Comics as a Medium

Unlike painting, drawing, sculpture, textiles, comics aren’t necessarily made of any one material. They are more of a collage. Bill Kartalopoulos, the series editor for The Best American Comics, wrote that “comics represent a conceptual strategy that can embrace all kinds of artwork into its method.” One of the best examples of the collage style in comics, and the most literal, is What It Is by Lynda BarryWhat It Is is comprised of Barry’s own drawings and words, cut-outs of pictures, and snippets of sentences and is described on Amazon as a “full-color collage”.

What It Is by Lynda Barry
The cover of What It Is by Lynda Barry

It would be nearly impossible to take What It Is and translate it into a different medium, but other comics have been. Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta was turned not only into a movie, but then adapted from the screenplay into a novel by Steve Moore (not related to Alan Moore).

V for vendetta - graphic novel
Graphic Novel Cover
v for vendetta - movie cover
DVD Cover
V for vendetta - novel
Novelization Cover














According to Kartalopoulos, “What would be lost in this translation from one form to another would be the poetics of comics: the aesthetic experience of simultaneously experiencing a comic’s form and content so harmoniously that the contours of the comic’s theme can be read in its architectural blueprint.” Kartalopoulos believes comics induce a “double vision” of sorts in the reader. That we fully experience comics by understanding the relationship between the “parts” and the “whole”. We must also be able to understand the relationship between the linear sequence of the work and the perception of any simultaneous related fragments. “This is the medium-specific quality that make comics something more than simple storyboards,” Bill Kartalopoulos wrote.

Julian Darius, founder of Sequart Organisation and Martian Lit, used The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller as an example of what the medium of comics allows the writers/artists to do:

It divided a single image into multiple panels, emphasizing Bruce Wayne’s fragmentation or the distinction between Two-Face’s dueling personalities. Its narrative was constructed through incredibly ambitious frenetic juxtaposition that wouldn’t work in any other medium. It was satirical and wild but also psychological and sophisticated, and this strange mix could only be successful in the rapidly juxtaposed panels that comics allowed.
The Dark Knight Returns No. 1 (Feb. 1986).


Alan Moore’s Watchmen is another example used by Darius. Watchmen is filled with significant detail, uses back-up material in the universe, demonstrates the potential of the nine-panel grid, and adapts cinematic techniques: zoom-outs and text that overlaps into the next scene. Darius wrote, “it was how Moore juxtaposed word and image ironically, so that they undermined one another, achieving effects no other medium could accomplish.”

Cover of Watchmen No.1 (Sept. 1986)


As a medium, according to Kartalopoulos, comics have their own “poetics,” they are intricately structured and worded in such a way, at least in the cases of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, that best utilizes the collage-like structure of comics.