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Campbell’s Rules of Comprehension

It would be reasonable to assume that you, a reader finding yourself on the website of a magazine titled The Comics Journal, are able to read comics. I don’t mean that you are ‘literate’ in the regular meaning of the word, that you know your ABCs, but that you think of yourself as a person able to parse the various components of a comics page into narrative information. You may even be surprised, since you were probably able to do this from around the age of five or less, that there are citizens who have problems in this department. On the other hand, you may have once or twice given a comic to a regular citizen to read and found them baffled by it. This problem was addressed by Rod McKie in the comments to my last outing here:

 I think what we tend to overlook, perhaps because of our over-familiarity with the subject matter, is that not everyone can read comics… In an article for the Independent, Thomas Sutcliffe mentioned the ‘defiant pride’ some reviewers had exhibited when it came to discussing anything as lowly as a ‘graphic novel’ when he was chairing the BBC Radio 4 program, Saturday Review. On one show, two guests admitted to having real problems understanding comics, or graphic novels

…Of course it could be that they feel the need to decry anything that smacks of the vulgarity of pop culture, but it could just be that we need to do a better job of explaining to the uninitiated, how the various elements of comic books, the text, the typography, the colours, the drawings, all work together to tell a story.

I once found myself onstage for a TV book show and challenged to address the same question, as to why some people just can’t read comics. I can’t remember what I said as it was later edited out, but I think I observed that the same people have no difficulty navigating through the complicated mix of text and image in an average women’s magazine. My blather would have been mercifully cut because I launched into an insane mimicry of a theoretical middle-aged woman in tears from not being able to interpret the TV guide. If, in the aforegoing, you find me focusing somewhat upon women, as has just been pointed out by my proof-reader, this is because the people who have said to me that they cannot read comics have all been women. Before jumping on it, ask whether the statement, ‘the readership of comics in the last forty years has been predominantly male,’ is true or false.

I have in my l life met one or two people who were so well brought up that they had never read a comic. They tended to have an underdeveloped sense of humour. Whether there is a correlation between naughtily spending your lunch money on a Betty and Veronica Digest and having a well-honed grasp of the funny, I will leave to another time. But I have also met people, pictorially literate and unfazed by contact with the vulgar, who do not know what to make of a modern day comic book. I sympathise. The fact of the matter, make no mistake, is that I am on the side of the perplexed and mystified. Most comics today are visually unintelligible except to a few.

It could well be that you are one of the few, that you feel that comics publishers should not be pandering to the general public and that comic books are just how you like them, with their forty plus years of stylistic inbreeding and complicated continuity. Perhaps you are a kid and, like me, you think kids owe it to themselves to keep loads of stuff secret from their parents, and the secret language of comics is a part of that. Great. Comic book publishers love you. However, with the shrinkage of the market for comics, these same publishers are trying hard to get back that general readership they lost a long time ago.

Occasionally I see a well-regarded comic wander across the view of a regular person. It happened on my travels recently when I was a houseguest of a friend, a 70-year-old lady who makes her living as an artist. While I was there she was working on some etchings to go into a limited edition anthology of poetry on the subject of war. I mention this simply to show that this person understands pictures. The mail arrived and among it there was a volume of Bryan Talbot’s Grandville, which her husband had bought. She opened it and checked it, in order to let him know by phone that it had arrived. While idly looking at the pages she confessed to me, after putting down the phone, that she didn’t know how to read these graphic novel things. I took a quick look and said, “My first thought is that I can completely understand what you’re saying, because I can see that the author in this case has broken at least three of the basic rules of comprehension.”

Rather than ‘the’ rules, I should say rather that they are ‘my’ rules. These are a bunch of principles I quickly worked out once when I needed to give a college lecture about making comics, and had been encouraged to get a little bit technical if I so desired. So they are rules, toward a rhetoric of the art of comics, for the purpose of commanding the means of expressing oneself in the most effective way. If you don’t care for a curmudgeon like me making the rules, hey, it’s my gift to you. If you have no use for it, put it in the back of the cupboard. Just remember to serve the drinks out of it when I’m visiting.

