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Time Passages

Banes at 12:00AM, Dec. 26, 2019

As another year draws to a close, I'm once again thinking about how much time is flying by, more and more quickly the older I get.

Weeks whiz by like mad these days, and how quickly we've reached the end of the year reminds me that YEARS are racing by as well.

This can be a distressing thought, so let me pivot slightly!

How do you show time passing in comics?

More specifically - when a scene ends, how do you show that time has passed between that and the next scene.

Usually we will want to show the interesting parts of a story and skip the boring bits. And it's important to be able to show that one bit is not immediately following the previous.

You could do a caption that says “Next Day…” or “Later…” or whatever. But what if you want to make it more stylish than that? What if you want to Show instead of Telling?

That will usually feel a lot more organic and keep the reader immersed in the story. A caption is a shortcut, and it is the appropriate way to do it sometimes. But I think it's preferable to do it differently.

1. The Cut Away

Cutting away from one location/situation to another is a good way to do it. If the same characters are in a different place altogether (or even if it's different characters, the effect will be created. When you revisit the original location and characters, it will feel like time has passed (because time HAS passed as we read the second scene). This is the handy thing about B, C and D stories.

2. The Exterior Shot

Cutting to a different shot for one panel and then back to the original location is a convenient way to pull this off. It's better to have no sounds and, especially, no words in this panel for it to give the proper effect. Of course, you can get very specific here - if the scene is taking place in the day time, and you cut to a shot of the Moon at night, clearly you've moved forward in time.

I remember doing my first Typical Strange animated short and wanting to be very clear about this, so I cut from the scene, showed the Moon in the sky, and then cut to the Sun in the sky. My training as a sit-com viewer taught me to think of the person in the audience who's paying the LEAST amount of attention. That may have been overkill…

3. Repeated Panels

To show long minutes or seconds passing, the repeated panel is something you can do. Showing an identical, or close to identical image for several panels is effective for the right situation. You're using actual time for a reader, of course, but it's seconds for the reader that can read as long minutes in story-time. This only works if there is no dialogue, though. Otherwise it will be read as only an instant between panels.

I've seen this done with a clock hanging in the background, showing 15-20 minutes going by. A bit of a cheat, there, and I didn't like it. I guess in the right situation it could work.

What methods of “time passing” have you used?

In any case, I wish you all a Happy New Year and I'll talk to you again next time!




Banes at 6:44PM, Dec. 26, 2019

@tantz - for sure! That silent panel is handy in gag strips, too. So many time’s the second-last panel is a silent one.

Banes at 6:43PM, Dec. 26, 2019

@marcorossi - imo it depends on how it’s laid out and whether there’s dialogue going on. Smaller panels or maybe side-by-side panels of different views of the same event usually looks like simultaneous reactions to me (a handy effect as well!)

Tantz_Aerine at 3:14AM, Dec. 26, 2019

I've used them all I think! Also, in a page with a lot of dialogue, a panel where the characters stare at each other, not talking, can make for an impressive illustration of a pause with heavy meaning!

marcorossi at 1:05AM, Dec. 26, 2019

I've also used a variant of 3 where I draw a panel and then I break it in many subpanels, although I don't know if it works for the readers.

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