Timeframing: The Art of Comics on Screens

Synchronization in “Our Toyota Was Fantastic”

Our Toyota Was Fantastic” is a delightful webcomic by the French cartoonist Boulet that nostalgically recounts the experience of a nighttime car ride home from a child’s perspective. The entire comic is made up of GIF animations, each just a few frames long. Each animation spans either one or two rows of panels, and establishes local temporalities both within individual panels and across groups of related panels. In some panels the animation is no more than wiggling of text; in others, more dramatic changes are evident.

This particular webcomic is the only one on the site to date that makes use of animation; clearly, the artist realized the synergy that would be possible between the technique and the subject matter and made the most of it. The patterns of urban architecture, the contrasts of which are increased at night, combine with the static framing and subject matter of a car’s interior to provide an ideal canvas on which to explore looped motion.

One sequence of panels depicts the transient effects of streetlights as the car passes through a village. We are used to comic panels representing discrete, successive moments, but the addition of animation in these panels creates a shared, synchronized temporality that leads the reader to interpret them as simultaneous “live” views of the scene.

Boulet here chooses to synchronize the animation of the passing lights across all three panels, but just as easily could have set them in alternating or polyrhythmic relationship to each other. A truly dynamic presentation that departed from the fixed sequencing of GIF animation could also vary the tempo and add syncopation—it’s interesting to think of the effects such alternate approaches would have on the reader’s perception of the moment, or even a more subtle change like delaying the loop by a few frames in each subsequent panel.

Questions: what exactly is being represented here, temporally? Are we looking at three simultaneous “live” views? Or perhaps each subsequent panel takes place one oscillation in the future? Or are these just loops, and nothing more?

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