So let me use Grandville as an example, and this is not to be construed as a review or an opinion of the book. It is published in the USA by specialist publisher of comic books, Dark Horse, and in the UK by mainstream publisher of books, Jonathan Cape. The book is thus useful because it straddles the comics store/bookstore divide. Furthermore, I’m using Bryan Talbot here, not because he would be my first choice to illustrate the points I want to make, but because he just happened to be the one on the table when the discussion came up. He’s an award–winning artist, with justification, and my purpose is to show that even the best of us are less than accommodating to those who are unfamiliar with conventional comic-book syntax. I don’t want to ambush him unfairly, being a brother of the brush, so it’s a page I know he’s pleased with as it was used in the promotion of the book. It is a decently vivid and strong comic book page, and you should be surprised that anybody could be unsure of it. If you show it to your granny and she has no trouble with it, that’s nice; give her my regards and light her pipe for me. It’s from the French edition, which doesn’t matter for my purposes.

 

There are some great and arresting images in Grandville, like the one above. The story is a complex piece of speculative fiction that was nominated for a Hugo award. Science fiction people love it.

Our page above is very much in the comic book idiom. By that I mean that it’s in the American style. They don’t traditionally call them ‘comic books’ elsewhere, except insofar as the American tradition has spread far and wide. Artists and writers who work in this idiom do not tend to be self-aware. To tell them this is just one idiom out of many would be like telling them they speak with an accent. As we know, it’s other people who speak with accents. All kinds of things go to make up this idiom, from the way the art bleeds to the edge of the page, and the way the figures stand in relation to their word balloons and the panel borders, all the way down to the brushed technique of the ink-lines. That the pictures are crowding in upon each other alarmingly is also idiomatic, and it takes a moment to figure out that the middle row of panels is not so much inset into the large upper panel as that all of them are set against a black ground, with slight overlaps.

The first of my rules that are in danger of being ruptured is

Rule #1: All the information necessary to understand the drama of a sequence must be contained in every panel of the sequence.

I extrapolated this idea from a 1960s interview with Bernard Krigstein where he complained that the fragmentation you get in many comic books works against pictorial logic and undermines the drama that the artist is supposed to be expressing. Thus, if you take Krigstein’s masterpiece, the short story Master Race, and look at the second last page (below), you will observe that in eleven panels, ten of them show both the man chasing as well as the man being chased. Add five at the foot of the previous page, and one at the top of the next one, and you get a run of seventeen panels all showing both characters (with only one break to insert a poster-like reminder of the camp commander in the time of his crimes). The subject of the drama is the relationship between them, and there isn’t a single panel, such as one cutting to a close-up or some other detail, where you could isolate it and say that we temporarily lose sight of this.

Looking at the Grandville page. It’s clear enough that the scene is an interrogation taking place in a small smoke-filled room, if we allow the ceiling lamp that we can see to stand in for the rest of the room that we can’t see. We are to presume that the badger is tied to a chair. There is no chair to be seen, or bound hands (having often read comics to little children, I would be anticipating the question “Why does the badger have no arms?” See elsewhere, my Rule #5: In a visual medium, a thing does not exist unless it is seen to exist). The chair may be on an earlier page, but that is part of the problem. Can we assume that the virgin reader knows they are supposed to look back there for the missing parts of the image? If you were to isolate the centre panel (below), is there enough information in it as a picture to make sense of what is happening without referring to all the other pictures? Do we still know it’s a smoke-filled room and that a character is tied to a chair? What is keeping that pistol grip suspended in the air? And to whom is that balloon tail pointing? Can we be sure the reader knows about the convention of characters speaking from off-panel, rather than the just-as-likely possibility that the balloon is coming from somebody over in the succeeding panel? (In this case, as it happens, the speaker is in a dominant position in the next panel, and the bridging balloon tail does arrive at the lettering spelling his name. A decent cartoonist will connect things together like this as he goes along.)

In panel #4 the dog and rhino seem to have moved in relation to the tied–up badger, but they’re back to their positions in the last panel, unless there is another dog in the room that I don’t know about. This creates a feeling of manic action, of a great deal happening that may not be happening. And finally, in the last panel on the page, where is that other character, the French Inspector Rocher, coming from? Was he in the corner of the room all along, or has he come through a door that is nowhere visible? Sure, every room has a door, but how much can we take as given? If the whole page were isolated from the book we might not even be sure it’s a room in a building. Without the indication of walls, we might think we’re in a hole in the earth. Naturally, reading the book from the beginning might alleviate such difficulties, but our virgin reader, having flipped through it, looking for a way in, an indication of potential enjoyment, an enticing excerpt, may not make that conclusion.

