I just wrote a blog post regarding the great importance that images have in comics. I began by acknowledging the futility in trying to nail down a firm definition that all comics’ creators and admirers can agree upon. I simply decided to move forward on the basis that whatever the ratio or balance to each other may be, that most comics usually consist of images and words, presented in a sequential manner to tell a story. I argued in my last blog that images were perhaps the more important element of the two in conveying the story. I wish now to defend and extol the vital roles that words have in adding depth and breadth to the foundations laid in the images shown in a comic.
The comics of Chris Ware are probably a good place to start when thinking of an artist who uses words in an unconventional way in his work. Not only are the words he uses to tell the stories in his comics just as vital as the images, but also he uses the words as images. The example that sticks out to me most is his use of the word “when” in “thrilling adventure Stories/I guess.” In an explosion caused by an evil scientist/evil step-dad character stepping on a switch that triggers an explosion. Instead of a “Boom” caption for the explosion, there is the word: “When.” The significance of this image certainly goes far deeper than my ability to comprehend and analyze, suffice it to say that Chris Ware seems to equate whatever incident causes the “when” to occur within the characters personal life with the explosion in the fantastical superhero world he is simultaneously conveying. It suggests a final massively impacting event that transcends both narratives, all with a well-placed word.
I will finish by citing, in my opinion, perhaps one of the best-written graphic novels in print, Alan Moore’s watchmen. To me this work is an excellent example of the combination of exemplary artistry and imagery with masterfully written dialogue and prose. Beginning with the artwork, it more than fills the qualification I mentioned in my previous post about its necessity to carry the weight and foundation of the story, much the same way descriptive text sets the stage for characters in a novel to interact with each other. But moving beyond that, the writing of the characters, the structure of the story being told, and the supplementary texts at the beginning of most, if not all, chapters add a breadth and depth to the work that images alone could not have conveyed. How else could we have known the details of Hollis Mason’s (the original Night Owl) history as a police officer, or working in a garage, that all serve to not only expand his own story, but the story of all superheroes in the graphic novel. The stage is set with the imagery and dialogue, the story telling structure is perfectly paced, the dialogue is realistic and satisfying, and it is all wonderfully illuminated with additional writing at the beginning of each chapter. It is truly a masterpiece.
With these examples, I believe it is clear that while imagery is vital in establishing a foundation of telling the story, it is good writing, and the use of words that give breadth and deep symbolism to a work.