by Darryl Ayo
Picking up where we left off last week, here is part two of the Dramatic Entrance” series. Today, I want to talk about common knowledge, assumptions and the value of taking things for granted.
Taking for granted
It’s something that we’re taught from an early age not to do. However, one has to imagine that at least some things are taken for granted. If you hold up an object and then let it go, you take for granted that it will drop. Or a writer takes for granted that the readers know what a car is.
The object around which I will base this week’s discussion is the first string of panels from the first page of a storyline in Meredith Gran’s “Octopus Pie” webcomic. This particular storyline not only opens “cold,” but opens past the midst of action and deep into action having already been happening within the world of the characters. There is no set up for the scene depicted above; the story begins with a car overturned in the snow.
Most fictional car crashes are depicted as significant happenings–the result of important plot points. A sequence of events: a car is traveling, someone makes an error or something goes wrong, the crash is the result. In a great many cases, both fictional and real, a car crash is an ending to a sequence of events. But here, it’s not even the beginning. The crash is not the point of the story–it’s a non-event. In life, an overturned car is almost certainly the most important thing to occur in the day of anyone involved. In this story, it’s not even depicted. The implication is that the REALLY exciting events are what happens afterwards.
In Superherolandia, there is a good deal of debate, discussion and, let’s face it, discontent about the contemporary comic book writing style commonly referred to as “decompression.” The long and short of it is that modern superhero comic stories tend to be longer, running for several issues whereas decades ago, similar stories might have generally been told in an issue or two. On one hand, this allows for a more naturalistic storytelling style, opening up characters to greater detail, nuance and depth of motivation. On the other hand, it is argued that the stories are just inflated in order to fill out to the length of graphic novel collections. It is sometimes said that “nothing happens” in a single issue of some superhero storylines.
While Octopus Pie is not a superhero comic, the above opening sequence calls to mind the decompression argument. Eschewing all elaborate setup and diving into the deep end, Gran packs as much information into the first three panels of this individual strip than sometimes occurs in an entire modern superhero comic issue. Let’s say that a superhero storyline calls for a car crash. There might be an entire issue in which the only intense event is that car crash. This strip, however contains the remnants of a car crash; Gran couldn’t even be bothered to fit the event in. She fills the panel with the details that the reader will need and the story carries on without so much as a mention of this potentially fatal circumstance.
With this opening sequence, Meredith Gran drops the reader deep into this world with no coddling, no elaborate set-ups, not even the violent event itself. We all know what we’re looking at and generally how these things happen, so let’s move on.
Image, (c) 2011 Meredith Gran.