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The Silent Frame

Posted by Carlo Jose San Juan, MD on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 Under: Comics and Webcomics

One of the narrative techniques I sometimes use is the "silent frame".  This can be used for several purposes such as the passage of time, a jarring pause in thought, a contemplative moment, or even just a moment of silence.

I can't speak for other artists but when I choose to use such a frame it takes me quite a bit of planning to pull off properly.

Let's look at today's (March 30, 2010) comic strip, "Tomorrow", as an example.  I wanted the third frame, which is silent, to depict quite a lot.  When readers reach this frame, I want them to wonder why there is a sudden shift in Rianne's mood.  Did she have a bad day?  Did she suddenly realize that her endless expectation of a good day is yielding no result?  Is she realizing that perhaps her belief in optimism is somewhat, if not completely, unfounded?  Long time readers could read into the fact that this wasn't the Rianne of old.  Her attitude just one frame prior to this was probably the fruit of Cal Duck's tutelage.  Which adds another question, is she beginning to think that perhaps his philosophy is flawed?

All of these were questions I wished to elicit in one look, one crucial facial expression.  Here, from the bright and bubbly demeanor in the previous frame, Rianne shifted to a blank stare, an ever-so-slightly downturned frown, and a very slight slouch.  Caught by surprise, probably from ill-preparedness, by Sherwin's inquisition she had no immediate retort.

Sherwin, on the other hand, also had an overall shift.  From his sulking mood he seems to have been caught by surprise by the situation as well.  His eyes widened with a slight upturn in stance.  Did he believe that he may have gone too far?  Is he concerned by his friend's sudden shift in mood?   Did he inadvertently destroy a fragile belief system that just a moment ago kept his good friend afloat from perhaps her own bad day?

The comic strip could have ended there in a cliffhanger of sorts.  But I like to depict what happens next.  If this comic strip were a magic show, the fourth frame could be the prestige.  Here it shows Rianne having just enough resolve to fight past her doubts and her optimism, though shaken for a moment, emerged triumphant.  Even Sherwin somewhat lightened up and recognized the benefit of having such a bright philosophy.

All this, of course, took far less time to execute than it did to type this exposition.  In fact, the reader might have gone through all these questions, if any at all, in microseconds.  What is important is that the story does come across to the reader.

But the beauty of the silent frame is that it empowers the reader to elicit their own interpretation and, in effect, be the writer of the comic strip as well.  They can come to their own conclusions to the situation and even draw upon their own personal experiences.  It is this subconscious active participation that I go for.

In : Comics and Webcomics 

Tags: silent frame  techniques  writing 
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About the Author

Carlo Jose Caz is a practicing licensed physician, professional voice actor/talent, writer, and cartoonist. He has been working on the Callous comic strip since 1996, winning several of The LaSallian's Silver Quill awards for his work. He has written several published short stories. He currently lives in the Philippines with his wife and two children.


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