5. Text

Questions to ask
  • Is there a uniform style used for the verbal elements or not?
  • If there are variations in style, by what might they be motivated?
  • Is there a difference between formal representation of diegetic and extradiegetic text?
  • How are verbal elements represented in drawing?
  • Are verbal elements placed contained by particular forms such as balloons or boxes? Are they uniform or do they vary in form? Why?
  • Which are the functions of the use of text?
  • What is the style or the register of the discourses used? 
  • How do the verbal elements relate to the visual elements?
  • Who is speaking? An all-knowing instance / voice (outside of the diegetic world) or a character that is part of the story itself?


Though there are graphic narratives that don't use textual elements (except for paratextual parts like the cover), most graphic narratives include textual elements to varying degrees. Design of the textual elements involves not only the choice of typography, but also the elements like (speech and thought) balloons and text boxes that contain those textual elements. Every formal choice (typography, balloons, text boxes) will influence to a certain degree the interpretation of the text.

Next to the formal representation of the text, the way the text is written (its style, register, direct or indirect speech, etc.) will play a role in the interpretation of the text. The collective force of the Spartan soldiers in Frank Miller's 300 is stressed both in the way they are drawn as a massive force and by the repeated use of the first person plural ("We march", "We fight"). In autobiography there is a big difference if discourse is put either in the first person singular (think of Satrapi's Persepolis) or the third person singular (which implies some distance; think of Justin Green's Binky Brown). In the EC comics of the 1950s, often a second person singular is used (e.g. in Krigstein's Master Race). 

For a taxonomy of the various kinds of relations between images and texts, see Marsh and White (2003). Usually text and image support each other in creating a coherent meaning, but sometimes they can contradict each other: see the analyses of Le café de la plage and Dessous Troublants. Already early in the twentieth century, someone like Winsor McCay was playing in Little Nemo in Slumberland with the still very new conventions of combining balloons and characters in one panel. Also Eisner (1985, 110) demonstrates, by combining the same text with divergent facial expressions (and vice versa), how such combinations of text and images alter each time the interpretation of the panel.
(Pascal Lefèvre)

Further Reading