Sometimes you wind up reading the right thing at the right time. I had read Understanding Comics before, so I wasn’t sure if I really needed the refresher. I opened it for the first time in years assuming that I would just skim it for the good bits. Of course I wound up reading the whole thing.
I was especially interested in the way he talks about time being represented spatially. There is a temptation to assume that the linear representation of the page is just a one-for-one substitute for time. McCloud points out that it doesn’t need to be.
Arranging time into a series of panels on a two-dimensional plane seems like it could be limiting but it really does open up a crazy world of possibilities. Time and space are tools at your command. The subjects of your story are framed within their own panels, and those panels are framed within the page as a whole. Exciting opportunities for storytelling can open up when we look at time this way.
This is notably difficult to do with film. Subjects are framed within individual two-dimensional compositions, and those compositions (shots) are mended together along the one-dimensional time axis. Film editors have spent a century carefully constructing an art form around how these compositions relate to each other along that single axis, and how to use that relationship for storytelling purposes. But they’re still limited to using one composition at a time. Putting together multiple compositions spatially in film has had limited success.
Which is why I’m so excited by the possibilities of interactive media. No longer being bound to a single rectangular frame (like a movie screen), we now have a chance to open up temporal and spatial possibilities for storytelling.
My PComp final involves making an animated character across two screens, one of which is in front of the viewer at the outset, and one of which is behind them.
An animated character will jump out of one screen and land in another. It’s a bit of a gimmick, but I think that the concept opens up some new opportunities going forward. I’m looking forward to expanding on the idea over the next couple years at ITP.