Timeframing: The Art of Comics on Screens

Timeframing: An Aesthetic Practice Compatible with Comics

In Reinventing Comics, after McCloud poses his question about temporality and immersion, he goes on to articulate the “infinite canvas” as an alternative to more awkward mergings of filmic and comic language, an approach which many creators have explored with great success, as in Rachel Smythe’s Lore Olympus. 

Less attention, however, has been given to articulating an aesthetics of time which might coexist with the seven characteristics of comics identified by Goodbrey. For while those characteristics may largely define the expressive potential of comics as a medium, and while they may have arisen as a response to the lack of literal time in print, the reintroduction of time in the digital medium does not, by default, negate their impact. It does, however, profoundly alter the ways in in which they work. Goodbrey has explored some of these effects in his research, and I’d like to propose that we expand and formalize the analysis of these practices under the term “timeframing.”

Timeframing is the “creative juxtaposition of temporal vignettes” — representations of events unfolding over time which are bounded, both spatially and temporally. A vignette’s spatial bounds may be obvious, like the sharply defined frames of a split-screen sequence in a movie like Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair, or they may be subtle, like the overlapping loops of a digital comic like Stevan Živadinović’s Hobo Lobo of Hamelin. The temporal bounds of a vignette might likewise be obviously clamped, as in a GIF animation with a jarring loop point, more subtle, as in a Cinemagraph, a genre of GIF animation which emerged in connection with fashion photography, or even algorithmic, as with the randomly selected idle animations of a video game character. 

A temporal vignette is time in a box, whether that box is literally visible or not, and timeframing puts boxes of time in dialogue with each other. In doing so, as a practice it inhabits the space between the binaries of still and motion; between parallel and serial; between reading and watching. Instead of making the visual language of comics obsolete, timeframing leverages its grammar to generate complex compositions driven by the independence of space and time made possible in digital media. If we want to more consciously engage the practice of timeframing, it can be helpful to map out the aesthetics of mediated time. What are some of the different affective properties of temporal vignettes?

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