Hi, my name is Daniella – and I love comic books. (That’s me wearing my awesome Walking Dead shirt)
It started this past spring, when I was introduced to Brian K. Vaughn’s Pride of Baghdad. Based on the real life story of escaped lions in Baghdad, Pride is written from the animal’s perspective with stunning visuals. I immediately fell in love with the genre (which I will call graphic fiction to avoid a heated debate on comic vs. graphic novel); although, it didn’t start that way.
I wasn’t too taken by graphic fiction when I first studied it in creative writing. I didn’t really understand the merit, but things have changed – to date I’ve read close to 40 graphic fiction works, varying in length.
As a journalist, I just took this new addiction to be a necessary escape from reading the same material daily. When I started broadcast journalism, working on shot composition and sequence, I began to see connections between what we were learning and the fantastical world of graphic fiction. It all comes down to storytelling and using visuals to propel a story forward.
So here I am, making a claim that there are real things to be learned from the panels of a comic book. These are the five things broadcast journalists can take away from graphic fiction.
Journalists are storytellers. Reading works from a different medium opens up creative doors, so try to decipher what elements translate best into the medium you’re using. It’s important to remember that adding visual elements should not distract from the heart of the story – they should aim to enhance it. One thing I like to consider when looking at footage (and usually this starts when you’re out shooting) is if someone only sees the visuals, will there be a common thread connecting them? Artist Matthew Forsythe experimented with this notion in his no-word graphic novel Ojingogo.
Of course, as broadcast journalists we have to add a voice to the story.
Writing to your visuals
Consider what a graphic novel would be like if the panels didn’t add to what was being discussed by characters or described by the narrator. Or what about if the artwork was ignored entirely? Well, you’d be hard pressed to find any professional work like that because it wouldn’t be published. While graphic fiction writers have to consider every single panel, because essentially it is the story, a broadcast journalist has to work with the reality captured on film.
When using shots to tell your story, make sure you write to your visuals. Bring out the colour in the shot by mentioning (e.g) how the vibrant park you see on-screen being enjoyed by youth, was once a drug-infested crime area. Because graphic fiction uses a print medium, reader’s invest more time looking for nuances in the surrounding, and playing on subtleties. This may not translate as well on a television medium, but it is something to think about.
The biggest mistake, however, can be overdoing it.
When to use dialogue
I don’t like when a writer has crammed too much into one panel – it is cluttered and hard to follow (below) and can mean lingering forever on (quite often) a boring visual of one character.
And while graphic fiction is limited by the size of a frame, we are limited by the length of a video. So when you have an interview in both a radio and television broadcast piece, don’t go overboard on the clip. The asterisk to that would be if the person is doing something interesting while talking or what he/she says on the radio is worth the 20 seconds of glory. If you’re using a visual for television, don’t linger on a still shot too long – it’s boring and people will think you don’t have any other footage.
Remember, people indulging in a visual medium like movement and easy-to-follow pacing.
Shot composition and sequencing are related, but I felt they deserved separate mention. One of the greatest things about graphic novels is all the different compositions they come up with in order to create some variety. This can be difficult to consider when you’re out in the field, in a time crunch, and sometimes having to work with “nothing.” If you need inspiration on how to get some interesting angles, take a look at Pride of Baghdad. This is an example of a great shot composition – with a variety of wide, medium, and tight shots.
This is definitely where I have difficulty as a shooter because I don’t get to practise sequencing often. Knowing how to use well-composed shots in a sequential manner is like understanding where to properly place a comma in writing. Things become beautiful, easy to follow – and no one is left wondering wtf? Sequencing in graphic novels comes from a collaboration between writer and artist (reporter and editor); understanding where close-ups are needed to gauge character reaction and knowing what the next logical panel (frame) will look like.
Here’s a great example from Fables: animal farm
See all you cre.atures in broadcast J!