Dash Shaw writes an interesting post delving into the “cinematic” nature of comics that explores thoughts from authors like Chris Ware with many insightful quotes.
Relevant to some of this discussion might be that some believe comics to have predated the film techniques. Or, the idea that this is a competence versus performance issue — that film uses the same mental structures as comics, just with a different presentation (this will be a topic of an upcoming post).
Indeed, in several experiments of mine I show comic panels one after another, one at a time where the participants have no control over the pacing. My participants have no difficulty understanding these or accepting them “as comics” (no one has ever questioned the labeling).
“I don’t like to think of my work as ‘cinematic.’ A movie is passive — you’re watching it, taking it in. Where a comic strip, it’s completely active: you have to read it, search it for meaning, for the connection with your entire experience and your memory. Yes, you do have the illusion of watching something happen in a comic strip — but if it’s done well, it comes alive on the page like a novel. A novel is the most interactive thing ever created.”
I have a lot of responses to this quote, but I’ll save some for a later post. Right now, I want to question what “watching it, taking it in” means with regard to film comprehension that’s different than the “active” comprehension of comics. This is a common thread in comparisions, so I wonder whether Ware (and many others who also do it) is conflating the presentation of a comic/film versus its comprehension.
Is the sense that film is “less active” because it’s pace of viewing is not controlled by the viewer? This to me seems like a trivial thing in terms of comprehension. The process of understanding (i.e. piecing together the meaning between images, words, and/or sound) should maintain roughly the same.
If comprehension were different, we would expect grossly different results if we presented the same comic strips in different ways in an experiment (that could use any number of measures of comprehension). Let’s say we had three different methods:
1) a comic page where all panels were laid out in a grid, possibly controlled so that subsequent panels only appear when a button is pressed by the reader (“self paced reading”)
2) a “self-paced reading” task where only one panel is on a screen at a time
3) a presentation with no participant control, where only one panel appears on a screen at a time for a designated amount of time
Now, I would expect no significant difference in the ability of people to comprehend these different scenarios. This is all about presentation, not the content of the strips, since those could stay the same across all of these (and other) presentation methods.
#3 on this list is essentially the same type of presentation that film uses. Granted, I will wholeheartedly agree, film’s use of *moving* images certainly does change comprehension. However, there still has to be meaningful connections between and across film shots (be it live-action or animated). These would be of the same “active” sort of connections that Ware describes. Indeed, you can replace film shots for panels in the above three options and probably get the same sort of comprehension as you would for static comics. So, instead of issues of presentation, the focus of questions should instead be on issues of comprehension, like:
How does the comprehension of static versus moving sequential images differ?
How does moving images within a unit (shot vs. panel) change its comprehension?
How does the use of moving across a scene (as in panning, zooming, etc.) differ in comprehension from it’s static presentation in panels (or shots)?
AND… we can’t really answer these questions without an adequate theory of how comprehension of sequential images works in the first place, which is essentially what my research for the past several years has been focused on.