After discussing the wordiness of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, it only makes sense to discuss its visual counterpart, by which I mean pages like this one from the third issue:
Kirkman fiddles with these quiet panels that transition from moment-to-moment. On the one hand, panels without textual components read more quickly, as Kirkman himself frequently notes on the letters pages.* On the other hand, panels without textual components encourage readers to linger on the images. When combined with moment-to-moment transitions, then, text-free panels compel the reader to search for minor changes of great significance. Consider the first two panels above:
Rick is asleep in his tent with his wife and son the first night after being reunited. From panel one to panel two the only change is a slightly furrowed brow. While brow-furrowing may not seem significant in and of itself, when combined with what the reader knows about what Rick went through to return to them—having to fight through hoards of zombies to escape Atlanta—the reader can infer, if not the precise content, at least the character of the nightmare that causes Rick's sleeping brow to furrow. Now compare panel two to panel three:
The furrrowed brow is replaced by a half-open eye. He is looking not as his wife and son, but at the opening of the tent. Having been living and sleeping alone in a terrible world has taught him to sleep, as the saying goes, with one eye open. If something akin to what he was facing in his dreams is closing on him—if, that is, his unconscious mind was alerting to him to a present threat—he might catch it with a glance out of the door. He is sleeping the light sleep of the perpetually threatened. Only after he has asceratined that there is no immediate threat does he allow himself to get his bearings:
And only when he combines his realization that, on this occasion, his nightmare was only a dream with the fact that he is sleeping next to his wife and child in panel four can he experience the emotion displayed in panel five:
As with the actual sequence, the narrative remains "Rick wakes up in a tent with his family and is happy." However, consider what has been lost by removing the intervening panels: the reader doesn't acquire the same knowledge of Rick's attitude to these events. Not to repeat myself, but what would be lost is the sense of interiority that the reader can acquire via a close study of a character's actions. A moment-to-moment sequence of word-free panels, then, can have the effect of pulling the reader into closer sympathy with the characters. It can obviously work otherwise: a more conventional usage would be a fight scene in which moment-to-moment transitions signal the speed and violence of the acts being represented. But in The Walking Dead these dialogue-free moments help slow down the pace of a book that contains many of those more conventional scenes:
Both this page and the one discussed above represent approximately the same amount of time, but the different modes transitions and the shot distance and camera angle and level remains constant in the first page, whereas on this one it shifts nearly every panel:
- Panel one is a medium-long shot with a low angle of framing (in order to make the zombies look more powerful), allowing the reader to observe Rick and his horse
- Panel two employs a subject-to-subject transition as the camera zooms into a medium close-up of the horse along Rick's eye-sight line, suggesting where before answering why Rick's attention is
- Panel three returns via a subject-to-subject transition to a medium shot with a low angle of framing (to emphasize the power of the zombies), and the change from the medium-long shot to the medium indicates the increased immediacy of the danger Rick is in, as the zombie who was further away is now close enough to be captured in a medium shot
- In panel four, the camera flouts the 180° rule—Rick should still be looking to his right—and pulls in for a medium close-up shot from a high angle of framing (in order to make Rick look more powerless)
- Panel five cuts via a subject-to-subject position to a close-up of the zombie's face as Rick plants his axe in it, suggesting that Rick moved from his prone position to an attacking one very quickly
- Panel six zooms back to the medium shot in panel three to show Rick on the ground looking powerless
- Panel seven holds the same camera distance, but the fact that Rick is now upright demonstrates how quickly he stood up and, because the low angle of framing now tilts the camera up at him, he looks as powerful as the zombie did in panel three
Panels six and seven are classic examples of moment-to-moment transition: the single action consists of Rick getting up and in order to demonstrate how quickly he does so, Kirkman employs a moment-to-moment transition. But here one problem with McCloud's definitions becomes clear: what constitues a single action? In the moment-to-moment example linked above, "falling" clearly does; but in his example of action-to-action, swinging a baseball bat doesn't. All of which is only to say that every determination of what transition is being employed is arguable and therefore must be accompanied by an argument.
*I can find no example at the moment, but it's a running gag: "First you say you want more fighting, then you complain that it only took you three minutes to read the book."