25 January 2008

WAVE, TOSS: Another Way to Show Movement

During this month's COMICS WEEK, I commented on how producing digital images had given artists a new way to show movement: by drawing as crisply as usual, then blurring the result with Photoshop or a similar program to replicate the effect we see in photographs.

That posting listed some pre-digital methods to convey motion. But since then I've noticed quite a few examples of yet another method that I'd left out: simply labeling the action.

The top example here comes from from Paul Gilligan's daily comic strip, Pooch Cafe, for 21 Jan 2008. The words "WAVE WAVE" are obviously not sound effects, not spoken words, not words that would actually appear in the scene. They simply tell us what the lady across the street is doing. Probably if newspaper comic strips didn't have to be so small Gilligan could have conveyed the same information with motion lines around her hand. [ADDENDUM: Or maybe not. Today's strip uses the same technique despite having more space available.]

The previous day, I'd seen another example in Jim Pascoe and Jake Myler's "manga-style" Undertown, running in Sunday newspapers. It showed a boy clutching his teddy bear, with the word "CLUTCH" drawn beside him.

The example on the right is from Sara Varon's graphic novel Robot Dreams (a Cybils nominee). In addition to the parenthetical "toss," she shows the movement with the dashed arrow.

I suppose I should count this technique among other ways that comics artists show the invisible in their drawings, along with speech and thought balloons, sound effects, established symbols for collisions and emotions, and the like. But it seems more like telling, not showing.


Anonymous said...

I think this technique you've pointed out--of writing a word (or words) to explain the action--has spilled over into North American comics from Japanese comics where it seems to be an entrenched convention.

I usually have problems with this technique. It often seems either redundant or a crutch to prop up unclear or unskilled drawing.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks. I'd wondered if these labels were an import of some sort. Certainly to my American-trained eyes they didn't seem necessary.