The second of my rules that are under threat here concerns the reading order of the speech balloons. There are worthwhile books, on the subject of making comics, which will tell you that the medium uses a ‘nested system,’ and that the reader is to absorb all the information in a panel before moving on to the next panel. In fact, this is not how things really work. The reader’s eye, even the eye of an experienced reader, will go where all the indicators tell it to go. After reading the contents of one balloon, the eye is likely to go to the next nearest balloon, even if that balloon is in another panel and the eye has not yet taken in all the balloons in the current panel. If the next nearest balloon is not intended to be the next one in the sequence, then the cartoonist risks losing control of their narration. Grandville has many pages like the above where all the balloons look, certainly to the lady that I was visiting, as though they are barrage balloons over a city, not interacting with the life and noise below, hanging there to keep invaders out, rather than invite readers in. One of the criticisms heard from those folk who don’t know how to read a comic, is that they don’t know which they’re supposed to do first, read the words or look at the pictures. Often the two appear to belong to separate systems, not completely integrated, and there are no cues on a page like this to make it clear what the reader should do.

Rule #3: Speech balloons should follow a system that can be intuited and doesn’t need to be explained.

On the Grandville page, the sequential problem occurs more than once due to the habit of placing balloons at the foot of a panel. In the top panel, with plenty of time to compose this page, the artist could have avoided putting that balloon in the same pictorial space as the dog, bisecting its arms. Is it possible that our virgin reader might find this kind of placement confusing? On another page there is a panel showing a character eating dinner. The panel contains just the character and his dinner, except that a speech balloon is covering his plate. This tendency is an indigestible aspect of comics’ technique that came with the ‘Marvel method,’ where the balloons were not composed at the drawing stage, but written and added in afterwards. With inadequate space anticipated for them in the plan, balloons are often placed on top of figures or other art details. Long-time comics readers are accustomed to this by now, but what is the unaccustomed reader to make of it?

After panel #2, at the left side of the middle tier, I’m reading the balloon at the foot of the panel. There is no way that I, even as an experienced reader of comics, am going to keep my eye from accidentally reading the balloon belonging to Rocher, in the coat and scarf, in the final panel, well ahead of his intended surprise entry two panels before this. You, likewise a practiced comic book reader, might just be able to avoid it, but I bet you don’t.

This touches on another Campbellian rule:

Rule #4: Timing only exists in comics if the reader agrees to play the game.

We talk about timing in comics, but really there is no time except in a periodical sense. i.e. ‘next issue’. All the pages of a comic book arrive simultaneously. If it happens that Magneto shows up surprisingly on the last page, I’ve never met a kid who didn’t already know this before he got the book out of the store (before you put your hand up, I’ve never met you). Unlike the movies, where good or bad timing is a measurable fact, in comics everything else on this subject is fiction. And like all good fiction, it requires a suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. In fact it requires a little more than that. It requires complicity between the artist and his audience. This thing that we do, we are going to pretend that it is analogous to time. That is the unspoken agreement at the outset. And because it is unspoken, we cannot complain that a reader didn’t know about it, especially in these days when we expend so much effort in attracting new readers. We need to offer them a contract with no hidden clauses. And beyond that, we have no control. In prose novels it takes an act of choice to read the ending ahead of getting there, but in comics it can happen so easily by accident. Part of the humour, or drama, of comics should involve an allowance for that. As artists and writers we cannot prevent the reader’s seeing ahead accidentally any more than we can stop some lug from giving away the score of the match whose TV replay we are going to watch fresh later tonight. 

I find myself recalling a very clever piece of work that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons made in 1983 titled Chronocops, where the whole short story was playing mischievously with the concept of time. The authors quite cleverly laid all the information before us in panel after panel but we didn’t see it because we were looking for something else. At one point the cops arrive back at HQ in an earlier time slot and have to avoid themselves in the lobby.

When we flip back the pages to the first appearance of this scene, we see what we didn’t see before because we weren’t looking for it, the two characters half-hiding behind the potted plant.

For me the conventional three-panel gag can never work again because I know there’s supposed to be a punch-line in the third one, and If I haven’t guessed it then I’ve glimpsed it. The third panel is not distant enough in space and time for me to avoid reading it simultaneously with the first. To summarize, if your piece of work involves some intricate business about the order of reading, a ‘spoiler warning’ ain’t going to cut it. You cannot depend upon conventions of the form. You need to work it into the fiction in some way.

