Yesterday I had the pleasure and privilege of being on a panel at the Children's Book Council of Australia Conference with Neil Gaiman and manga artist Queenie Chan. The topic of our panel was "graphically speaking - the challenges of reading graphic novels", and it flew by all too fast. We each had ten minutes to race through our material at lightning speed, and then a tantalisingly brief few minutes for discussion and questions. So many interesting issues had just started to unfurl when the bell rang (ok, there was no bell, but there was a distinctly school-like flavour about it!) and we had to stop.
Neil talked about graphic novels in general, giving a neat introduction to the form which would have been a great help to the uninitiated. Queenie followed with "Manga 101", which was fascinating. I don't know much at all about manga, so it was very interesting to take a quick tour through the main categories (manga for teen boys, teen girls, adults, kids etc) and note some of the stylistic differences. As she explained, it's not all "big eyes small mouth" stuff. I talked a little about my favourite topic - the adaptation process, the alchemy of words and pictures, and some of the ways that pictures, panels and pages work as narrative devices.
I'm particularly interested in those devices that are unique to sequential art narrative - things like page layouts, the use of frames-as-objects and frames that "talk" to one another in multiple directions. These are things that I'd been working with long before I ever had to articulate in words what I was doing. It was only when I started giving talks like this that I had to sit down and find the words to describe the techniques that came intuitively. Right at the end of our session, in response to a question, Neil explained another of those special things, and my heart leapt to hear it: he talked about the wonderful device of the silent panel. Panels that make us pause and think and question and fill out the meaning for ourselves. Moments that hang and quiver, the way time can stretch and stop. Despite drawing many a silent panel in my comics, and very much relishing this device, it had never occurred to me how particular to comics it is. As Neil explained, you can't get the effect of a silent panel in prose writing - and he's tried! Brilliant!
It was great to meet these two comic stars - one very high in the sky, and one rising. We had much to talk about, and I'm sure these conversations will continue in the future. Invigorating stuff!