Sunday, 20 May 2012

Narrative, Drama and Sequential Art

(Brief statements modeled on Indian philosophical sutras.)

Narrative was spoken, then written.
Extra speakers and actions transformed spoken narrative into drama.
One picture can tell or imply a story.
Extra pictures transformed representational into sequential art.

Narrative, drama and sequential art are three story-telling media.
Pre-printing sequential art was rare.
An epic is a long heroic narrative poem.
A saga is an Icelandic heroic prose narrative.

The Gilgamesh epic was written on clay tablets four thousand years ago.
But can be read in paperback translation.
It addresses mortality.
And contains a polytheist flood story.

The Jahwist epic presented the Davidic monarchy as fulfilling the Abrahamic tradition.
The parallel Elohist epic was less anthropomorphic. 
The Mosaic books incorporate Jahwist, Elohist, priestly and legal sources.
The priestly source was post-Exilic.

"Moses and the prophets" is the narrative of a Law and its applications.
The Gospel narratives present Christ as fulfilling the Mosaic Law.
"Homer and the poets" are an epic poet and several dramatists.
Virgil's epic, the Aeneid, presents Rome as fulfilling Homeric myth.

The Roman Empire canonised Mosaic, prophetic and Christian, not Homeric, dramatic or Virgilian, texts.
Homer became the beginning of European secular literature.
Greek dramatists and philosophers reflected on myths.
Philosophers also initiated logic and science.

In Platonic philosophy, characters dramatically address each other.
In Aristotelian philosophy, the author prosaically addresses the reader.
Homer, the Eddas, the Vedas and the Shinto Records of Ancient Matters are definitive polytheist texts.
Milton applied epic and dramatic forms to Biblical content.

The Koran reproduces Biblical stories.
The Granth is hymns by Hindus, Muslims and Sikh gurus.
A novel is a long prose fiction.
Novels are historically "new".

Mainstream novels are realistic.
Genre novels are historical, romantic, Western, detective etc.
Fantasy novels re-present myths and legends.
Science fiction (sf) novels address speculative effects of science and technology.

"Sword and Sorcery" is a self-explanatory sub-genre of fantasy.
Space opera is action-adventure fiction with science fictional settings.
Edgar Rice Burroughs set "Sword and Science" on Mars.
Poul Anderson wrote speculative fiction, space opera, Sword and Science, fantasy and historical fiction.

CS Lewis' Ransom Trilogy and James Blish's After Such Knowledge Trilogy are fictitious sequels to the Bible.
However, Lewis was Anglican whereas Blish was agnostic.
Thus, God dies in Blish's Trilogy though not in Lewis'.
However, Lewis imaginatively considered the death of God in the fictitious correspondence, Letters to Malcolm.
The Greek dramatist Aeschlyus wrote Prometheus Bound.
The English poet Percy Shelley wrote Prometheus Unbound.
The English novelist Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
The British sf writer Brian Aldiss wrote Frankenstein Unbound.

Frankenstein is the pivotal character between Gothic Fiction and sf.
Superman is the pivotal character between sf and superheroes.
Cameras transformed stage drama into cinema.
Frankenstein, Superman and Frankenstein Unbound have been filmed, the third unsuccessfully (in my opinion).

Karel Capek's play RUR introduced the term "robot".
Isaac Asimov's "Frankenstein Complex" is fear of robotic rebellion.
Asimov's Laws of Robotics transformed Robots from Menace or Pathos into Engineering.
However, Asimov later revived, then synthesised, Menace and Pathos.

William Blake combined words with pictures.
His allegorical The Marriage of Heaven and Hell replied to Swedenborg's literalist Heaven and Hell.
CS Lewis' The Great Divorce replied to Blake and Swedenborg.
Following Plato, Dante etc, Lewis presents an imaginative visit to the hereafter.

Speech balloons and captions transformed sequential art into comic strips.
The earliest comics were comical.
However, they can mediate any content or genre.
A graphic novel is a long substantial comic strip.

Collected issues of a monthly comic book are often insubstantial.
The graphic adaptation of the novel Fahrenheit 451 is substantial but short.
The Killing Joke by Alan Moore is short but substantial.
It asks whether one bad day would drive us mad.

It also features the Batman fighting the Joker.
Consequently, the author has described it as insubstantial.
Definitive graphic novels are Watchmen by Alan Moore and The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.
Both place superheroes in realistic settings.

"Superheroes" is a composite genre originating in comic books.       
Super powers may be scientifically or supernaturally based.
Also, masked avengers and costumed adventurers need not be super powered.
Thus, the genre combines sf, fantasy and action-adventure.

It presents modern heroic mythology.
However, comics by Garth Ennis, Art Spiegelman and Bryan Talbot address war, the Holocaust and child abuse, respectively.
There are at least two composite media.
Opera = drama + music.

Comics = representational art + story-telling.
A visual-verbal medium addresses right and left brains simultaneously.
Coloring and lay out may affect readers subliminally.
For example, a regular horizontal panel grid grounds fantastic or horrific content in a televisual/cinematic context.

Like prose, comics involve reading, turning and re-reading pages at the reader's pace.
Like screen drama, they involve sequential images.
However, careful readers miss no detail in a static image.
Each panel may contain captions, speech balloons, foreground and background.

Pictures and panel texts may resonate with or contradict each other.
Captions have replaced thought balloons.
A character's thoughts are revealed as he narrates a section of the story.
Captions can be color coded and written in different scripts.

Background includes titles on book shelves and graffiti on walls.
Thus, Superman source Gladiator by Wylie appears on a shelf in Watchmen.
"Coal not Dole" from the Great British Miners' Strike appears on a wall in Moore's Swamp Thing.
Lancaster Motorway Services appears in two otherwise dissimilar comics.

Narrative details may be non-verbal.
For example, an unknown background figure follows the central character through several panels...
Reading the words and glancing at foregrounds is insufficient.
A well written comic needs to be read at least twice.

Creative comics writers re-assess cliches.
Thus, Moore's Swamp Thing is not a conventional monster but the guardian of the environment.
Moore revived Marvelman as a journalist who dreams of flying but cannot remember his magic word...
Neil Gaiman's Sandman is not a superhero but the personification of Dream.

Substantial comics refer to prose literature.
Thus, Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen depicts Verne's Nautilus fighting Wells' Martians in the Thames.
In Gaiman's Sandman, Shakespeare's company performs A Midsummer Night's Dream for Oberon's court.
Gaiman's Lucifer Morningstar quotes, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

But he comments that Milton was blind.
Milton's personified Death was monstrous because begotten by Satan on personified Sin.
Gaiman's is beautiful because she defines life.
She complains that people fear her but not Dream who claims to be more terrible.

Personified Destruction abandons his realm when Newton asks whether light and matter are inter-convertible.
Personified Despair persuades the star god Rao to destroy a planet but allow one survivor.
Delirium that was Delight claims to know things that even Destiny does not.
Despair's devious twin, Desire, plots Dream's downfall...

Lucifer retires and becomes the title character of a series by Mike Carey.
Carey's God retires to be succeeded by his granddaughter, a British schoolgirl.
Blish's Satan had become God but offered the role to Man.
Thus, modern fantasy presents worthy sequels to myths and scriptures.

Special effects and CGI facilitate screen dramatisation of myth, sf, fantasy and superheroes.
Oral story-telling; recited epics and sagas; written narratives; prose fiction.
Spoken narrative; stage drama; screen drama; special effects.
Representational art; sequential art; comic strips; graphic novels.

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