Close Call: A Graphic Story

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This comic began as a simple retelling of a time I almost died, wherein I fell off a raft while not wearing a life jacket, but was retrieved quickly by my mother. When asked to expand the comic, I realized there were not many places I could take it that would maintain an interesting plot. The comic worked because it was simplistic; the clipped nature of the adult figure moving the child to the shore was amusing due to the air of resignation, despite the lack of expression. In keeping with this style for the first expansion, I decided to use time in the opposite manner of what I’d done previously, instead devoting the next six panels to only a few seconds in time. This allowed me to develop tension while still ending on a very clipped note. The “close call” became the child nearly being eaten by a leviathan, rather than drowned.

For the final expansion, I decided to transform the close call once more to become the outcome of a fight. It was for this expansion that I relied heavily on details of panel style, indications of movement, and time progression presented in the book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (McCloud). I had to think seriously about which panels to emphasize when the 3-panels-per-page limit was imposed, as enlarging a panel with no significance to the plot or the reader risked confusing the reader and breaking their immersion—the importance of which McCloud instilled in me on pages 90-91 of his work: “. . . [I]t’s the unifying properties of design that make us more aware of the page as a whole, rather than its individual components, the panels. . . . [I]f readers are particularly aware of the art in a given story, then closure is probably not happening without some effort” (91). I also had to examine which of the various methods to indicate movement fit best with my comic’s relatively minimalist style; for this, McCloud’s diagram on page 110 was a great boon, though the majority of my panels depicted movement simply by the differing placement of characters between panels. As with the 12-panel comic, I focused on using excess panels to draw out the time passing, which McCloud discusses on various pages, primarily on 101 and 108-110.

McCloud 110
(McCloud 110)

The medium of the comic is simultaneously limiting and freeing. The visual aspect allows for the perception of the passing of time and for the illustration of action, all without the use of words; however, this requires the creator to be able to illustrate their intent using their visual components, which may be interpreted more abstractly than words might. This is one of the reasons art is so controversial; each viewer takes their experience with the art and internalizes it, expressing a different reaction to it than any other person who had the same experience. Similarly, though writing may delve deeply into ideas and express concepts with cohesion, it often lacks the impact of the visual, and—especially when done abstractly—can be difficult to picture. To combine visual and written elements to maximum effect, it is necessary to know when the visuals speak for themselves, and when clarification is required through writing; in doing this, an entire range of possibilities is opened, wherein—for example—time may be represented wordlessly as sounds are depicted through onomatopoeia, constructing a scene unavailable to the person who only writes or only illustrates. When done ineffectually, the result becomes a jumble of confusion; but done well, an entire horizon is broadened.