Comics consist of words and images placed together within a frame. They exist in the same space, fleshing out the world of the comic and illustrating action, either through what we read in the text or what we see in the icons. While existing in the same plane, the way these two comic components interact can complement one another to achieve something neither could accomplish on their own.
In Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud, the relationship between text and images occupies an entire chapter. By creating different combinations of text and image, you can modify the content to create different interpretations. Placing emphasis on one over the other generates new ways of delivering information: “generally speaking, the more is said with words, the more the pictures can be freed to go exploring and vice versa” (McCloud 155).
McCloud breaks these intersections of text and words into seven main categories:
With both text and images at their disposal, comic writers can push the boundaries of literature and the ways we extrapolate meaning. Some of the greatest writers and artists demonstrate this interplay in their graphic novels.
In Watchmen by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, the opening sequence features a gutter filled with blood, matched with an excerpt from a character’s journal describing the violence they’ve seen in the city, and how they lack remorse for the unjust. Brian K. Vaughn’s Pride of Baghdad serves as an allegory for the U.S. Army’s involvement in the Middle East, and perfectly summarizes the graphic novel in the last few pages with the words “they’re free” plastered across a bombed out Baghdad. In GB Tran’s Vietnamerica, the artist punctuates his confusion over his identity using different foods, including eggs and Twinkies.
Graphic novels not only take symbolism to another level, but the way we read and write narratives as well. By paying close attention to how the text and images in comics work together to portray information, we further develop an understanding and appreciation for the thought and storytelling that goes into creating a graphic novel.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.