Poems are just comics without the pictures

Working in a children’s bookshop, it’s pretty clear what most parents think about poetry and comics. Poetry is the highest form of literary art. Comics aren’t. But switching between Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy and Aimee Lucido’s upcoming verse novel Emmy In The Key of Code recently reminded me of a couple of their similarities.

The first thing that comes to mind is the way my eye moves over the page when I’m reading a poem or comic, versus what happens when I read a page of prose. No matter what I’m reading, my gaze makes its way to the top left of the page, but that’s where things diverge- when it comes to comics and poetry, I’m never sure what route it will take getting to the bottom. Simply alighting on a new page of poetry or comic reveals so much. Sometimes I worry that I’ve seen too much. Something gory in a panel at the bottom of the page catches my eye and all of a sudden I’m time travelling through the scene.

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Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (1986 – 1987)

 

This is similar to how I feel when, at a glance, I see how a poet has indented certain lines or paragraphs, telling me that someone, somewhere, thought that the information on those lines deserved a little more distance from the margin. I can see those indents coming up. Again, I’m time travelling.

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One, Sarah Crossan (2015)

A more important similarity is how poems and comics manipulate the space between the said and unsaid. What is going on this page from The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1: The Faust Act, for example?

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It seems clear that the first four panels happen one after the other- the counting gives it away! But what happens after that? Do the finger clicks happen simultaneously? Why does that last person look so apprehensive? And who is that character in the final panel? How long have they been watching? Are they friend or foe?

When it comes to the divide between what is said and unsaid, almost any poem would  do, but here’s the quintessential example:

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https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45502/the-red-wheelbarrow

If you’re looking for a YA graphic novel, you could do worse than to start with Pam Smy’s super creepy Thornhill. For MG, try Cece Bell’s thought-provoking El Deafo. And for younger readers, Ben Clanton’s hilarious and heartwarming Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea!

 

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