Monday, 24 January 2011

Panel transitions in Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead 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: In narrative terms, it would have been more efficient to jump from panel one to panel five like so: 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...

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