I have felt, for some time, a connection between comics and poetry. It’s an obvious connection to anyone who has ever sat down and tried to write a comic strip. I think the idea first occurred to me way back in the late 80’s when I was studying Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips. It seemed so clear that his four-panel setup was just like reading a haiku; it had a specific rhythm to how he set up the panels and the dialogue. Three beats: doot doot doot— followed by an infinitesimal pause, and then the final beat: doot.
...I am very aware of the sound and ‘feel’ of how the dialogue or narration is broken down for the panels. If you have to tell a certain amount of story in a page then you have to make decisions on how many panels you need to tell it. You need to arrange these panels — small, big or a combination of the two — and decide how to sit them on the page. All these decisions affect how the viewer reads the strip; there is an inherent rhythm created by how you set up the panels. Thin panel, thin panel, long panel: this rhythm is felt by the reader, especially when you put the words into the panels. When writing a comic strip I am very aware of how I am structuring the sentences: how many words; one sentence in this panel; two in this one; a silent panel; a single word. These choices are ultra-important in the creation of comics storytelling, and this unheard rhythm is the main concern for me when I am working out a strip.
The ‘words & pictures’ that make up the comics language are often described as prose and illustration combined. A bad metaphor: poetry and graphic design seems more apt. Poetry for the rhythm and condensing; graphic design because cartooning is more about moving shapes around — designing — then it is about drawing.
If you are drawing a picture of a house, you want it to look like a house, a specific house. However, to cartoon it properly you have to simplify it down to a usable graphic. You have to walk that fine line between trying to convey some ‘real’ element of the living world that is recognizable as just what it is, in all its specificity, and to make the image iconic and simple enough to be moved about on the page effectively as a piece of the cartoon language. This tension between the ‘real’ and the ‘cartoon’ is the central tension in drawing a cartoon strip. You don’t want to fall too much into the iconic because then the strip becomes visually boring, and you don’t want to become too detailed (or real) because then the drawings become dead things sitting there on the page and slowing down the reading of the cartoon language