Franz Wickhoff’s methods of narration – in comics?Posted: March 10, 2013
Franz Wickhoff’s 1895 text Die Wiener Genesis (also known as Römische Kunst, available in English at archive.org) is best remembered for two things: on the one hand, Wickhoff recognised the value of ancient Roman art at a time when it was still regarded as a poor man’s Greek art. On the other hand, he proposed a theory of three methods of pictorial narration:
- the isolating method: each scene of a story is depicted in its own image, clearly separated from the others.
- the continuous method: different scenes of a story share the same background, so that the image of one scene continues into the next one.
- the complementary method: all scenes of a story are depicted in one single image.
Obviously, comics with their panel borders usually use the isolating method to tell their stories. There have been attempts by comic scholars to use all three of Wickhoff’s narrative methods in definitions and classifications of comics, e.g. by Eckart Sackmann in 2006 (in German). What I’m more interested in, though, is if we can find examples of continuous and/or complementary narration in comics that predominantly use isolating narration.
To test this, I picked up a comic that I happened to be reading (not a scholarly sampling method, mind you), the French edition of J. P. Nishi’s パリ 愛してるぜ~ / Paris aishiteruze (À Nous Deux, Paris! in French). And sure enough, there are plenty of examples of continuous narration on the first couple of pages already. Consider, for instance, an image on the third page (p. 5 in the Philippe Picquier edition): the same figure is depicted twice in a telephone booth, standing up and kneeling. The effect of this use of continuous narration is to emphasise the suddenness of the young man’s diarrhea attack – in one moment he’s still able to stand, in the next moment he isn’t anymore, but the time between these two moments is too short even for a panel transition.
This kind of continuous narration is fairly common in humorous comics, but I have yet to find an example of the complementary method in comics. I can imagine that certain kinds of short episodes within a story, such as dreams, or events narrated by a character, lend themselves to the complementary method.