On the one or two occasions when I bring out my rules for a lecture or something, I like to finish with one that was meant as a laugh, to deflate the serious complicatedness of the others:

Rule #10: Remember to put at least one pair of feet on every page.

It is also known as “the feet rule.” Sometimes it’s not needed, as for instance in the Grandville page it might create space that would diminish the claustrophobic feeling. On the other hand, sometimes just asking the question can help the artist see solutions to the problems that are being experienced by that hypothetical virgin reader. For instance, If we could see the badger’s shoes just once we’d probably also see the legs of the chair, and if Rocher were full figure, the door would probably suggest itself into the composition.

“But who cares?” says the lover of comic books, and I agree wholeheartedly.

For the curious enquirer after the rest of my rules not mentioned above, some are not as interesting and one was so stupid that, like the 18th amendment, it had to be repealed.

 

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41 Responses to Campbell’s Rules of Comprehension

  1. Rod McKie says:

    Bloody hell, that’s a terrific read. On more than one occassion I’ve quickly scanned a page and just decided not to buy the comic, because the page looks so baffling and as a result likely not worth the effort. I suspect I’ve been picking up on one or two of your rules subconsciously. The placement of word balloons rule is brilliantly argued and illustrated. It’s an excellent article, Eddie.

  2. Pingback: ComiXology: The App That Taught Me How to Read Comics - Page 4

  3. Knut Robert Knutsen says:

    Howard Chaykin goes through a few of these points in his storytelling workshops as well. And Danish cartoonist Peter Madsen touches on a few of the same concerns in his recent book about making comics. I hope to see many more of these columns from Campbell and hopefully a collection of some sort at the end. A lot of great points in here.

  4. Ayo says:

    Trying to find a full inventory of The Eddie Campbell Rules.

    I remember always liking these rules but never seeing them all in the same place at once. By the way, the feet guideline changed my life.

  5. Briany Najar says:

    Well, who am I to question the blah blah etc — but…
    I’m not 100% keen on rule 1. It makes sense in a similar way as the old, pre-code “always show at least one sexily smoldering and/or half-dressed looking woman somewhere in the comic, even if her allure is completely irrelevant to the narrative, so that quick browsers will buy the thing thinking it’s gonna be some hot stuff.” However it (rule 1) is a bit of a tight constraint in that it precludes much playing on this thing I’m interested in:
    The gazer brings, to every panel, every previous panel – a phenomenon which is reflective of every other act of conscious perception. We never clearly see more than a tiny dot in the center of our field of vision without first flicking our eyes all around it. Conscious perception is not spontaneous, it has latency, it’s a time-based synthetic process. One of the things I’m really impressed by in the work of adept comic artists is how each panel can present such a paucity of data, yet the experience of it is rich with understanding, due, in some part, to the artfully prepared indexicality of the elements in play. In that sense, I’d agree that the whole situation could be contained in each panel, but not always in a way obvious to someone who enters halfway through the show.

    In other words, I think rule 1 could be taken as a convention of highly commercial work, like how mainstream Hollywood movies always keep the narrative thread accessible (using constant verbal reminders) even to audience members who missed the first 20 minutes or had to go to the loo in the middle.

    Nice to see a bit of Chrono-Cops there, that’s one very enjoyable piece. Most of the 80s Future Shocks (& Time Twisters) owe a great debt to the EC legacy, of course, it’s in their DNA – but this one in particular is really showing the love. On one level it’s a massively explicit homage to the second of Kurtzman & Elder’s “Dragged Net” parodies in Mad, complete with panel-swiping, similarities in rendering, and chicken fat which riffs on Elder’s off-beat allusion to… (I forget the name of it… is The Katzenjammers the one with “Villie”? I hope so, cos then you can trace a further lineage to Max und Moritz, but I’ve a feeling it’s something else along the same lines. Anyway, I think I’ll end this comment right here inside these parentheses.)

  6. Knut Robert Knutsen says:

    Rules are always a complicated business in art of any kind. My approach is to look at the page, ask myself “does this work”. And if it doesn’t to ask myself “Why doesn’t it work? If one applies The Rules (any set of reasonable rules) would that make it work?”.

