Sequential Illustration

Sequential illustration responds to narrative through a sequence of images, visualising it over time through cartoon strips and graphic novels, storyboards and animations. Although writing may exist within cartoons, the images are more dominant. Visually, sequential illustrations make use of the idea of the frame and camera lens and construct the story by careful use of different types of edits.
Will Eisner ‘Theory of Comics and Sequential Art’ downloadable pdf

Types of narrative

Simple narratives have  a beginning, middle and end: the protagonist has a problem at the start, encounters conflict through the middle and reaches resolution at the end…. What makes the story complex, wonderful, entertaining or tragic are the details of the characters, the setting, the plot of the narrative and the genre in which it’s set. ‘ Course text p87.

In some cases genre codes and conventions may provide the reader/viewer with some certainty as to what they’re about to experience. On the other hand, genres may be deliberately mixed to spice things up.

Framing and storyboards

All forms of sequential illustration use the idea of the frame or panel in some way to move the narrative along. This uses visual language from film and TV – varying close-ups, mid or long shots of what’s going on. Like film, distinct grammars may be used in different genres.

Action: Sequential illustrations, unlike moving image or animation, have to represent movement and action via the static medium of drawing. Action has to be implied. This is often done through association, showing people mid-walk, cars moving, actions taking place, but it can also be
done through careful use of editing, jump cutting from scene to scene.

Sounds: Like actions, sounds have to be implied in sequential illustrations. Speech bubbles do the job of conveying the spoken word in a number of different ways, but actual sounds are often represented onomatopoeically, or as they sound. These KAPOWs, BRRRRRMs and WHOOOOSHs are further enhanced through the use of visual typography, creating fractured words, letters falling downwards or bursting out, anything that helps bring that sound to life.

Narrative research

Cartoon strip

Cartoon strips are perhaps the simplest form of sequential illustration. They may be said to originate in the stone carving narratives of many ancient civilisations. Early Renaissance examples had narratives running across panels.

Very simple cartoons may consist of just 3 frames using a very tight narrative of simple beginning, middle, end. Other cartoons are longer with more space to develop the story, either with more panels or a continuous story over several episodes.

Comic books

The comic book extends the cartoon strip into a publication, with longer pieces and more specific content. Fashions come and go and they vary in their drawing complexity. Comics include:

  • Weekly and annual comics for children and ‘would-still-be’ children: DC and Marvel comics of the 40s and 50s, The Beano, Dan Dare
  • Japanese Manga
  • 1960s counterculture with artists like Robert Crumb
  • 1970s punk with artists like Gary Painter
  • 1980s Viz comics for adults
Graphic novels

In the graphic novel, the basic form of the cartoon is extended to cover longer narratives. Often graphic novelists focus on more complex forms of narrative and, as the term ‘novel’ suggests, see themselves more as a part of the world of literature than comics. Graphic novels can be created by an illustrator-author or be a collaboration between an illustrator and an author.

Storyboards

The image remains free of any speech bubbles, descriptions or sounds; instead, this information is presented at the bottom of each frame, with additional information on the type of edit being used and how long for. Storyboards are more functional than other forms of sequential illustration; they’re a form of visual idea development specifically for the moving image.

Research:  Pick some examples of of comic book, cartoon and graphic novel artists:

  • What’s the relationship between the narrative and the style of drawing being used?
  • Which is most important in making the story work?

 

Kafka Metamorphosis

Kafka’s short story The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung), first published in 1915, is the tale of a man called Gregor who wakes up one day to find himself transformed into a beetle. The story then explores how Gregor and his parents deal with this transformation. The Metamorphosis is set in Gregor’s bedroom in his parents’ house, and the door of the room
becomes an important visual metaphor for being trapped.

Research how different illustrators have tackled this story. You’ll find that there’s a limited range of images – the bedroom door, the beetle and the bed. How have illustrators used these elements?

Extend your research to look at film, artists, theatre, TV and other visual representations. Where in the narrative have artists placed the image – before, after or during the transformation? How have illustrators’ choices framed your understanding of what the story is about? Which do you
think is the most successful version?

Illustrations

My favourites: Luis Scafati

http://fer1972.tumblr.com/post/119459616559/franz-kafka-and-the-metamorphosis-illustrations

original cover
original cover
Rich Johnson: Poor Mr Samesby!
Rich Johnson: Poor Mr Samesby!

 

Erin Shore: Get Back!
Erin Shores: Get Back!
Rohan Daniel Eason: Creepy Cute KJafka for kids
Rohan Daniel Eason: Creepy Cute KJafka for kids
A B Yehoshua
A B Yehoshua

New Topographics

“New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” was  curated by William Jenkins at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House (Rochester, New York) in January 1975. In his introduction to the catalogue, Jenkins defined the common denominator of the show as “a problem of style:” “stylistic anonymity”, an alleged absence of style.

