Timeframing: The Art of Comics on Screens

The Aesthetics of Timeframing

For one, temporal vignettes can be naturalistic: bounded, but without calling attention to themselves as such. As an example, let’s turn to Upgrade Soul, the digital comic I developed in collaboration with writer illustrator Ezra Claytan Daniels, released in 2012. In this panel, the intermittent, randomized eye blinks of the character create a sense of naturalism, that you are looking at this person in real time, with a boundedness that is intended to remain unexamined. Easily forgotten is the fact that this can’t literally be a real-time scene, because no actual person can stand forever in a fixed position while only blinking their eyes. Perhaps what is going on here is that the visual cues help us to build a mental model of how much time is being represented, and, seeing no contradictions, we accept it.

By contrast, if we were to add eye blinks to this panel from another point in the story, we would experience what could be described as a kind of unpleasant “temporal dissonance”: We can see from the girl’s expression, and the position of her pigtails, that this panel represents a near-instantaneous slice of time; eye blinks would contradict that impression by implying that a much longer span is being shown, breaking our mental model of the panel as a temporal vignette.

Temporal vignettes can be iconic: creating a sense of a heightened, dreamlike reality, often seen in Cinemagraphs like this one. Here, the unreality of the image is the point; it’s temporal dissonance deployed in a pleasing way. Temporal vignettes can be expressionistic: departing even further from the approximation of reality into animation which more than anything else suggests a mood, a tone, a point of view, character. This sequence from Sutu’s Nawlz, with its bouncy morphs, exemplifies this kind of time. Temporal vignettes can also be rhythmic—emphasizing repeated patterns, perhaps accompanied by music. And they can combine multiple characteristics, as in this example from Moontagne, a GIF comic by Oscar Langevin featured at the Angouelme festival in 2014. This panel could be said to be rhythmic, expressionistic, and iconic, all at once.

Further, the time represented within a given vignette can be of different kinds: diegetic time perceived by the characters, non-diegetic elements like camera moves that only the reader is aware of, and extra-diegetic temporality occurring outside of the story in its interface.

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