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The Silent Power of Visual Storytelling

The Silent Power of Visual Storytelling
Watchmen graphic novel

I am in this class on comic and graphic novels. If you don’t know the difference between the two here it is: A comic is serialized storytelling, usually without a definitive ending. A graphic novel is self-contained, like a novel, but…graphic. There are also limited series comics that only run for a certain number of issues and then have planned out endings (Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” for example).

Brief history, I got into comics and graphic novels relatively recently. The Marvel Cinematic Universe led me to reading some Marvel comics, led me to reading some other comics, and I got super into it and here we are today. I’m an artist and a writer so it’s a medium that I really appreciate. If you’ve got any favorite comics I will totally take recommendations, I think my favorite as of late is Saga.

Right, so I’m in this English class on comics and graphic novel, yes that is a thing, yes, it is amazing, no it’s not just an excuse to read comics (though that is a huge perk). We’re really not very far through the class but I’ve started to notice small things more, connections in why artists might do things or what effect the things have. I never knew how much freedom the artist (often) have to interpret the scripts and create this stunning visual storytelling. Sometimes writers would just give them the words and say, “I trust you to make this look good”. That’s astonishing. After reading Watchmen, which I just finished, I keep noticing things in my real life too. Watchmen has such fantastically detailed backgrounds, and I’ll just casually be on the bus and start picking out things in the background of my life. A sign for a sale at the gas station, a keychain on someone’s bag. It’s actually getting pretty weird…

So Watchmen is excellent. If you don’t like it that’s fine, but I’m gonna talk about it anyway. In fact, I’ll probably end up writing an essay about it for class. (Spoilers ahead) The artist, Dave Gibbons, did some amazing things. I should absolutely never read comics in public, because I got to this one scene and practically shouted “OH MY GOD THERE’S A SMILEY FACE ON MARS I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE”. There were so many clever visual things, without which the story would have felt so much less complete, but let me talk about what might be my favorite panel.

So, there’s a scene where Dr. Manhattan goes to mars to get away from humans because, ya know, stress (honestly, same dude). If you’re unfamiliar with the character he’s this guy named Jon Osterman who was a nuclear physicist and through this tragic accident got turned into this being who’s basically a god. You know, the usual. He’s also blue for some reason and isn’t really into wearing clothes. So, he goes to mars and is remembering his life and stuff, but the incredibly striking panel is the last one in the chapter, which shows him, tiny, against a backdrop of space and the vast expanse of the empty planet. It says, without a single word, “Even an all-powerful being like this is just a speck in the vastness of the universe.”




Having read Watchmen, I now need to know, could Dr. Manhattan beat Thanos (with Infinity Gauntlet)? Cause they would both have basically god like power? I want to think Manhattan would though because I’m still so bitter about Infinity War…  Someone talk to me about this!

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Olivia is a creative human who writes for IDEAS and reads many, many books. Got an idea for a guest blog? Email