SEQA 100 – a quick discussion on comic strips and comic books

Asked: “Comic strips have a larger mainstream acceptance in the United States than comic books. More people read a comic strip on a daily basis than read a comic book. They are two very different forms of storytelling, and yet they share a lot of similarities. … Does the smaller use of closure in comic strips improve their stories, or are comic books more powerful because of the extra closure that they employ? Why or why not? Do you think that non-visual closure is more powerful, or is visual closure the better way to support a story? Why or why not? Which format is a more effective means of storytelling? Is this because of closure or some other element?”

Big Nate Comic Strip (3_1_11)

I find that comparing comic strips and comic books is a bit difficult.  This is not because they are different mediums, as both are considered comics and rely on visual storytelling in addition to employing words to convey information.  A comic strip is what I consider a quick take on a topic – – a fast statement, a joke, a slice of life. A comic book is a story that delves a bit deeper because the length of the book allows for more development.  Both forms employ closure and rely on the reader/viewer to insert information between the panels, or to make connections between scenes.

Garfield-comic-stripDepending on the story one seeks to tell, a comic strip might be preferred, as people tend to want quick information, entertainment (consider the popularity of the scrolling news on CNN or the quick takes of USAToday versus the lengthier newscasts, newspaper articles, and news magazines).  The concise comic strip works with reliance on archetypal characters, universal concepts, and common knowledge. It has little space to provide scene to scene or moment to moment closure, and thus relies heavily on aspect to aspect.  As in the Garfield comic, the strange costume prompts questions about intentions.  The Lost Sock comic seeks to present a moral message, a parable, if you will.  It jumps from a statement by mom to the actions of a determined child to find purpose for a solo sock. It uses scene to scene closure and jumps through her repair/repurposing actions.

A comic book allows for the artist/writer to introduce a backstory and create an exposition before building the plot of the book and resolving the story. It has the length to employ a variety of closures which force the reader/viewer to interact with the story.  It can also vary the gutters and formatting of panels to add interest and intrigue to the art presentation.  There is the possibility of a more powerful visual experience because there is no real limit to the length of the story.  While it may convey the same concepts, jokes, statements, or slices of life as a comic strip, it can build them more completely.  One additional element a comic book might have is character dynamics – – there is time to show change.  The short “How to Read a Comic Book” starring Sesame Street characters shows how the variations of page layout add interest to the story.


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