Hello friends! For this blog post and for inspiration for our next project, I decided to pick up something related to my English major at the library (which is also my happy place, if you didn’t know). After browsing some of the sections of comic books at the Holland & Terrell Library, I stumbled across Matt Wagner’s Grendel. If you don’t have any context, PLEASE allow me to explain: Grendel is the demon from Hell that a character long ago, known as Beowulf, slays to save townspeople and their king. It’s an unbelievably old epic poem with known author and no one really knows how it survived except for in a single manuscript known as the Nowell Codex. Really, that’s all the information you need. I could go into deep detail about this book, but let’s face it: no one really wants to know more about Beowulf than they have to.
So, to save everyone the trouble, we’ll talk about Scott McCloud’s idea of “closure” and “time frames” instead! According to McCloud, closure is “the phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole” (63). In this version of a twisted Beowulf, Wagner does exactly this, with a bit of layout help. On page 11 of the novel, Wagner shows a scene of the main character, who happens to be Grendel’s lawyer, being attacked by mob men who he has prosecuted. Grendel then appears as either a well-timed hero or by being summoned by this character, and in the split second of a page-turn and two panels, Grendel has attacked the mob men and killed them, and the scene shows the men lying on the expensive Persian rug in the lawyer’s house.
Now, how is this considered closure? Because the phenomenon of the scene happened not only in two panels, but in two frames separated by a page turn, Wagner uses closure to place in the reader’s mind exactly what will play out in the scene, but not include the gory details of the killing. This way, it saves some mystery and active engagement for the audience, and saves Wager some drawing time. I would, like McCloud’s example of the man and the axe, consider this scene a subject-to-subject transition. The scene stays the same, and adds some action of the same character. Readers, as I mentioned before, have to put in some effort to understand how to read the panels and come to a logical conclusion that the author set up for them to figure out. For these reasons, the panel information and the reading of it has to be meaningful.
The second idea that McCloud mentions in his book are known as “time frames”. Time frames, according to McCloud, are a mixture of panel size and shape, as well as the faces and words in a panel that are linked in relation to action and time (96). The best way I can explain this is by looking at an example from Wagner. On one page, 22, Wagner manages to bounce from a close up of Grendel to a extremely tall building he is perched on in the panel next to it. This difference, though the shape of the panels are the same, are different in size, which makes me, as the audience, see that the right panel is a close up compared to the zoomed-out version of the building and Grendel’s perch. Similarly, this page goes from the present moment of Grendel’s life to a flashback of how he got there in the first place. Grendel, perched on the building, reflects as he looks at the night sky of his childhood and the events that lead to his career as “the devil”. Wagner does an excellent job of using one page with similar panel ideas to communicate this idea. Grendel goes from on top of a building that could either be taken as a business, a hotel, or a school in the imagination because of lack of identification factors and zooms into the inside of the “building”, where young Grendel is in school questioning his life. That is the brilliance of Matt Wagner’s art.
Thank you for coming to my baby TED talk on Wagner’s comic. I’m so excited to read the whole book. I hope you enjoyed learning about it as much as I did.