How to read graphic novel isn’t as tricky as it sounds. In fact there is no right or wrong way to read a graphic novel. There is however; things that graphic novel author’s do, that are similar, that can make it easier to read a graphic novel. There are some layers that can make it more involved like symbols, graphic weight, focus, etc.
How to Read Graphic Novel: Basic Shapes
Horizontal means-calm and stable
Circle means- unity, whole
Diagonal means- action, movement
Triangle means- stability, unity like a pyramid
How to Read Graphic Novel: Perspectives of Frame
Close up-establishes emotional relationship between viewer and represented subjects
Medium Shot-establishes objective relationship between viewer and represented subjects
Long shot-establishes relationship between represented figures and surrounding environment
How to Read Graphic Novel: Vertical Angle
High angle– situates reader in position of power, omniscient view-point
Low angle– situates represented subjects in position of power.
How to Read Graphic Novel: Left to Right Structure
Given-information that is known to be reader, taken for granted
New-information that is previously unknown to the reader
How to Read Graphic Novel: Panels
Layout Panel: A distinct segment of the comic, containing a combination of image and text in endless variety. Panels offer a different experience than simply reading text: The spatial arrangement allows an immediate juxtaposition of the present and the past. Unlike other visual media, transitions are instantaneous and direct, but the exact timing of the reader’s experience is determined by focus and reading speed
Frame: The lines and borders that contain the panels
Gutter: The space between framed panels
Bleed: An image that extends to and/or beyond the edge of the page
Foreground: The panel closest to the viewer
Midground: Allows centering of image by using natural resting place for vision. The artist deliberately decides to place the image where a viewer would be most likely to look first. Placing an image off-center or near the top or bottom can be used to create visual tension but using the midground permits the artist to create a more readily accepted image
Background: Provides additional, subtextual information for the reader
Graphic weight: A term that describes the way some images draw the eye more than others, creating a definite focus using color and shading in various ways including: The use of light and dark shades; dark-toned images or high-contrast images draw the eye more than light or low-contrast images do. A pattern or repeated series of marks. Colors that are more brilliant or deeper than others on the page
Faces can be portrayed in different ways. Some depict an actual person, like a portrait; others are iconic, which means they are representative of an idea or a group of people. Other points to observe about faces include: They can be dramatic when placed against a detailed backdrop; a bright white face stands out. They can be drawn without much expression or detail; this is called an “open blank” and it invites the audience to imagine what the character is feeling without telling them.
The positioning of hands and feet can be used to express what is happening in the story. For example, hands that are raised with palms out suggest surprise. The wringing of hands suggests obsequiousness or discomfort. Hands over the mouth depict fear, shame, or shyness. Turned in feet may denote embarrassment, while feet with motion strokes can create the sense of panic, urgency, or speed.
Text Captions: These are boxes containing a variety of text elements, including scene setting, description, etc.
Speech balloons: These enclose dialogue and come from a specific speaker’s mouth; they vary in size, shape, and layout and can alternate to depict a conversation.
Types of speech balloons include those holding: External dialogue, which is speech between characters Internal dialogue, which is a thought enclosed by a balloon that has a series of dots or bubbles going up to it
Special-effects lettering: This is a method of drawing attention to text; it often highlights onomatopoeia and reinforces the impact of words such as bang or wow
Ask Students the Following Questions Prior to Reading a Graphic Novel
1. Can you find all the elements that make up a graphic novel: panels, word balloons, sound effects, motion lines, narration, and background colors? If you take out any one of these, what do you lose? Can you still understand the story?
2. How do you read a graphic novel? Do you look at the images and words together, panel by panel? Do you read all the text on the page and then go back and look at the pictures? Do you look at the pictures first and then go back and read the words? There’s no right way to read a graphic novel, and many readers go through them differently. Compare how you read an assigned graphic novel with how your neighbor does, and see if how you read it is different or the same.
3. Graphic novels use both words and images. Pick a page or a sequence from a graphic novel and think through what you learn from just the words. Then think about what you learn from just the images. Are they telling you the same information, or are they giving you different information? How do they work together?
4. Expressions and gestures are important to how we understand characters. Can you find an example of a particular expression or movement that you think shows a significant character trait?
5. Literary devices frequently featured in graphic novels include point of view, flashbacks, foreshadowing, and metaphor. Choose a graphic novel and see if you can find examples of a traditional literary device within its pages.
6. Many elements of graphic novels are similar to what you see in movies. A graphic novel creator can be the director in deciding what each panel and page shows. Think about the frame of each panel. What are you seeing? What are you not seeing? What about the camera angle? The distance from the subject of the panel? Are there any sound effects? Why did the creator make those choices?
7. On top of being a director, graphic novel creators are also editors. The action in comics happens “in the gutters,” or in the spaces between each panel. Sometimes big things happen in the time it takes to turn the page. Looking through a graphic novel, can you find a specific sequence of panels or a page turn that you think is dramatic or exciting? Why do you think the creator chose that sequence of images or that page turn to emphasize that moment?
8. The pace at which panels change, and how much time seems to pass, is carefully presented. Time, in how fast or slowly it seems to pass, is important in how panels change. Can you find a sequence where the pacing is slow, observing a character or scene? How about a sequence when everything speeds up?
9. In prose works, details are given to the reader in the descriptions. In graphic novels, details are in the images in the background, character design, clothing, and objects. Take a look at this graphic novel and see if you can find five details in the way a person or object is drawn. What does each detail tell you about the characters? The place? The world?
Graphic Novel Study Units in “WE ARE GRAPHIC NOVELS” Teachers Pay Teachers Store
To read a blog post on the most popular graphic novel reads, click HERE