Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Comics Playoffs - Round One

Funky Winkerbean's recent story arc involved a high school girl's basketball team going to the playoffs -- something the sports-related Gil Thorp comic strip does as a matter of course.

Previously I compared how then-current Gil Thorp artist Frank McLaughlin and prospective replacement Steve Bryant drew the same panels. The difference in story-telling technique was remarkable and generated some good discussion in the post's comments.

This time around, it's Gil Thorp stand-in artist Frank Bolle and Tom Batiuk.

Here are two panels depicting game-winning (or losing) shots made just as the buzzer sounds.

In both cases there's no long sequence building up to the shot, so the panels have to stand on their own.

Notice the workmanlike execution of the Bolle panel. The narrative has to do all the heavy lifting here. Imagine the panel without the caption -- we see a ball bouncing off the rim, period. Without the narrative, there's no context for the picture. The caption without the picture still tells the story -- but not the other way around.

Now consider the Batiuk panel on the left. All the elements come together to pull the reader into the story, and the narrative is moved forward by all the elements.

First off, the importance of the shot is told by a word balloon (instead of a third-party narrative caption) -- the announcer's calling the game, and we're listening in. Then there's the sound effect of the buzzer. Gil Thorp tells us it's the last second. Funky Winkerbean lets the sound speak for itself (in a graphic way).

Finally, the image tells us everything we need about the shot. In addition to showing the ball going in, we see members of both teams. The expressions on their faces give us both the elation of victory and the sadness of defeat.

Take away the word balloon, and we still have most of the story.

But not all of it. The word balloon gives us the background information, the sound effect the drama, and the image the emotional context of the action. Having all those elements seamlessly work together to tell the story is the art of comic strip narrative.

Tomorrow -- action on the court!

- Ralph

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