uses word balloons (some with words, some without) as an important part of her compositions: http://www.miraschor.com/