I am very excited that Jay Peteranetz has agreed to share some of his insights on the intersection of comics and Common Core Standards. Next week, Jay will be a guest blogger on Making Visual Narratives and will talk about using Jeff Smith's Little Mouse Gets Ready with Kindergarten students.
He is very interested in the literary, cultural, political, and social discussions comics can bring to all readers. He has been published by small press companies across the nation, including Harvard Bookstore’s first comics anthology: Minimum Paige.
He is currently working on An American Apocalypse, an independent comic with former Colorado State Senator Bob Hagedorn.
Today is the birthday of George Herriman, the creator of the comic strip Krazy Kat.
Waterson, in his introduction to Krazy Kat & The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration wrote, "Nothing in Krazy Kat had a supporting role, least of all the Arizona desert setting. Mountains are striped. Mesas are spotted. Trees grow in pots. The horizon is a low wall the characters climb over. Panels are framed by theater curtains and stage spotlights. Monument Valley monoliths are drawn to look more like their names. The moon is a melon wedge, suspended upside down. And virtually every panel features a different landscape, even if the characters don’t move. The land is more than a backdrop. It is a character in the story, and the strip is “about” that landscape as much as it is about the animals who populated it."
Krazy Kat has been cited as an influence on countless other cartoonists including Bill Waterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Patrick MacDonald (Mutts). Charles Shultz (Peanuts) said that after seeing Krazy Kat strips, "it became my ambition to draw a strip that would have as much life and meaning and subtlety to it as Krazy Kat had." Will Eisner (The Spirit, Contract With God, Comics and Sequential Art) also claimed to be drawn to cartooning because of Krazy Kat
I'd like to talk briefly about speech balloons in comics. This is primarily because I see this essential part of comics flubbed so much - even by professionals.
Eddie Campbell suggests that artist actually do the lettering and balloon placement first and then compose their drawings around the balloons. Perhaps because most comics are not done in the way that Campbell suggests is the reason I find so many books from the “Big Two” very difficult to read.
Traditionally, in the corporate comic book industry, a script is written and the artist creates artwork from that script. Then a letterer places the speech balloons on top of the art in the “dead spaces” - or places that don’t have much acting.
Don’t get me wrong. Many times the artwork is phenomenal and the story is engaging, but the balloons are placed so clumsily on the page, it is hard to get from the front of the book to the back. This applies to the page I am going to dissect in this post. I should first mention that I have really been enjoying Matt Kindt’sMind MGMT. The story is very interesting and the brushy water color images are a breath of fresh air amidst the over rendered comic art I see in mainstream books. I met Kindt this past June and he is a gracious, kind person so, I mean him no ill will with this post.
Here are two panels from a page found in issue number two of Kindt’s Mind MGNT. They are long and wide which give it a cinematic feel. Yet the first balloon that I believe we are supposed to read is about an inch to the right of the top left corner. This wouldn’t be a problem except that the second balloon is to the left. As a Western reader I have been trained to read left to right, so to read the balloons in this way slows me down and confuses me.
In this image I have drawn arrows that show what I believe is the intended reading order of the balloons. The next panel has the reader following a “switchback” trail. We start out left to right, but then Kindt expects us to read down the left hand side of the panel. I naturally wanted to read the 5th balloon after the second because it was to the right of the second balloon.
Partially, since this is a monthly mini-series, Kindt is working with a limited page count and if he were making a longer form book, perhaps this passage would have benefited from being split into 4 panels instead of 2. Then, he could put the balloons near the top of the panels (as Brian Lee O’Mally suggests) and had us read from left to right. As it stands, the balloons seem like an after thought, which is why Campbell tells us to consider them first. Perhaps if the balloons were placed first, Kindt might have framed the images from the other side and had the read looking over the man’s shoulder instead of the woman’s shoulder.
In conclusion: I agree with Campelland O'Malley. Plan your balloon placement first. Put the balloons at the top of your panels and then dive in to the drawing.