Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Sequential Art Emulation

Recently I got a gig writing articles for a Non-Profit Research Institution, Sequart, which lobbies for the recognition of Sequential Art (Comic-books, graphic novels, etc.) as works of literary merit. I Love comic books. I am convinced that comic books are the contemporary medium equivalent of yesteryear's pulp fiction. In light of my appreciation for comic book media, I wanted to do a Theory Meets Narrative topic today of how to make your writing styles match the emotive power of the comic book.

Sequential Art Emulation

When we look at a comic, generally the frames are very visual. Each one is it's own unit and could be it's own standalone work of art. Though there's undoubtedly filler, this usually is the case with most frames in a comic book, especially anything illustrated by Geof Darrow, Alex Ross, Moebius, or Doug Braithwaite. But that emotional power conveyed in each frame can be brought into your writing by investing emotional and physical descriptions into your narrative.   


My hands dug into the dirt. Loose gravel, pebbles, nails, pushing out between my fingers like pudding. The rain came at a bad time. So did Tom Cadwell. He was a hard man, a drinker and a villain. The punch came from nowhere. It stings my eyes. My teeth vibrate against my gums. A ring echos in the small spot between my ears behind my nose. He stands up like a champ, shaking his fists, daring me to come at him with all I've got. Bullies are tyrants. They want blood every damn day.  
"Stand up you dodgy little shit!" He shouts. I can't hear him very well. I lift my hand back to feel the soft wetness of my hair. What did he hit me with? 
"Not today, Tommy boy." 
"I said, 'Yer mother's a whore.'" I smile as his face darkens, like a deep storm over his head. His mother was dead, and suddenly I regret the bad timing. I regret it when he comes over to me and kicks me in the side, four, five, six times. I think one of my short ribs is broken. Where's the Razz at? 
"Bog! Taig! Free Stater!" he shouts kicking a rubbish bin. I turn over like a sack of potatoes, cough up some blood, and lie there, the rain entering my eyes. It stings. Must be acid rain from the coal factory. Leaning down he picks me up, looking into my eyes, and I hear the thunder echo in the distance. "Stay away from 'ere. Nobody want's you. I see your hide 'ere again, I'll cut you ta' ribbins'!" 
I nod my head, lazily, lethargically. I must be delirious. He drops me in a heap, and I stagger away. limping. I'm not afraid of him. I don't care what the foreman says, bleedin' or not. I make a livin' for my family, strike breaker or not. I'm a man. I'm no slave.


First of all what we have here is a narrative primarily in the first person, everything in the present tense. What this does is put everything up front as happening as you read it. The flow is quick and each statement is powerful. It gives us very specific and very potent imagery, aided by simple subject sentences. This emulates the frame by frame sequence of comic books. Tom Cadwell is perceived as a larger than life opponent, and I can just visualize himself standing there, towering over the unnamed narrator like Muhammad Ali.

Another aspect to take into consideration is that the dialogue is abstract but grounded in physical imagery. He feels the mud in his hands, the sting of acid rain in his eyes. The imagery of the dirt, the heavy rain, the strike breaker, and the Irish pejorative slang, shows that this takes place in Ireland in a heavily industrialized area. The narrator is a victim of sectarian violence, but at the same time he's also unsympathetic because he's a strike breaker. He takes the beating because he knows that he deserves it, that every time he goes to work he is taking wages away from Tom and his own family.

The final aspect is the use of italics to stress points and phrases. In comic books this is done by bolding letters to get a feel of what the character wants to emphasize when he speaks. This can help to convey the speed of the dialogue or maybe a particular accent the speaker has. Regardless, it gives a secondary layer to the dialogue, allowing the reader to feel more immersed.  In our minds we can visualize the added intensity given to Tom's emotions.

This has been a brief overview, nevertheless if you desire for any clarification or added commentary please let me know or comment and we can discuss further anything that stands out to you. 

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