couple of days back I promised to explain my reasoning behind my reconfiguration of Alan Moore’s 'camera angles' in Chapter 5 page 26
of FROM HELL
Back in ’84 I had my first in-print encounter with Alan Moore, in a ‘chat’ set up and taped by Escape magazine
editor Paul Gravett (it's in issue 5
). I confess I went in with the intention of sparking a printworthy argument by describing a ‘pictorial language of melodrama’, which was dominating the art of the comic book and maintaining it in a retrograde state. I then cheekily located Alan on one side of it and me on the other. Four years later Alan engaged me to work on From Hell, and there at the very top of the proposal was printed: ‘Being a melodrama in sixteen parts.’ I thought he was having a dig at my earlier theoretical position, but no, he’d forgotten all about that and this was to be the official subtitle of the book.
The essence of my thinking was, or is, since I haven’t reneged on it, that if we are seeking to use the comic strip form to tell a more sophisticated kind of story, the first thing we needed to do was to reassess the assortment of devices that we were inheriting. They may have been suited to the pictorialising of SUPERhuman drama, but were lacking when it came to examining the small but infinitely interesting business of everyday people. The first problem to be addressed was what I have usually called ‘the cinematic principle’, and if you can name it better, be my guest. It’s the idea that we’re always looking through a camera. In a comic book script it shows itself in ways that we have long stopped being conscious of. For instance, we will tend to automatically describe a view as being in long-shot or close-up. We have forgotten that these are movie terms. They have entered into everyday usage. But let’s look further. If we place a long shot beside a close up, we’ve introduced another cinematic technique, that of ‘cutting’.
And here’s another: ‘tracking’, (from Alan’s script, page 24): “SAME SHOT, WITH US TRACKING ALONG IN FRONT OF POLLY, KEEPING HER THE SAME DISTANCE AWAY FROM US EVEN THOUGH SHE IS STUMBLING FORWARD…”
And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, and most certainly not in the hands of a master such as our Mr Moore, but I have often looked at samples in aspiring artist portfolios where all the technical issues have not been understood.
My idea was to take ‘cutting’ away and replace it with a keen observation of body language. In order to see subtle interactions between two bodies, the leanings toward, the leanings away, the slight turnings, superior straightenings, lookings down, lookings away, while not necessarily leaning the same way, lookings inwards, subtle changes in the emotional temperature, but instinctively dealing with it and not categorizing it like this, etc, etc… then the two bodies need to be seen in each and all of the pictures. My thoughts along these lines developed further after reading an interview with Bernard Krigstein
a long time ago (the one from Squa Tront*, probably reprinted elsewhere since then) where he complained that the fragmentation you get in comics goes against pictorial logic and usually works against the drama that the artist is supposed to be expressing. I formulated a rule from this:
CAMPBELL's RULE #1: The entire drama of a given situation must be contained within each panel of the sequence of that situation.
Thus, if you take Krigstein’s masterpiece, the short story Master Race
, and look at the second last page (above), you will observe that in eleven panels ten of them show both the chaser and the chased. Add five at the foot of the previous page, and one at the top of the next one, and you get a run of seventeen panels showing both characters (with only one break). The subject of the drama is the relationship between them, and there isn’t a single panel where you could say that we lose sight of that simple essence.
So, given a situation such as the one in From Hell Chapter 5 page 26, I grabbed the opportunity to dwell on the subtleties that Alan wanted to focus upon in the scene, the strange undercurrents and suggestions of a different kind of relationship from the one that was being played out. Get all those cameramen and equipment, and the director and the sound engineer and the continuity girl and the boy with the clapperboard, out of that tight space and focus on the humanity.
* interestingly, there's a Dave Sim interview where he says this same issue of that magazine is one of his most important possessions
and quotes a long extract from the Krigstein interview.
Labels: comic books 1, my rules