Thursday, 7 February 2013

Verbals And Visuals


Rereading a Poul Anderson science fiction novel late at night, I suddenly wanted visual as well as verbal input so I switched to rereading The Boys Vol 4, We Gotta Go Now, by Garth Ennis.

A novelist describes a scene to his readers so that we can visualise it whereas a comics script writer describes a scene to the artist so that we can see it. The same fictive process, the transmission of an image from author to reader, is mediated differently.

Occasionally, the writer is also the artist. In that case, he does not merely relate but realises the visuals of the scene or event to be communicated. In either case, whether there is a writer-artist team or a solo writer-artist, the visualising has been done for us but it is down to us to notice the details in each panel, not just to follow the narrative from panel to panel by reading speech balloons and captions. In a purely verbal medium, our attention moves continuously along the lines of the text and from page to page whereas, with graphic fiction, we need to pause in order to look as well as to read.

Returning to the novel the following day, I immediately found one of Anderson's rich descriptive passages. Two of the characters:

"...turned north into Riverside, a road cut from the left bank of the Jayin. On their right, trees screened them from view of town, a long row of deep-rooted swordleaf, preserved amidst this terrestrialized ecology to be a windbreak when tornados whirled out of the west. Opposite, the stream flowed broad, murmurous, evening ablaze upon it...On the farther shore, native pastureland rolled into blue remoteness...a peacefulness that Sparling wished Constable could have painted...Westward under a sinking Bel, a few clouds glowed orange. Elsewhere the sky stood unutterably clear." (Fire Time, London, 1977, pp. 68-69)

There is a lot more but I can't quote indefinitely. Appropriately, for the comparison that I am making between prose and graphics, one of the characters wishes for a pictorial representation.

In The Boys, we get:

beautiful pictures of Hughie and Annie naked in a field or in bed together;
a distant horizon seen through the wall-sized window of a superhero team's hovering headquarters;
an American corporate executive talking importantly into a mobile phone while driving around a golf course;
close-ups of our characters' wistful glances, enigmatic smiles, horrified stares etc;
a gallery of covers by big name comic book artists, including Dave Gibbons of Watchmen.

Far out. Vive la difference.

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