In our first act of the Remember When Parade, I’d like to re-release our “Preface Edition” of Deconstructing Comics. While Comic Boulevard is primarily a means to entertain (and to exhibit my work and portfolio), I also thoroughly enjoy exploring and adventuring into the mechanisms that fuel and compose the medium to which this fine site is bequeathed. I want to catch up to all the articles of Deconstruction that we lost during Hackergate 2016 so that I can start producing new ones in the proper order. It would be too messy to do otherwise.
Next float in the parade will be our first genuine original comic (from way back in twenty-odd-nine)!
Hello friends, family, enemies, non-existents,
I am both a comic book creator and reader. I don’t have much to my profile yet in terms of publications but that is slowly (ever so slowly) growing. It takes time to build entire comic books. It takes agendas and resources and budgets and schedules and collaborations. I have some stuff released in my past and have some stuff incoming in my future. While those projects are still cooking I’ve developed a new project that I’d like to share with you. I call it “Deconstructing Comics!”
The premise behind deconstructing a comic book is to take a work and disassemble it. Much like how a mechanic will take apart an engine, or a master chef will use their fine-tuned-tongue to taste the ingredients of a dish, I like to take apart comics to see what they are made of. I want to see behind the curtain of a product, to reverse engineer its schematics, to find the strings operating the work I hold in my hand. Normally this is a private internal process, but as I mentioned earlier, it takes a long time to make a comic book, so in the meantime I would like to share this with you, the audience. Why bother, you ask? Because it is a fun activity and maybe we can strike up a conversation doing it. Maybe we can learn something along the way, maybe we can gain new insights to the comic craft that we did not have prior to.
I am certain others have done this very activity countless times in public before. I am also certain that I am not a “qualified professional” and should not be held to that esteemed role in any way. I do however possess some skill and talent and can hopefully recognize the mechanisms behind a comic book and bring forth things easily missed during the casual read. This is for entertainment as much as it is for appreciation of the craft.
Deconstruction is not a comic book review. I will not pass judgement positive or negative to the works I will deconstruct. I will make no attempt to situate it in a greater cultural context. I may do all of those things unintentionally, however, through casual conversation.
Now that we’ve established my intent let’s define what deconstruction actually means. There is a literary definition to the term, but I am going to intend only a part of that definition while adding a splash of my own peculiarity to it. Here is my definition:
Deconstruction: The act of reading a work to sort out its components.
A comic is composed of images, words and form. To deconstruct a comic book is to scoop out and inspect its elements. The main categories I will be hunting for are Visual, Narrative and “Craftwork.” Here is my general allotment:
The visual pile is where we will sort elements like staging, visual exposition, style, colour palette etc.
The narrative pile is for elements like characterization, tone (humour, pathos, morals etc.), coherence, themes, dialogue, plot etc.
Craftwork is a catch all phrase for employing the visual storytelling and narrative as tools. It notes things such as structure, form, layout, pace, paneling, captions, SFX, consistency, internal context etc. Craftwork means the mechanical function of the comic book.
There are many layers to this medium that the audience tends not to see at first glance. Being that we are working with comic books, all of these things are supposed to be used in communion to tell the story. Sometimes, though, they are used independent of one another, which is why I separated them. In a comic you can say something visually while saying something else verbally. Additionally, you can use the format of comics itself to express something other than the visual or the narrative. Therefore, there will be a lot of overlap for these categories because you can spotlight the same thing with a different lens and you can use a different tool for the same device.
Here is a quick, generic, deconstruction example: the establishing shot. This panel is usually composed of a building or a landmark, a caption, and to either indicate time has passed, or as a way to situate the audience in a new location. If you distill it into my three categories here is how you tell the story of an establishing shot.
Visually, the panel would show a location (either internal or external). If external you would see time of day and season, also maybe elements of nature or civilization. If internal you could also show time of day and season, as well as contents of the location (whether it is a bedroom or a laboratory etc.). Without words or the panel’s position in the comic the audience knows that now the story is somewhere at some time.
Narratively, this panel marks the movement of the characters or plot in the next direction. Depending on the position of the panel in the comic, this shot is either that suspense is being held, or the release of an emotion, or the introduction of a whole new chapter or act to the plot. We may or may not see our characters but the building or landmark nevertheless acts as the focal character in this panel. The caption reinforces the visual story. Without a visual, you would see the character’s dialogue or a caption to show the audience that we are now somewhere different at some new time. If the panel was completely black visually there would be some narrative present to indicate that this panel is an establishing shot.
Craftwork-ly, establishing shots are a convention of the medium; they are a gentle way to show transition. Whether this shot it is to facilitate mobility or to express the plot the position of the shot is indicative of what it is used for: where it is and when it occurs is part of telling the story. It can be positioned at the top of a page or in the middle or at the end. If the audience were to skim through the book they could feel the story just by seeing it.
Here is an exercise for you. Deconstruct the following image:
Using comics to tell a story is not complicated, but it is sophisticated. You can argue that deconstructing comics my way is redundant because these categories are all one and the same, and they are, but because creators can say something in multiple different ways, when they use one instead of the other, I can parcel it and sort it as either visual, narrative or craft storytelling.
So let’s open the hood and see how this machine works!