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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

The above set of comics images shows a range of Leigh Ann and my students’ approaches to combining word rendering, word containers, and word placement:

1) While drawing all words in the same style, Grace gives her two characters different kinds of speech containers. Their shapes are the same, but their line qualities differ. This would allow a reader to recognize who was speaking even if the speech tail pointed out of frame or the panel was black to indicate darkness. Grace also leaves the lower containers empty to suggest that the two characters continue talking—but it’s not really the content of their conversation that matters. The gestalt hinge connecting the panels also adds to the plot tension of their growing closeness, especially since the reading path crosses back and forth over the gutter to follow dialogue.

2) Mims’ two characters are speaking in sign language as they sit next to each other in math class. While their hand arrangements communicate words, Mims also draws accompanying English words in the spaces both outside and inside their hands and arms. The hands and arms then are word containers, and they provide the contour lines that the words follow. The word content also combines three different types: they are like speech, but since they indicate no sound, they could be understood as the characters’ thoughts or as third-person narration translating their conversation for the reader.

3) Anna’s panel is the second in a three-panel sequence and includes the middle word in the phrase “ON YOUR MARK” shouted at a track meet. Though it’s speech, there is no talk balloon and no pointer indicating from whom or what direction the word is heard. While the capitalization and size of the letters suggest volume, the vacillating use of black and white lines against the contrasting background integrates the letters into the image to a degree usually associated with comics titles or other graphic design.

4) Henry’s character is chained while forced to listen to blaring music—the words of which are scribbled over his body. Letter style, size, and placement all suggest the overpowering sound of the lyrics. The words are difficult to understand, which matches the situation. Henry also placed the “O” in the word “HOVER” so that is circles the character’s head like an internal frame near the center of the frame, drawing the viewer’s eye first.

5) Coleman’s memoir narration appears in a caption box at the top of the panel. The box is made of the same lines that create the panel and so suggests a deeper level of connection than a word container drawn as if placed over the image content. After completing the artwork, Coleman scanned it and digitally inserted his narration in a pre-made font with a hand-drawn quality that matches the style of the drawing.

6) Grace draws the title of her comic “LONE” in white letters against a black panel, while also merging the letter “O” into the story world by isolating a single figure inside it. The angle of the letters also add to the literally off-balance feel of the one-panel scene.

7) For her essay about gender in Dracula film adaptions, Anna draws a three-row layout with irregular panels that contain either images or words. If Groensteen is correct that the first, center, and final panels of a page are visually privileged, the layout accents the word containers. The containers and panels also share the same curving and fringed frame style, suggesting that words and images are essentially alike. Grace also includes white words and arrows in the black margins that link to and comment on the image content. Because the gutter words are not in containers or rows that create a rigid reading path, viewers may read them in different orders. The gutter words may also lead a viewer to the last image in the second row before the middle image, further disrupting the layout’s expected z path.

8) Grace draws the onomatopoeia sound effect “BAM” next to the jagged emanata lines around the mouth of an overturned trash can. The letters also follow and are shaped by the triangular path the main character is walking in the background, creating a kind of word container that is also part of the story world and that the bottom of the letters break as they reverse color. Because the word is read left to right, it also works as a kind of arrow leading the viewer’s eye to the main character who is turning her head. Though drawn as a single moment of time, the image actually includes at least two moments: the can falls and makes a noise, and the character turns to look in reaction to the noise.

9) Daisy draws words and numbers inside the rectangular container created by the combination of the panel frame and the lines dividing the bedroom wall within the image. Though the writing could be part of the story world if the character had decorated his apartment with them, they instead represent his thoughts as he lies in bed. Despite not existing visually in the story world, the words and numbers appear to be blocked by the bed and table as they would be if actually written on the wall. Also notice how the white space around the lamp creates the effect of a glow because the writing is a kind of crosshatch shading.

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