    It’s sort of like checking spelling and grammar and all that technical stuff in a prose novel. Sometimes something becomes good by breaking the rules (for instance, most stories worth their salt violate “rules” for delivering new information in an ordered and hierarchic manner. )

    Just as long as it doesn’t become an excuse. Breaking the rules well often requires more skill than obeying them. Thinking of them as descriptive rather than prescriptive might help

  7. ” rule 1 could be taken as a convention of highly commercial work”

    The same goes for “rule 3″, right? As you say, at least some of these seem to be codifying the equivalent of what David Bordwell calls “continuity editing” in classical Hollywood cinema — a set of informal practices designed to make things like spatial and causal relationships as easy as possible for the viewer /reader to follow…which is not at all a bad thing!

  8. Grandville also illustrates rule #11: don’t use shitty digital colouring.

    Speculation: comics “illiterates” (so to speak) probably don’t have trouble reading a newspaper strip like Peanuts or Garfield. Why is that? (a) standardised layouts (b) more specifically, one tier of panels, obviously read left to right (c) much less visual information to parse in the typical modern strip (d) all of the above? The problem with any of these explanations is that they seem to be belied by the popularity of earlier strip conventions

  9. ‘I’m not 100% keen on rule 1. It makes sense in a similar way as the old, pre-code “always show at least one sexily smoldering and/or half-dressed looking woman somewhere in the comic, even if her allure is completely irrelevant to the narrative, so that quick browsers will buy the thing thinking it’s gonna be some hot stuff.” ‘

    One is relevant visual information that helps the reader make a narrative and emotional connection to the story (never leaving them in limbo), while the other is a sexy woman. I don’t see how they are similar at all. With all due respect, another good rule in writing: Omit adverbs. “sexily smoldering” They are literary nails on a chalk board, to most people.

  10. Eddie brings up my favorite part of the mostly untapped potential of the comic book page. Time. I’m always looking for ways to free the reader of time entirely, or at least give them more choices in how whey “move” through the story. Alan Moore and J.H. Williams’ Promithia was a wonderful example of this potential. Over all, these are pretty sound rules. We must work hard, so our readers do not have to.

  11. Knut Robert Knutsen says:

    One factor may be speed. (and I hate how old and crotchety that makes me sound). If one takes time when reading a comic, accidental misdirection becomes less likely. But with the attention span a lot of people (even middle-aged people) have these days, where people mistake the time it takes to see something with the time it takes to fully “read” it, I’m not surprised that it becomes more difficult.

    Now that I read that back, it does seem a bit snarky, but I don’t mean it to be.

    Maybe people just learn to read visual elements in ways that are partly incompatible with comics? You have so many tools now, Ipads, picture phones, gaming machines etc. that rely on a mix of text and images and that people spend much more time with in a more passive way. Ironically, instead of training people to be more proficinet at reading text and images in conjunction, it might teach them sets of very firm narrative expectations that get in the way of understanding a comic.

    Before, when people read comics, they had to read very deliberately and train themselves at reading comics, with no flashy text/media collaboration to compete with. You were supposed to spend time with a comic, not just absorb it inbetween the blinks of an eye.

  12. Briany Najar says:

    Thanks Prof.
    I’m not a writer.
    Now internet comments are literature, are they?

  13. Briany Najar says:

    Anyway, it should be “smolderingly sexy,” not the other way round.

    Adverbs 4 lyfe.

  14. Michael Grabowski says:

    What I notice on that Grandville page is that I can read it as a unit and know (more or less) what’s going on even without reading the actual words that I skipped over since they’re in French. That probably has more to do with the clear genre cues of the images, which perhaps Talbot is leaning on heavily for storytelling ease. In that case, what turns me off as a reader are the apparent visual cliches, and I wonder if in part this is why Eddie’s survey sample responded negatively.

    That first panel also reminds me too much of a restaged/recasted Dogs Playing Poker, moments after Dog Is Caught Cheating.

    Since one sees the whole page at a glance as soon as one turns to it, I wonder about rule #1’s necessity in a case like this. Something like that Master Race page is effective in drawing out the drama and tension across the page, but the Grandville page reads more like exposition or plot reveal is taking place, so Talbot is basically adding tension to a talking heads scene, albeit in a way that doesn’t quite scan correctly to me.

    Lastly, I can’t help but see Santoro’s circle and squares all over this page, probably because I’m not trying to read it in the normal sense. Not sure if that adds anything useful, or if I would consciously note it if I were ignorant of that design aspect.

    Not an artist, just a reader.

  15. patrick ford says:

    Main thing I noticed was the CGI colour. People ought to take a lesson from their children. Little kids don’t care about flash digital effects. They grew up with it. Their world knows nothing else. B&W manga reprints and digital smoke rings are all the same to them. If a 13 year old grew up seeing CGI then they think not one thing of it. It’s just a look.

