Tim and Time

So, well timed for my new essay, “Time Frames… or Not”, on why panels don’t equal moments (and time does not equal space), Tim Godek posts this excellent and simple example of a temporal paradox. (I’m not reposting it here because the file size is rather large, so go look yourself!)

Since the three “moments” of the event happen across the same background, a “temporal map” reading would force the foreground figure to be hovering in front of the background, or, the background shifting behind the character. I think that we’re forced to reconcile that the person is doing an action that occupies a singular space (i.e. sitting and thinking) while the background does not remain consistent behind that static foreground space. So, either fore/background is shifting or it creates a paradox of temporal progression where we parse the foreground figure in his own “conceptual space” separate from the background.

This also relates back to the “positive/active” versus “negative/passive” elements I talked about in my “A Visual Lexicon” paper. I think what makes this strip work without a “shifting” interpretation is that the Tim character is Active in the sequence compared with the Passive background. So, our focus of attention is held on him rather than on the consistency and oddness of the background.

In either reading, there is something in the content that illicits a “not normal” reading (i.e. moving when sitting vs. static yet background conflict). If anyone finds more of these temporal paradox type examples, definitely send them my way.


  • Although there aren’t gutters, I don’t thing there’s as much of a temporal paradox. The background is really more of an abstract – Tym’s character actually moves creating implicit panels. The space between the figures sets the tempo.

    That said, I’m more in agreement that panels are just one method of conveying time. The consistant tool is “flow”; gutters, deadspace, and dialogue are all just complimentary tools to flow.

    Tym’s use of a single background is very effective because it signals lost time.

  • Sorry, I’ve been reading “Making Comics,” my head is spinning from it still: Another way to interpret Tym’s strip is that the second two panels are really inset panels with microscopic gutters cookie cut around the protagonist. OK, what ever ya call it, I’m gonna steal it.

  • I still say it’s just being a lazy cartoonist! That strip took, like, what… twenty minutes to draw? How hard would it have been to draw in two more of the same background behind the last two panels instead of this? Why can’t these hack webcartoonists just take the time to do things right for once?

    Seriously, I did not put a whole lot of thought into the single background thing, I’m ashamed to say. I’m a little surprised (and flattered) that it’s sparked any conversation at all. I would hasten to add, though, that the Tezuka examples you cite are much more sophisticated in execution than this little strip, and that the “temporal paradox” is much more evident in his panels than in mine.

  • Most storytelling innovation is the result of laziness (or budget constraints). But drawing one large background is far more work than just repeating the same cropped background, and far more interesting.

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