David Mamet on visual storytelling
I'm reading David Mamet's Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business, and I came across this passage about visual storytelling. He's talking about movies, but I think it relates pretty well to comics, too. It starts off as a discussion of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, but that's just context, the third paragraph is the important one:
...Hitchcock designs each sequence magnificently. There is no "master, over, close-up" about it. Each sequence is designed around its particular theme and purpose in the unfolding story. Once could easily label them, e.g., alarm, suspicion, second thoughts, challenge, remorse. It may be the world's best silent film, undiminished even by the addition of dialogue.
Why are silent films potentially better?
The perfect film is the silent film, just as the perfect sequence is the silent sequence. Dialogue is inferior to picture in telling a film story. A picture, first as we know, is worth a thousand words; the juxtaposition of pictures is geometrically more effective. If a director or writer wants to find out if a scene works, he may remove the dialogue and see if he can still communicate the idea to the audience.
Ancient theological wisdom put it thus: "Preach Christ constantly - use words if you must."
I've heard that suggestion before, to watch movies with the sound off to see if you can still follow the storytelling, though I've never done it, because, seriously, who has the time (and patience)? But I'm always meaning to look at my comics the same way, skipping the words and just reading the images to see how the artist tells the story. The only artist whose work I've ever made time to do that for is Sean Phillips. I don't know why I do it with his work and not any of the other dozens of artists on my shelves. Maybe it's the starkness of his drawings, or his cinematic approach, I don't know, but I should really start paying attention to what other people are doing, too.