|Comics & Sequential Art|
|Subject(s)||Comics, sequential art|
|Publication date||1985; 1990 (Expanded Edition)|
|Pages||164 (Expanded Edition)|
|ISBN||0-9614728-1-2 (Expanded Edition)|
Comics & Sequential Art is a 1985 book by Will Eisner that provides an academic overview of the principles of sequential art, focusing on the comics form. It is based on a series of essays that appeared in The Spirit magazine, themselves based on Eisner’s experience teaching a course in sequential art at the School of Visual Arts. It is not presented as a teaching guide, however, but as a series of demonstrations of principles and methods. Examples are drawn from Eisner’s own work, including several complete stories featuring The Spirit (listed below). A 1990 expanded edition of the book includes short sections on the print process and the use of computers in comics.
Comics & Sequential Art is well-regarded in the community of comics professionals, garnering praise from the likes of Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Smith, and referenced and expanded on by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics.
Eisner wrote a companion volume to Comics & Sequential Art, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, which was published in 1996.
“Traditionally, most practitioners with whom I worked and talked produced their art viscerally. Few ever had the time or inclination to diagnose the form itself… As I began to dismantle the complex components… I found that I was involved with an ‘art of communication’ more than simply an application of art.”
Chapter 1: ‘Comics’ as reading
In the first chapter Eisner demonstrates that comics have a vocabulary and grammar in both prose and illustration. He refers to an article by Tom Wolfe in the Harvard Educational Review (August 1977), expanding the term “reading” to mean more than just “reading words”.
This chapter includes the complete Spirit story, “Hoagy the Yogi, Part 2”, originally published March 23, 1947, demonstrating the use of pure imagery (visual pantomime with only incidental text) to tell the story of Ebony’s adventures with Hoagy the Yogi.
Chapter 3: “Timing”
Compositional and internal timing are demonstrated in the complete Spirit story, “Foul Play”, originally published March 27, 1949. Compositional timing is used to determine when to reveal events in the story for maximum effect (eg, surprise), whereas internal timing is used to suggest short or long periods of time within a panel (eg, using a dripping faucet). This establishes a “time rhythm”.
Chapter 4: The Frame
This is an extensive chapter devoted to the use of one of the basic tools of the comics artist: the frame. As well as many extracts, including examples of splash pages (an Eisner trademark), this chapter includes several complete stories and chapters:
- the Spirit story, “The Amulet of Osiris”, originally published November 28, 1948, demonstrates the use of frame shapes and open frames, in an adventure starring the bumbling officer, Sam Klink
- a chapter from Life on Another Planet (Chapter 7: The Big Hit), originally published August 1980, demonstrating the use of the page as a metapanel, in this case supporting the narrative in following different threads in the story
- the Spirit story “Two Lives”, originally published December 12, 1948, demonstrating the super-panel as a page in the parallel stories of Carboy T. Gretch and Cranfranz Qwayle
- the Spirit story “The Visitor”, originally published February 13, 1949, demonstrating the use of perspective (where the panel is oriented in relation to the subject) for dramatic effect (in this case not going “hog-wild” before revealing the twist in a science fiction story)
Chapter 5: Expressive Anatomy
This chapter covers gesture, posture and the face. “Hamlet on a Rooftop”, originally published June 1981, demonstrates the use of all three, casting Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy from Hamlet in a modern urban context.
Chapter 6: Writing & Sequential Art
Eisner considers the relationship between text and image, and writer and artist, including the use of scripts and dummies.
Chapter 7: Application (The Use of Sequential Art)
Eisner divides sequential art into two broad categories: instruction and entertainment. (His further subdivisions are Entertainment Comics, The Graphic Novel, Technical Instruction Comics, Attitudinal Instruction Comics and Story Boards.)
Chapter 8: Teaching/Learning Sequential Art for Comics in the print and computer era
This chapter gives an overview of skills required for successful sequential art, including drawing skills (eg, perspective), general knowledge (eg, how everyday devices work) and comics-specific techniques (eg, balloons). It also covers the printing process, the use of computers to create print comics, and electronic comics. (The latter is covered in more depth by McCloud in Reinventing Comics, including electronic publishing and payment.)
- Comics and Sequential Art (Simply Comics), a short, mostly critical review of Comics & Sequential Art