One of my all time favorite books is Dave McKean’s epic, Cages [1990-96].
There are many lovely sequence with no words in this book but one of them documenting a conversation between the main character and a new romantic interest always stuck with me as a great example of how things like sound mood and movement can be captured in comics.
Along with several other visual gags like word balloons filled with pictograms and fluid shifts in style to effectively communicate changed in the emotional content of the encounter.
It’s notable how being wordless not only does not hamper it, it probably facilitates it. It also takes more space than an actual conversation can if it’s just text but this may have more to do with pacing. Still, sometimes a picture is worth a million words, but other times it takes a lot of them to get across the idea.
A classic case of making the reader a participant in the writing. Often the best way to get something profound across is to not actually say it, but imply and leave space for the reader to project what they think. And how that can be a lot more profound than explicit text.
I was then reminded a LOT of this when I first read another scene, in Fabrice Neaud’s Journal T3 .
The book was published later but it’s about a time period in his life around the same as when Cages was published, so I often wonder if he was influenced by it.
ED: I later talked to Fabrice and he told me that the work in Cages very mush inspired his scene, it was done as a homage!
There are ways in which his is more efficient, and clearer in what’s been talked about. His art is more draftsmen like so it tends to be less organic and brushy. And he used a lot more repetition. But still keep a a good amount of flow in the reading and captures many of the same feelings and ideas in term of the formal tools working to play with time, movement, and communicate emotions. And he’s even bolder in shedding any text in the lean in and exit of his chapter compared to McKean’s.
Fabrice is depicting a ‘true’ event, where he has a crush on a straight guy but by the end of it there’s a hint of how they end up not connecting as much.
He used much more specific symbolism as well during the wordless conversation, while Dave has 9 pages of dialogue conversation before the wordless sequence, to frame and set it up [i’ve included those for context].
So Cages actually wordless conversation dance is only 13 pages long, compared to the whole 19 page wordless scene in Fabrice’s. Fabrice thus is doing more literal narrative work with it by far, between the specific symbols and the page count. While Dave is using it more evocatively. In Cages, a work of fiction, the story builds up the synergy of their feelings to a more positive outcome by its end. The morphological visual metaphor is built around music at first, and in Journal T3, it’s dance.
Sound versus physical motion and rhythms, all things not native to the medium of comics, leaning on visual stylizations to suggest the lived sensory experience of them.
Both of these are examples of decompressed storytelling, so they take up a lot of real estate to get the job done. You could use similar tools in a short story but you’d have much less space to get the idea across…I’ll have to see if I can find an example of that too.
And here, side by side comparisons of what I think are examples of how each artists handled a similar moment.