Deconstructing graphic novels with Dylan Meconis


Award-winning graphic novelist Dylan Meconis presents her lecture “Blink and You’ll See It: Form and Story in Today’s Graphic Novels,” photo by Allison Wolff

I am a huge comic and graphic novel enthusiast; I have been reading them since I was a child and will continue until I eventually float into the Great White North. So hearing Dylan Meconis dissect the conventions and styles of comics I’ve been reading for years in her Wednesday, Oct. 4 lecture “Blink and You’ll See It: Form and Story in Today’s Graphic Novels” was an eye-opening experience.

Meconis is a professional graphic novelist who has written and illustrated four different novels, with a continuing series called “Family Man.” She has also been awarded for a number of her works, so when she was talking about the conventions and complexity of comics, she did so with an energy and passion that only someone who truly loves what they do could have.

In the beginning of her talk, she outlined what she would be talking about, going through the five base conventions within comics: text, visual conventions, image, symbol and sequence. She then showed different panels and described what was happening in them and their individual complexities.

Starting with text, she showed the crowd about 10 different panels, each displaying a different way to create and use text in comics. Some of them were the quintessential clouded thought bubbles, the rather plain white circular speech bubble, but then she got into the more creative uses. She showed use a panel from a “Batman” issue in which the text was mixed through the panels, the colors and fonts changed based on the character’s emotion and who was speaking.

Then she moved to one where the whole page and panel was inside a large “BOOM,” showing that a massive bomb had blown up, expressing how dominating and important sound and text are within comics. The most interesting one, in my opinion, was when she showed the crowd how comics convey the sounds of objects or things that movies can convey without having to literally write them out. Like the sound of a fist hitting a face, “SMACK,” or the sound of wind rustling the trees and how artists can find creative ways of conveying this sound. By doing this, the artist immerses the reader in the panel, making it as realistic as possible.

From there she moved onto visual conventions. Her presentation was very image-driven, obviously, but it kept me and the crowd engaged and interested in what she was showing. While not as detailed as her dissection of text, her presentation on visual conventions focused on how artists show the motion and emotions of characters in panels.

She talked mainly about emotion; when you change a character’s face to display how they are saying something, it speaks volumes about what is happening the panel. A very prevalent theme in the presentation as a whole was the extreme yet subtle complexity of comics and how under its simple surface is a very diverse and interesting artistic medium.

Her next section of slides was image. This part was mainly her describing her latest work, “Family Man,” and how she uses different sets of images to convey even more about the scene. From the emotion to the context, the images within panels add to what the text and the visual conventions have already established. She emphasized how many layers there are to comics and how each can say something new about the panel.

Her last two sections, symbol and sequence, were mainly dominated by her explanation of the actual meanings of comics. While some are simple and straightforward, others are intricate and austere experiments of form and methodology. One of her examples depicted the many different forms people take in life, depending on the people they are around and the environment they are in. How the comic did this was by changing the character’s color and patterning to show their different forms. This section especially emphasized that comics are a medium that have the ability to tackle difficult and powerful themes in a way that results in a beautiful end product.

Meconis’ presentation was well-paced and fun to listen to. She kept it as lively as possible, using bright and evocative images to drive her points home. Her point to show the crowd just how interesting and complex comics are was well documented and easy to grasp. I left with an even greater appreciation for the artistic merit of comics and I look forward to reading with my eyes open to their details.