Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Red and Rover's Magic Carpet

Brian Basset's Red and Rover may seem like just a gently nostalgic comic strip about childhood in the 1960's. Basset uses clean, simple lines to outline his figures, and a slightly retro style, so it's easy to miss his mastery of comic strip forms and conventions.

This Sunday section is an excellent example. Red mounts a slide and takes a magic carpet ride. (click on images to enlarge)

It seems simple enough, until you stop to think how Basset achieved the effect in the final panel. First of all, the final panel isn't in it's traditional placement in a two-tier grid. The eye reads from left to right, so it should be in the lower right corner -- not the lower left.

Because it's not traditionally placed, Basset needed to guide the reader through the sequence. Rather than using arrows, which would call attention to the rearranged panels, he did so in a very subtle fashion. He simply left an opening between them.

If you look carefully, the openings almost appear like entries in a maze. And note that Basset carefully places them so that they open over the background, creating a seamless transition from one panel to the other.

But why have panels out of order in the first place? That truly is the genius part. In a traditional layout, our eyes would track to the end of the first tier, then go back to the far left to track the second. There would be a brief pause in the action as our eyes moved from one tier to the other.

With Basset's organization, there is no pause. The eyes continue to gain momentum as they loop around the far right panel and race to the final panel at the far left. That momentum adds to the action of the last panel, and we can feel the carpet take flight.

If the panels were laid out traditionally, that sense of motion would have been lost. If Basset had cluttered up the grid with directional arrows, the sense of motion would have been lost. Only by providing almost subliminal directions and arranging the panels just so did he achieve his result.

And that's comic strip genius.

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