  16. Martin Wisse says:

    I had the pleasure back in 1999 to hear Bryan Talbot talk about one of his older projects, A Tale of One Bad Rat, which he had explicitely written and drawn for an audience for non-comics readers and explaining how he e.g. made clear a flashback was happening. It would be interesting to see Eddie Campbell taking a look at that book to see how well it adheres to his rules, as well as to hear Bryan Talbot’s feedback on writing for non-comics readers and Campbell’s rules.

    Make it so, TCJ.

  17. I’m Bryan’s webmaster and I am doing my best to get some feedback from Bryan published Martin.

  18. Rob says:

    I’d wager that if you opened up a prose novel in the middle and started reading, or flipped to the last page first, you’d be pretty confused too.

  19. Martin Wisse says:

    Figuratively nails on chalkboard, surely.

  20. Michael Evans says:

    Sometimes Campbell verges on genius. His creative output often seems to be purely instinctive but he has managed to codify the mechanisms of his art form with such clarity.

  21. Martin Wisse says:

    Yeah, but what’s being talked about here isn’t whether you can follow the plot, but whether you can actually understand the page you’ve flipped too.

    Which in most novels is of course much easier than in a given comic.

  22. Eli Bishop says:

    I love this piece, but I have a nit to pick here:

    Unlike the movies, where good or bad timing is a measurable fact, in comics everything else on this subject is fiction. And like all good fiction, it requires a suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. …. This thing that we do, we are going to pretend that it is analogous to time.

    My nit is that I think this overstates the uniqueness of this problem to comics. It’s true that in a movie (or a live performance), the amount of time that passes between one image or sound and the next is consistent regardless of who’s watching, and there’s no question as to what order they’re experienced in. But that’s not the same as saying that “good or bad timing is a measurable fact,” because with very rare exceptions there’s not a one-to-one correspondence between the timing of what you’re seeing and the timing of what’s supposedly going on. There are tons of narrative conventions at play there, allowing a viewer to recognize a film montage— or a set of events happening in parallel in different areas on a stage— as representing things happening over a long period of time, things happening at the same time in different places, things happening out of sequence in a flashback, etc. Whether the timing is “good” or not depends on the viewer being familiar with those conventions, and also the director understanding what kind of information should be included to make those conventions work well even for a seasoned viewer. So in that regard, are the potential problems really so different from those in comics? It seems to me that the main difference is that it’s easier for a cartoonist to forget the problem, because since the page isn’t going anywhere it’s tempting to think that the reader will always linger over it till the narrative intent has become clear.

    As for readers flipping ahead to the last page: it’s not hard to do the same now while watching a movie. I think the poorly placed word balloon example you pointed out is a different matter, more analogous to common mistakes in film continuity.

  23. Michael Grabowski says:

    I take back what I said about Rule #1 after a second look. The staging on the bottom completely confounds the reading of this page, as if all the characters clumsily changed positions around off-panel because they saw the POV change coming.

  24. Paul Slade says:

    “We must work hards so our readers don’t have to.” That’s spot-on, and it works for prose writing too. It really is a zero-sum game: every element of casual confusion you let slip past you forces the reader to do your work for you. Who can blame them if they decide that’s more trouble than it’s worth and turn elsewhere?

    The other problem with those word balloons is the extra-bold outlines around them. They make the balloons look like they’re on an entirely different plane from the pictures, which is another reason they fail to integrate with the art.

    I’d love to see a long, civilised discussion between Campbell and Talbot (both of whose work I admire enormously) disputing and dissecting these points in detail. I saw Talbot do a talk on Alice in Sunderland a while back, and he’s just as articulate as Campbell in picking these valuable principles apart.

  25. bobsy says:

    ‘Smoldering’ has more than one meaning, so ‘sexily’ here is aiding comprehension. Women are often just on fire in comics.

    ‘to most people’ – what a prick.

  26. mateor says:

    Jesus Christ, what comics have you been reading?

    Go and immediately read Msr. Leotard or From Hell. Those books are great.

  27. mateor says:

    I guess I should be clearer. It’s ‘verges’ that sets me off…your standards are totally out of sack with backhanded compliments like that, is all.

