Friday, March 18, 2005

The Discovery of Closure

Some months ago (actually, nearing on a year now) John Barber wrote a couple of articles at Comixpedia, for his Form is Function column, in which he explained how useful he found some of the filmmaking theories of David Mamet and how they pertained to the idea of closure in comics. Closure, he argued, is a good deal of what comics is about, and he expounded his personal rule for good comics writing, "Never Say What You Mean." In a nutshell, what he means is that a cartoonist doesn't have to explicitly illustrate whatever it is they want to show, but that the main points of action (borrowing from film terminology, the "beats") should happen between the panels. This allows for greater involvement as the reader's mind fills in not only the gaps in the sequence but creates the most important parts of the story.(read his articles for yourself here and here)

Another movie director (and another David), David Fincher relates a story about one woman's reaction to one of his movies. Shortly after the movie Seven came out a woman approached Fincher in a restaurant, apparently recognizing him as the director of the film. They chatted for a few moments, and she told him she enjoyed the movie. Then she asked him,
"But did you really have to show Gwynyth Paltrow's head in the box at the end?"
He was taken aback for a second. He had taken no such shot while making the film, and he told the woman so. She persisted the argument. That was what she had seen.
Go back and look at the scene for yourself. The actual shot is a worms-eye view looking up past the box to Morgan Freeman's horrified reaction. Kevin Spacey tells Brad Pitt that Paltrow's head is in the box and both Pitt and Freeman reacts as if they've seen it, but no severed head is actually shown. The woman in the restaurant had been so involved by the story that after the fact she believed she had actually seen the head. Even to the point of arguing with the director.

I first read Barber's collaboration with Alexander Danner The Discovery of Spoons about a week or two ago. Barber's artwork for the piece, very clean and anticeptic, is a perfect compliment to Danner's bleak take on corporate life's effect on individual creative expression. One image stuck in my head. A shot of a man standing at the kitchen counter. Stark graphic linework on the sparest wash of muted color, highlighting a kind of emotional disconnect between the man and his surroundings (or perhaps there is nothing in his surroundings to connect to, emotionally). His back is to us so we cannot see his face, but he is dressed in typical business attire. He has just poured himself a glass of water to wash down a bad poem. The image stayed with me for days.

The other day I read the comic again.

That panel, the image that stuck with me, the one I could see so clearly in my head. That image doesn't exist. Not only is that panel not actually part of the comic but, re-reading it, I realized the entire story is rendered without depicting a single human figure. It was all in my mind.

I don't know whose idea it was to draw the entire comic without showing even one human being. It could have been either Danner or Barber, they both seem to know what they're doing. But it was a brilliant touch for a story where the absence of creative expression is so important. By the absence of any human beings, humanity itself is so highlighted. The main idea of the comic is reached only through closure. Not just between panels, but behind the very comic itself.

Well played gentlemen, well played.


Neal said...

Excellent post.

AlexanderD said...

Wow, thank you. I'm really glad you enjoyed the story. To answer one of you questions, the original script included the occasional on-screen hands or feet, but no full human figures. John took the idea one step farther and left out the human interaction entirely, which I think was exactly the right way to go. If your interested, I've actually got several items in the "Extras" portion of my website pertaining to this story, including the original script.

Tymmi said...

I did enjoy the comic. Very much so.

My favorite line:
Poets like spoons. You see it all the time.

And thank you for pointing me toward the extras section. I caught the link between Spoons and Mug but I didn't know the story went so deep (Cubicles).

I'm looking forward to seeing the collaboration between the two of you soon.

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