The Silent Appeal

When asked to define a comic, the definition will most likely indicate that a comic is a narrative or idea expressed through sequential images which combine words and pictures. Although in truth this kind of definition fits a large majority of comics, there are many comics which do not exactly fit this description. There are comics which are expressed in single panels, others which have periods of silence where words are not used and there are some comics which express the narrative without the use of any words at all. It is this final group of comics I intend to explore throughout the course of this blog. The question I should first be asked however, why limit the narration to the use of images?

There are number of advantages and dynamics particular to silent comics. The first of these advantages is that the silent comic can be understood by a much wider audience as it does not require the reader to speak a particular language. Personally I love the idea of being communicate a story which could be understood internationally regardless of any specific language, or even literacy.This is an idea which Norwegian artist supports. In an interview with Jason explains his reasons for creating silent comics “In the beginning it was something I did to reach outside of Norway, to skip the whole problem of language. Then I realized it was something I liked doing, it was easier for me to work without text, it was easier to improvise stories”.

Use of words in comics also plays a vital role in timing. Timing in comics is often dictated by the pace at which the user reads the words in each panel. The event occurring in each panel tends to last as long as it takes the user to read the panel. In silent comics it is up to the reader to decide how long they choose to give to each panel. The reader must also use their imagination in order to fill in the blanks in the narration.

There is also an element of mystery and enigma which come with silent strips. Without a specific dialogue the reader is required to work a little harder to interpret the narrative. This can require the reader to become more involved with the events as opposed to passively accepting a provided dialogue. Depending on the artist and the story this can add a mysterious feel to the narrative as the images may be open to interpretation without the reassurance provided by words.

Often it may be the case that an idea may have a great emotional impact in the absence of words. There are ideas which would lose there impact if accompanied or explained by words. It is actually this idea which first drew my interest to wordless comics. There is a piece by Norwegian artist Jason taken from his story “Werewolves of Montpellier”. This story actually includes dialogue but it is a wordless panel which provides some of the most telling information. The lead character is invited to dinner by a friend but declines stating that he had best go home. In the proceeding panel we see the character lying in silence on his bed. This image powerfully provides the reader with some key information about the character which would most probably have had lessened impact expressed through use of dialogue.


Extract from “Werewolves of Montpellier” by Jason


In the same way this silence can be used as a very powerful tool for adding humour to a piece. This sort of humour is purely visual and to add dialogue would only serve to weaken the effect of the piece. Jason again is a master of creating humorous narrative which is purely visual. Another strong example can be found in the work of British artist David Shrigley. In the comic below “Untitled” the humour of the piece is purely visual and to try an express it in any other way would surely lessen the affect.


“Untitled” by David Shrigley


There are also comics which though silent, in terms of dialogue or narration, feature ¬†atmospheric sounds. The use of this mechanic in otherwise silent comics can help to add tension and emotion to the piece. The work of Jon McNaught provides an excellent example of this. McNaught often uses atmospheric sounds such as coughing, rustling and machine noises to highlight the silence between characters in his comics. These noises help to emphasis the lack of interaction and the distance between the characters. McNaught’s silent comic “Adrift” provides a clear example of this.


“Adrift” by Jon McNaught


Silent comics can really provide a unique comic reading experience. It is any experience which at times may ask more of the reader and in turn in may offer more in return. As highlighted there are a number of factors and dynamics to consider when creating silent comic. I will explore these dynamics in greater depth throughout my blog posts in order to demonstrate that there is more to silent comics than meets the eye.

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