Comics and Film: A Narrative Perspective

Christiansen, Hans-Christian. 2000. Comics and Film: A Narrative Perspective. In Comics and Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics, edited by A. Magnussen and H.-C. Christiansen. Copenhagen: Museum of Tusculanum Press.

This paper attempts to draw from film theory to inform the understanding of the comic medium. He discusses things like film shots/cuts, etc. especially in light of Bordwell and Thompson’s work claiming that comprehension runs along a continuum of:

Conventions –> Norms –> Cross-cultural universals –> Deep structure of visual storytelling

For example, he claims that if knowledge of “cinematographic narration” comes from perceptual understandings, then it dispels the myth that these techniques were “invented” by early innovators of cinema. Rather, then would involve universal “deep structures of visual storytelling” grounded in perception.

Of course, this would assume that “cinematographic” techniques don’t do anything that is out of the realm of perceptual knowledge, which isn’t always the case — for example, with showing zooms alternating with panels of various characters (“Refiner Projection”) and external settings that provide superordinate place information.

He also makes a case for complexity of storytelling matching genre, and says “as a rule, there is a higher frequency of point of view-structures in adventure comics than in romance comics” though provides no evidence for this claim.

While film uses movement, comics use static images. Thus, he breaks down aspects of temporal continuity between panels into three filmic types of cuts:

1) Matched cuts – where a movement is continued from one panel to another
2) Movement images – continuity created by action and shot-to-shot closure
3) Elliptical cuts – a discontinuous relation between shots that requires greater inference to understand the relationship

He argues that comics primarily use the final type of elliptical cuts the most, and that it is not disruptive in comics because of their layout on a page. He closes this appeal by stating that this process of ellipsis is actually a part of McCloud’s notion of “amplification of simplification” for representing visual events, and that the way in which comics are understood may lie at the root of how film is understood at a base level (which I’d mostly agree with).


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