Blood In The Gutter – On Smart Narratives

Cleverly disguised as an easy to read comic book, Understanding Comics is a masterpiece from Scott McCloud on what makes comics as a medium – tik. Called as “…one of the most insightful books about designing graphic user interfaces ever written..” by Andy Hertzfeld, the co-creator of the Mac, Understanding Comics bares fascinating insights on time, space, art and the cosmos. A must read for anyone with a curious mind and a willingness to have some fun along the way. Go get yourself a copy if you haven’t yet and it might as well turn out to the best gift you’d have given yourself in a long time.

Blood In The Gutter is the name of my favorite chapter from the book where Scott explains what constitutes the magic and the mystery of comics through a concept called ‘Closure’. Following are some panels from the chapter that explain this concept in lucid detail:

Blog UC 1

Blog UC 2

Blog UC 3

(Scott McCloud (1993), “Understanding Comics”, p. 66, 68, 63)

It is closure that makes Comics an immersive medium that they are. For e.g., unlike in say radio and film, the audience for comics are compelled to participate more because they are required to perceive the gaps between panels and fill in the missing content themselves. No wonder then, artists from different media (Literature, Photography, Film etc) have experimented and adopted the techniques of ‘closure’ as a compelling narrative style in their own works. Three examples where this technique of closure has been adopted in 3 different media: literature, photography and film below:

Closure in Literature: One Day

One Day is a novel by David Nicholls published in 2009. While it is essentially a ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ kind of genre, the unique feature of the book is its narrative. Each chapter covers the lives of the protagonists on exactly the same day (15 July) every year for twenty years.

One Day Movie_book

This literary technique of ‘closure’ as adopted by David Nicholls in One Day had its expected results with the book being praised as a ‘persuasive’, ‘ fast’, ‘absorbing’ and ‘smart’ and went on to be named 2010 Galaxy Book of the Year. Nicholls adapted his book into a screenplay; the feature film, also titled One Day, was released in August 2011. 

As with comics, closure –  when executed well in any media – facilitates smooth and seamless transitions in time and space and establishes a tightly symbiotic relationship between the reader’s imagination and the narrative.

Closure in Photography: The Whale Hunt

The Whale Hunt is a story telling experiment by Jonathan Harris who spent nine days living with a family of Inupiat Eskimos in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost settlement in the United States. He documented their traditional whale hunt with a plodding sequence of 3,214 photographs, taken at five-minute intervals for seven days, and at even higher frequencies in moments of high adrenaline.  He then developed a framework for experiencing this story, allowing the viewer to rearrange the photographic elements of the story to extract multiple sub-stories focused around different people, places, topics, and other variables. (Source)

Go to the WhaleHunt page and experience the story unfold along different dimensions and see the cadence of closure engage your curiosity, senses and imagination.

The Whale Hunt

Closure in Film: I Love Your Work

Using a similar narrative style as used in The Whale Hunt, Harris now steps into a bold new territory by holding the spotlight on the world of lesbian porn.

Called as I Love Your Work, the project in Harris’ words “is an interactive documentary about the realities of those who make fantasies.It is a raw and intimate portrait of the everyday lives of nine young women who make lesbian porn.It consists of 2,202 10-second video clips, taken at five-minute intervals over 10 consecutive days.There is an interactive environment for exploring this material (around six hours of footage).”

What’s revealed through this tapestry of video clips separated by 5 min time intervals is an intimate portrait of a community opening up about topics like sex, gender politics, and their daily grind in a way that’s downright real and some times hard hitting.

I Love Your Work

Read this Fast Company article for a more detailed account of the project.

This powerful concept of closure (as it pans out in comics or in experiments like the ones shown above) seems to suggest one thing for certain. In order to engage, captivate and involve our minds and senses, the narrative of a story need not be continuous or seamless.

In fact what could work better in capturing and sustaining our attention spans can just be fragments of the story that are disjointed enough to let our imagination do the ‘connecting-the-dots’ drill and joint enough to let us feel that we are smart indeed!

Speak about the power of ‘smart narratives’.

Our perception of ‘reality’ is an act of faith, based on mere fragments.

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993)

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4 thoughts on “Blood In The Gutter – On Smart Narratives

  1. Wonderfully put together anna. I have been hearing about the book and also saw the brilliant TED talk he has but now after this post thats definitely next on my readin list.

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  3. Pingback: The Death of the Author and the Birth of the Comicbook Reader | Dr Séamlove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book

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