Thinking in nine panels

There were a lot of things I wanted to drivel on about this week, but they have all been driven out of my head by graphic novels. Not only have I been reading them, I’ve been thinking about writing them – which is no simple thing, but a compelling idea to somebody who started reading Marvel when she was nine and has, since then, read everything she can get her hands on.

I’ve got to be honest though - until very recently the art wasn’t a key concern of mine. I had favourite artists and ones I didn’t like, but I chose my comics on the writer’s name, not the artist’s and as for the letterer and the colourist, I never gave them a thought.

Now that I’m trying to work out how to fit my own prose into a graphic novel, all those intersecting abilities have a completely different meaning for me. I look at a comic and see where they work together seamlessly and where they seem to jar against each other. I compare the smooth writing of Warren Ellis with the jagged work of his illustrator John Higgins on Constantine and the more edgy work of Alan Moore on Swamp Thing set against the smooth styling of Stephen Bissette’s art. It’s utterly fascinating.

Thinking in nine panels (or less) requires you to jettison all your tricks and tropes. The story has to be pared to the bone and characters have to reveal themselves as much through their expressions and actions as through their words or thoughts. And whatever instructions you give to the artist, their interpretation will overlay (or underpin) yours and create a hybrid, or maybe a monster, which is perhaps why comics are the natural preserve of the spooky and mysterious. I really hope to get to try out this kind of collaboration for myself but until then I am thinking in nine panels and discovering that I’m enjoying it a lot.

Labels: , , ,