Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Passage of Time - Lindsey Kasmiroski

Lynd Ward's Vertigo is an interesting display of Scott McCloud's explanation of "time frames" in his book Understanding Comics. In an entire book without panels, it is hard to initially see that each wood cut is part of a sequential story. This book can be included in McCloud's definition of comics;
Juxtaposed pictoral and other images in deliberate sequence intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.
but can hardly be recognized as a comic book at all. There are no words, there are no exaggerated cartoon drawings, there aren't even page numbers. The book consists of singular images that are divided into three sections and sub-sections with subsequent title pages.
The thing about this book is that it doesn't really follow any sort of comic model other than the most basic level of the definition. The same is true for the sequence of time. One of the most iconic images for both the comic itself, and separating time and space is the thick, black, rectangular panel that breaks up the images along with helping the reader along with what's happening and when. When reading chapter four of McCloud's book, he details the different kinds of frames that can be exemplified in any comic book, and Lynd Ward has laid out a book of silent "panels". These are depictions of single moments. One thing that McCloud talks about where Ward leaves you guessing is the amount of time between each panel. If we look at each separate page as a single panel, the reader can tell that each picture is just one moment in one of the three stories being told.
Not only does the depiction of time in Ward's book make it different from the standard comic issue, it sets it apart completely. In a generic comic strip, you move your eyes from left to right to follow the story. With only one image per page, the eye is free to roam the entire illustration to fully grasp its meaning before being drawn to the next image. Without words and drawings of the past and the future assaulting the eyes of the reader, the images is allowed to speak for itself.
Another manner in which this novel has set itself apart is the variance of time between each image. In a standard comic, it is pretty easy to tell how much time has passed from panel to panel. A lot of this is facilitated by the dialogue, but the general imagery is a pretty good indication. With so many drawings on one page, the time frame is usually mere moments. If not, there is usually some sort of indication as to how much time has passed between the last frame and the next one. With ward, months or years could pass from one images to the next and the reader doesn't know without paying close attention to the characters in the frames. Even then, there could be two pictures across the page from one another that seemingly doesn't go with the rest of the story, and the characters appear on the other end. For example, in "The Girl", in 1929, we see the young woman and arm-in-arm with a man standing before a glowing door with lots of people, and then we don't see her again for another 10 pages. In between, there are pictures of workers, wagons, war, and a number of other images, and then we are met with the girl receiving a diploma. The reader has no idea how much time has passed, but all we can assume, is the extra images is what happened in the world while the girl was in school. Without dialogue, the reader has to carefully piece together the story based simply on the pictoral information given.
This, of course, brings us back to where we began. Lynd Ward's Vertigo can only be construed as a comic book by the very basics of it's definition. Without the aid of dialogue and the panel, the novel is seemingly in its own category, and it is up to the reader to decipher the meanings for themselves.


  1. Very interesting concept to apply to Vertigo, but I almost feel like you left out a huge part of the time essence in McCloud's lessons, and that is the size of the frame with regards to the passage of time and the time that passes in each frame. Overall this is good, there are just some parts of time that you didn't cover in analyzing the book.

  2. Ben is correct - you're not paying enough attention to the details of McCloud's argument, which is especially problematic since we talked at length about the size & shape of his frames in class - you can't just ignore important parts of class discussion.

    At a higher level, this essay is also problematic. Your argument is general in the extreme: you are pointing out that it fits McClouds definition for comics, but not some (undefined) other definitions for "comic book."

    But why is important that the book fits McClouds definition, but might not fit other definitions as well? What does it do for us? You aren't really *using* McCloud's theory here, which is what the prompt calls for. Can you use the fact that it fits McCloud's definition (but not others), for instance, to help us understand why some readers struggle with it, or why we might all struggle with some moments of it?

    You needed to use McCloud to help formulate a clearer, narrower argument.