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Just What Are Sequential Arts?

Sequential Arts | Max the Mutt

Sometimes, even the most complex names and terminology are actually quite easy to understand, and sequential arts falls into that category. You might be stumped on first hearing the term, but it’s really very simple. Drawings and/or images that are used in a sequence (suddenly it’s starting to make sense, eh?!) to tell or illustrate a story are known as the sequential arts.

Comic books and graphic novels are two of the most common uses of sequential art.

But, if it’s easy to get a good understanding of the term sequential arts. It’s not so easy to simply pick up a pencil and start drawing a series of images that produce meaning and a story when they are viewed one after the other.

That fact is one of the reasons that the term sequential arts was used by Will Eisner, one of the earliest cartoonists in the comic book industry. To describe the comic book medium and the elements that go into creating a comic book.

Comic Books as Sequential Art

Just like a story told in words can be conveyed in any of a virtually limitless variety of ways, so too can a story told using sequential arts.

To give you a sense of what can be involved in sequential arts, let’s stick with the comic books example and look at some of its components.

The Panel

If the basic building block of a written story is the sentence. The corresponding element in sequential arts is the panel, or frame of each individual image used in the sequence.
Just like sentences can be long, short, complex or simple, panels can take a variety of forms. They generally have a visible, rectangular border. But panels can take any shape and have no visible border. Whether they have a border or not, panels are usually separated by an area called the gutter.

The Page Layout

The basic page layout of a comic book is a series of rectangular panels in an obvious order. But just like panels can take different forms so too can page layouts. Many sequential artists don’t use rectangular panels, borders or the uniform page layout used in most comics. Instead, the borders of their panels may only be defined by the gutter, and the layout of the page can seem to have very little structure.

The Style of the Art

A story of revenge as told by Stephen King gives the reader an entirely different experience than a similar story told by J.K. Rowling. Of course, they would each use their own words to tell the story, but it is their style of writing that is as much to do with the different experience as anything else.

The same is true for the style of art used to create a comic. Your story will create a different impression if the style of art is cartoonish, abstract or realistic. And, as a visual medium, sequential arts can borrow from other visual media in its style. For example, the long shots, close-ups and zooms of film can also be part of your sequential arts style.

Marrying Text & Image

Not all sequential arts use text, but, when they do, it adds yet another level of complexity to the story telling. In addition to simply expressing dialogue, as it does in a Garfield comic, text can be used as narration, sound effects, thoughts and commentary. Text can appear in speech balloons, text boxes and within the image itself. Including the right text, in the right context, in the right position in each panel is as important as any graphic element of the panel and the overall story.

If you would like to find out more about learning sequential arts, get in touch with us at Max the Mutt College of Animation Art & Design.