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Monday, 17 January 2011


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I wonder if there's a generational thing going on. I just got Bone - Tolkien meets Walt Kelly! - and the Little Anachronism noted that the characters don't do thought bubbles in that, either. I haven't had time to re-read it properly at this point in the semester, but it does create an odd effect: the story is heavily focused on interiority, but from a highly externalized perpsective.


it does create an odd effect: the story is heavily focused on interiority, but from a highly externalized perpsective.

If nothing else, the tension makes the book interesting. As Kirkman's noted in quite a few interviews, the story boils down to a group of traumatized people walking around and talking. There's no over-arching plot element, which puts the narrative focus on how these survivors are coping with their survival. The fact that he refuses to tell us directly via one of the unique (and expected) elements of the medium may be why it's so compelling.


Are you sure it's still expected, Scott? I'm hard-pressed to think of many non-Marvel/DC comics that still use actual thought bubbles or captions for characters' thoughts. In addition to Bone, Watchmen doesn't use them. Actually, Alan Moore talks about how he was surprised when David Lloyd suggested that they not use thought bubbles for V for Vendetta, and the captioning mostly disappears from that book after the first few issues. The only post-Watchman Moore works I can think of that uses them are Tom Strong and Tomorrow Stories, which are both going for a retro aesthetic.

Let's see...Fun Home uses thought bubbles, so does Sin City, and both of them are extensively captioned. Sandman doesn't use thought bubbles, but does use captions, often as a third-person close perspective rather than first-person. Harvey Pekar uses both thought bubbles and captions, but he's mostly writing in an earlier era (and from a very first-person perspective). Seth, Chris Brown, and Adrian Tomine don't really use them. Even some off-Broadway type comics, like Preacher and Invisibles, don't (to my memory) use them. Works like Asterios Polyp, Jimmy Corrigan, and Scott Pilgrim do show characters' thoughts, but more visually, not usually through words alone. I think that these methods really are used much less, and less conventionally, than they were in the past.

I think it is generational, and also I think that authors have come to prefer ways of communicating thought that are either subtler (facial expression, nuanced dialogue) or more direct (use of flashback, e.g.). Looking at Bone, for instance, in some ways it's externalized, but you also visit the characters' dreams and memories at several points. I have to say I prefer the new style--when I read my old trade copy of Camelot 3000, or the captions in the first few issues of V for Vendetta, the interiority strikes me as artificial and stilted. The captions that are used well now are usually done for effective narrative: interposing Alison Bechdel's adult voice on her childhood events, or creating an authentically hardboiled voice in Sin City.

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