Some resources

1) To get you thinking about cause and effect (and timing): Ed Piskor on clever single panels at Wizzywig Comics. Remember the criss-crossing of time signatures in this David Lapham panel?

2) To get you thinking about movement: Matt Seneca on a notable Gasoline Alley page.

In comics, sequence is time: one can quibble about how much time passes within the panel borders of a single image, but single frames are basically still, animated only by the context the images flanking them provide.  But in the vast majority of comics, sequence leads to a total or near-total spatial dislocation.  As characters movements in space are tracked in sequence, their surroundings become completely different from panel to panel.  Movement is comics is most often accomplished by a flickering through different backgrounds, ones we understand to have some connection to one another, but can’t actually piece together.

3) To get you thinking about grids and full pages: Frank Santoro at Comics Comics. This is about 3×3 grids, which we haven’t really seen, but the idea of “a center image focus” could be useful. Democratic grids are those that insist on equal size for all panels.

The essay

Two new downloads: a sample essay and the essay topics. I’ve pasted the topics in the post below. Make sure you read the instructions for this assignment on the first page of the essay topics pdf.


1. Explore Eisner’s depiction of human bodies in either Chapter 2 (“Escapee”) or Chapter 5 (“The Black Hand”) of A Life Force. Some questions you might want to consider: how are bodies manipulated across the comics page? When does body language escape the law of the word? What roles do caricature and the grotesque play?

2. Discuss the importance of third parties in Maus by focusing on commercial dealings or mediated transactions. Choose a sequence of four to six pages. How is the social world being represented? Think about the shared architecture of a page and Spiegelman’s reliance on metaphor. Some suggested venues: Vladek’s “secret business” (pages 77-80) or the empty ghetto/bank sequence (pages 123-127).

3. Choose a sequence of four to six pages from the latter half of Jimmy Corrigan. What is Ware telling us about sensory perception and external reality? What is the relationship in your sequence between iconic shorthand and verisimilitude? It might be useful to think about Groensteen’s theory of “the page (or the double page)” as a starting point (Groensteen 130).

4. Write about the visual representation of trauma or pain in one chapter from One Hundred Demons (“Resilience” is the standout here). Some questions you might want to consider: does Barry’s strict structure limit what she can depict? How does Barry exploit gutters, closure, and subtraction? What does color add to Barry’s typically black and white work?

Or mix and match: for instance, discuss bodies in Ware or sensory perception in Barry.

Reading a page

Here’s a thoughtful close reading by Ken Parille of a Casper the Friendly Ghost page. The essay begins by noticing the “visual and emotional rhythms” of the page. Recall that Eisner speaks about rhythm all the time too! Parille writes,

“The panels fall into a kind of question/answer pair, and lines in each panel in tiers 1-3 seem to connect to each other, perhaps unintentional or intentionally, bonding the pair…”

Then he investigates the “optical illusion” of the third tier. Parille’s writing becomes slightly unclear at this point, but he’s really trying to get across the idea that panels 5 and 6 each contain 2 separate points of view: above and inside this strange valley of a lake. These perspectives are made to coexist for the sake of rhythm, symmetry, and humour.

Reading three panels

Here’s a great example of how to closely read three panels of a comic. The panels come from a long work by Ben Katchor (The Cardboard Valise), and the close reader is Canadian comics creator Seth (It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken). Click the (+) to enlarge the image, then read Seth’s take on how Katchor focuses our attention and leads us along the sequence. This slow analysis of form and content is exactly what you’ll be expected to produce in your essay.