Visual expressions of emotion are a large contextual component in most graphic novels. If we were to rely solely on dialogue and narration with expressionless characters, the tone of the story would drastically shift. We may generally consider the depiction of emotions to be a simple task of manipulating the shape of or space between facial features. However, it’s interesting to note that there are several mechanisms Eastern comic artists use that enhance the emotional state of a character.
Though emotional expressions always rely on facial features and body posture, Eastern graphic novels also often utilize the space outside of a character’s body. In an angry state, a character may have a clenched mouth and lowered eyebrows. To enhance the subject’s rage, lightening bolts or bold lines may be added around him/her. At times, the entire setting in certain panels is replaced with a background that emulates the character’s mood.
In my first example, the character is in a panicked state. Her mouth and eyes are wide open, and lines have been drawn over her face to suggest she is blushing. Her arms have been folded across her chest, perhaps out of fear or embarrassment. Though these details effectively convey the emotional state of the character, firm droplets are placed around her. These droplets may symbolize sweating, but they also promote the stress that the character is experiencing through their orientation to her. The portrayal of urgency in the scene wouldn’t have been as effective if the artist simply drew sweat on the character’s face.
In my second example, the character is sad; her gaze is averted, eyebrows and head are lowered, and her position on the floor radiates despair. Additionally, the artist chose to remove the setting only to replace it with a black background (black is a symbol for grief). This enhances the character’s negative emotions to a degree that probably wouldn’t have been achieved had the artist maintained the original setting.
Though emotional depiction is a universal component in graphic novels, the methods are not limited to simply manipulating facial expressions and body posture. Eastern comic artists often add linework outside of the subject’s body and even manipulate the background to fit the feeling of a scene. These techniques amplify the expressed emotions, giving the reader a captivating experience.