Sunday, February 27, 2011

What it is & What it Was

By Douglas Noble

This is a story about a woman (a widow) and a young girl. It spans many years, and has an air of melancholy and sadness about it, as do many stories concerning death, longing, and loss.

The last time I reviewed one of Noble's comics I ended up viewing it as more of a series of visual poems or narrative experiments. This one is more of a straight forward comic, but it stil uses some techniques that I found interesting.

Narrative captions are not as popular in comics as they once were, but they are still used, and here Noble uses them in a particularly literary manner, combining elements of prose with those of comics. Showing when he can, telling when he can't.

Sure, you could have one of the characters saying (or thinking) some of these narrative captions as dialogue, but it would give a considerably different feel to the whole comic. The characters would be aware of everything that they were doing, and their actions would gain a strangeness from this self-awareness, while in real life people act without talking or thinking about something specifically. Here the way information is presented allows us to gain insight into the characters in a way that avoids clumsy exposition.

Of course the page I've scanned in (below) is one of the few without large amounts of text. But even with the small piece included there ("For a second the clocks don't tick.") you can see how Noble has used the omniscient narrator to portray information that would be difficult, if not impossible, to convey to the audience otherwise. Shots of a clock not ticking? The reader doesn't know if time has frozen or what has happened. A personal narrative caption (from either the girl or the old woman) thinking back and remembering that moment wouldn't work so well either and would give the whole story a different feel.

The third person narration makes it seem like a story being told specifically to the reader, which isn't a technique I remember seeing in comics that much. (Of course now I will either stumble across like eight, or you'll all tell me about some.)

Artwise Noble uses a very thick line for much of his art, leading to characters having few facial details and their eyes represented as inky black pools. Noble also uses a lot of close up panels of specific details (a mouth, a hand, an apple) and panels which do the exact opposite by pulling back to such a distance that we're left only with featureless sillouhettes and shadows. These methods may have been used because Noble is trying to get around certain weaknesses in his art, but it succeeds in giving the whole comic a sort of European art-movie feel to it, though part of that might have been the scene featuring two people standing on a bridge in Venice talking about loss.

I really enjoy how Noble seems to be trying to do new things with his comics (even if, as I said in my last review, he doesn't always succeed). It's nice to see an art form growing and evolving as people try new things. The fluidity shows that new techniques are still out there and new masterpieces are still to be made.

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