This is the third in a series of analyses of exercises and activities from the Graphic Novel Intensive class at PNCA.
Number 1 is here.
Number 2 is here.
Number 4 is here.
Number 5 is here.
Number 6 is here.
Number 7 is here.
Ellen's exercise in the visual language of comics: (In-class, day two)
Ellen led us in a discussion of icons; through elicitation, she developed a scheme of iconography that included the following categories: abstract symbols for abstract concepts (example: the peace symbol☮); abstract symbols for specific concepts (example: the Greek letter pi π for a particular mathematical value); and concrete symbols with variable meaning (example: a hand with two fingers extended, which can mean peace, victory, or sod off). The class contributed several other examples, such as the international men's and women's restroom glyphs; national flags; the "no" (or "buster") circle-with-slash; and the Christian cross.
Stressing the importance of using visual language that reads quickly (i.e., which is understood with minimal conscious deciphering), Ellen moved the conversation to comics-specific icons. Examples included the various types of speech and thought balloons; emanata and other symbolia codified by Mort Walker, such as speed lines, glow lines, and so on; and conventional icons, such as light bulbs representing ideas and flying sweat indicating nervousness. Through examination of strips by Ellen herself and Jim Woodring, we discussed how some icons were contextual and some were constant, how conventions could be altered, and how there are iconic gestures as well as symbols.
We then had a short, two-part exercise. Part One was to represent two emotions with two different face/icon combinations: one traditional and one innovative. Part Two was to represent movement in as many ways as possible. We had about five or ten minutes for each part, after which we pinned up our pages and critiqued each other's work. Here's my effort:
The first two faces are supposed to represent excitement, first with a purely graphic element and then with fireworks. The second pair was meant to convey frustration; first with conventional icons and then by means of an ugly knot.
The movement sketches are pretty self-explanatory, I think; Ellen was particularly fond of the buzzing bee for some reason. The class efforts as a whole ran the gamut from traditional to experimental with varying degrees of success.
The point of the exercise was to begin to develop fluency in the conventional iconography of the visual language of comics while at the same time starting to think about expanding the boundaries of those conventions. As an introduction and a taste, it worked very well; I can see a real value in this, though, as an ongoing exercise for cartoonists, to encourage creativity and to keep from developing habits of expression that might become tired.