  28. mateor says:

    I don’t know…I feel like pretty much everyone knows the majority of a movie before they see it. I don’t think it takes a continuity error to recreate the experience of scanning ahead to the next page before actually going back and reading the dialogue.

  29. Mike Hunter says:

    ———————-
    Jones, one of the Jones boys says:

    ” rule 1 could be taken as a convention of highly commercial work”

    The same goes for “rule 3″, right? As you say, at least some of these seem to be codifying the equivalent of what David Bordwell calls “continuity editing” in classical Hollywood cinema — a set of informal practices designed to make things like spatial and causal relationships as easy as possible for the viewer /reader to follow…which is not at all a bad thing!
    ————————-

    Yes; Mr. Cambell’s essay brought this to mind: “When an action sequence goes bad –The first in a series of video essays about editing dismantles the convoy assault in ‘The Dark Knight’ “: http://www.salon.com/2011/09/12/dark_knight_jim_emerson_press_play/

    ————————-
    Speculation: comics “illiterates” (so to speak) probably don’t have trouble reading a newspaper strip like Peanuts or Garfield. Why is that? (a) standardised layouts (b) more specifically, one tier of panels, obviously read left to right (c) much less visual information to parse in the typical modern strip (d) all of the above? The problem with any of these explanations is that they seem to be belied by the popularity of earlier strip conventions.
    ————————

    But hasn’t the culture, and newspaper comic strips, become increasingly dumbed-down? While once strips such as “Gasoline Alley” regularly featured great visual adventurousness, nowadays all is lowered down to the lowest common denominator; a griping letter from an irritated reader is a black mark against retaining a strip.

  30. Dominick Grace says:

    True, but isn’t this because, for whatever reason, the people who make movie trailers almost without exception think it’s essential to spell out pretty much everything in the promo, so when you go see the movie it’s already been laid out for you? If anything, I’d say that’s carrying the idea of ensuring the audience can always follow along just a tad too far.

  31. This means you says:

    Well if this doesn’t belabor the point of digital comics and how vital they are as a much needed evolution to the medium, I don’t know what will. Most of what is being addressed here is what is wrong with comics period. These are issues that up until now we’ve required the audience member to circumvent or be “complicit” in. It’s no wonder comics have never reached the socially acceptable mass media status like novels and film have. Here you are reading panel four while in panel five awaits a “surprise” explosion. LOL

    The format is antiquated and absurd. But thank goodness digital (but especially Comixology) came along to save the medium. I can’t imagine in the age of linear narratives in novels, video games, film and TV, comics would have been able to survive.

    Try reading Walking Dead as a comic and then read its Comixology counterpart. The printed comic is a tired, antiquated thing, while the digital version has real, controlled pacing and awesome, shocking reveals.

    Can you imagine if you were meant to watch a film with what’s already happened, what’s going to happen, and what is happening currently all on the same screen at the same time?? That’s what we expect from the person picking up a comic book — and for most the format has been disturbing, juvenile and uninteresting.

    Hopefully 10 years from now another article like this will never need exist. Thanks for bringing the medium to task. It needs to convert ASAP.

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  33. Pepo Pérez says:

    I do not think this is quite the same thing Eddie are talking about. I don’t see his books as an equivalent of the “continuity editing” in the classical Hollywood cinema. I can’t recognize in them that “narrative transparency” to which Bordwell referred, hiding the artifices of narration to the viewer. I think he is talking about something else in these “rules”…

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  36. James Medina says:

    I’ve been of the opinion that if a page makes my head feel like it’s full of angry bees than it isn’t worth buying. Digital raises more questions though, but it bears merit in how it’ll work. Gifs alone will make things very interesting. Marketing it might be complicated though. Layout will also probably play a role.

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  38. Nick says:

    Most of what’s clumsy here would be clumsy in any medium – Comixology isn’t going to rearrange the characters into logical positions.

    The printed comics page is no more obsolete or antiquated than the proscenium arch or the 1.85:1 cinema screen. All of these can be used clumsily and all are capable of great things. I’m sure most people here could come up with numerous examples of ‘real, controlled pacing’ and ‘awesome, shocking reveals’ on the printed page that would be ruined by putting them through the Comixology mangler. A comic written *for* Comixology would need to do things differently, of course, and would I imagine be subject to more constraints than a traditional printed page…

  39. “Mostly untapped”…aaargh! Nails on a chalkboard (to “most people”)! “Pretty sound”…aaargh!!

  40. Funniest thing I’ve read all day. Bravo!

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