Morning has its routine. The shuffle down the stairs. The splosh of the tap running as I fill the coffee pot, the flick of the coffee paper into the compost, the sniff and rustle of the fresh coffee as I load up a new one. The clunk and thump of finding utensils and crockery as I grope around the kitchen for breakfast. The first slurp of coffee, and, for me, the click and thud of the morning blood-sugar test.
Of course, each morning the routine might form a different sequence – through a failure to wake up properly meaning I put my slippers on the wrong foot; or through a need to rush or prioritise one thing over another, or through technological or human error (I’m sure it was here last night!).
These changes – ever so slight, can change the tone of the day completely. Things might be forgotten, or adapted; things said, and unsaid, and new sub-routines can develop in the context of the whole. It is through these changes that routines become sequences and sequences become narratives.
‘Juxtaposed sequential art’ – this paraphrase and reduction of Scott McCloud’s definition of “comics” in his book Understanding Comics, is my working rule of thumb. There are loads of qualifications and discussions to had around the full definition, but for me this paraphrase allows me to zero in on the idea of sequence.
I like sequence – one thing after another. But the great bit is the choice for the artist about which sections are shown in the sequence; the other great bit, is that whatever you choose, the reader gets to fill in the blanks.
For the artist then, these choices allow narrative decisions to become aesthetic decisions, and vice versa. Which means, that using sequence has helped me understand the individual panel better, and made me enjoy single image composition more – perhaps because I don’t feel the pressure of each frame having to convey everything? (Perversely I think this has helped me create some of my best single images – ones that work even out of context. A process that is driving some of my work at the moment, which I’ll include at the end – fig.4.) Sequences allow me to access nuance of expression, such as this page about advice [fig.1].
This page is pretty simple – advice sucks! And the dialogue doesn’t really need to elaborate on that. In fact, for this page I was most interested in using facial expressions to show how responding to that simple situation requires a range of emotional and psychological responses and strategies; to show how a build-up of emotion – even where it might seem spontaneous, is a complex process. The page also lets me play with symbols or icons as gestures. In this case the ‘muppet-like’ mouths repeat as colour blocks and force the face across the panel to emphasise the increasing pressure and noise on, what is a two-dimensional, and therefore silent, page. Alongside these mouths are speech bubbles overlapped and cramped into one panel to reinforce this intensity. By taking the time over this sequence the panels have room to breathe, to reflect on nano-sections of a process, that if expressed in one panel might lose the chance to reflect on the moment.
This can be extended, as in the following two pages which increase the grid from nine to twenty. [fig.2 & fig.3]. These pages employ different strategies – fig.2 slows time specifically to reflect on the weight of a hypoglycaemic episode, whilst fig.3 mixes and matches literal recollection with expressionistic symbols to consider the emotional variations that type 1 diabetes can bring on, even when not specifically medically driven.
In many ways what this allows me to do when drawing out these pages is reflect in a new way on these experiences. I have to design this understanding, and chose to express them in aesthetic ways that correspond to my experience (there’s loads I could talk about in the colours here), ways that might not – and I would say would not, be captured if I was to use other mediums – ones that might compress the situation, or drift past all that I found important. I guess that’s why I see comics as a great way to research medicine, and why I think the aesthetics of what I’m doing is bound up with that investigation.
P. S - new stuff (some):