The exhibition was a reaction to the idealised landscape photography  of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and was influenced by Ed Ruscha who, in the 60s, had made a series of artist’s books with self-explanatory titles such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Some Los Angeles Apartments, Every Building on the Sunset Strip and  Walker Evans, who had photographed the vernacular iconography of America in road signs, billboards, motels and shop.

“The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion,.” “[…] rigorous purity, deadpan humor and a casual disregard for the importance of the images.” Technically, half the photographers were working with 8″×10″; (20 cm × 25 cm) large format view cameras; those who were not were using either square medium format (Deal, Gohlke), or in the case of Baltz, 35 mm Technical Pan, a slow and high-definition Kodak film that the photographer printed on 8″x10″ paper. Only Baltz and Wessel were using regular 35 mm cameras and film. A notable element of the show was that the artists were, or would be, linked with higher education as students, professors, or both—a change from the preceding generations.The shift from craft or self-teaching to academia had somewhat been started by photographers such as Ansel Adams and Minor White, but the new generation was turning away from the approach of these forebears. This was illustrated by the subject matter that the New Topographics chose as well as their commitment to casting a somewhat ironic or critical eye on what American society had become. They all depicted urban or suburban realities under changes in an allegedly detached approach. In most cases, they gradually revealed themselves as coming from rather critical vantage points, especially Robert Adams, Baltz, and Deal.

Photographers

Sean O’Hagan

The show consisted of 168 rigorously formal, black-and-white prints of streets, warehouses, city centres, industrial sites and suburban houses. Taken collectively, they seemed to posit an aesthetic of the banal. …Their stark, beautifully printed images of this mundane but oddly fascinating topography was both a reflection of the increasingly suburbanised world around them, and a reaction to the tyranny of idealised landscape photography that elevated the natural and the elemental.

The prints were in a 20 cm × 25 cm (8″×10″) format except for Joe Deal (32 cm × 32 cm), Gohlke (24 cm × 24 cm – close enough to 8”×10”), and the Bechers with typical European (for the time) 30 cm × 40 cm prints.

However despite their similarities, there were significant differences between the photographers in their reactions to, and portrayal of, the suburban environment and their political conclusions on responses to it.

See Greg Foster-Price and John Rohrbach ‘Re-framing the New Topographics’ 2013 University of Chicago Press

Robert Adams: disappearing wildernesses, pointed his camera at eerily empty streets, pristine trailer parks, rows of standardised tract houses, the steady creep of suburban development in all its regulated uniformity.

Lewis Baltz: stark photographs of the walls of office buildings and warehouses on industrial sites in Orange County.

Joe Deal

Frank Gohlke

Nicholas Nixon: innercity development: skyscrapers that dwarfed period buildings, freeways, gridded streets and the palpable unreality of certain American cities in which pedestrians seem like interlopers.

John Schott

Stephen Shore : shot in colour. It seemed to heighten the sense of detachment in his photographs of anonymous intersections and streets.

Henry Wessel, Jr

Bernd and Hilla Becher: stark images of Pennsylvania salt mines and giant coal breakers were as coolly architectural as their images of German cooling towers and industrial plants. The suggestion was that there was something determinedly European about this new American gaze.

Ecological citizenship and automobility

The works in different ways question our responsibility in relation to the natural environment. Taken at a time of rapid environmental change, commercialisation and often homogenised destruction of the natural wilderness romanticised by Ansel Adams, they aim to promote a sense of responsibility for what Robert Adams calls the ‘half wilderness’.

There is a general concern with the homogenisation and also isolation of much of modern construction and urban sprawl. Roads that cut of and surround dwellings that can only be accessed by cars.

They differ in their approaches to technological advances like the reliance on the motor car. For Shore and Schott however there is more of a celebration of the accessibility and democratisation of life. Shore in particular celebrates the colour and vibrancy of cities and parking lots.

‘Shore’s images may be seen as ignoring environmental degradation…Yet his photographs encourage a sense of wonder and appreciation, even in the most familiar, most mundane spaces’.

There is thus a core message of the exhibition as a whole: we need to notice and appreciate what is around us in the ‘semi-wilderness’ and make sure we preserve and protect what is valuable in it. In terms of human colour and nature. Not relegate ‘conservation’ to an ever-shrinking small protected area of idealised wilderness. It is all important.

Legacy

The exhibition was recreated in various locations: in 1981, six years after its original presentation, it was shown in reduced form at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, UK, under the auspices of Paul Graham and Jem Southam. A large scale presentation of the exhibition was organized in 2009 at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. “New Topographics” began an international tour in 2009, with stagings at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2011 the exhibition was on view at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and later at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum in Spain.

Baltz, Gohlke, and Shore were later commissioned by the French government for the Mission de la DATAR.

The exhibition was very influential in the subsequent developments in both US and European landscape photography, including the work of Andreas Gursky, Paul Graham,  Candida Höfe and  Donovan Wylie.  See the following interviews with LA photographers discussing how they have been influenced by the photographers at the exhibition: