Slow Motion has become a standard technique for many filmmakers. It’s hard to imagine films like The Killer or Raging Bull without the lyrical use of slow motion. While slow motion, as it’s portrayed in film, is not possible in comics, it has a number of analogues. Time in sequential art is inherently malleable; it’s one of the greatest aspects of the medium, and any manipulation of time that slows down an action could be considered slow motion.
Discussing all of these aspects could fill a book; instead, I’m going to look at a couple of examples of cinematic-style slow motion in comics. While it’s achieved in a manner distinct from cinema, it shares many of the same qualities. Namely, expanding a moment well beyond our normal perception of speed for dramatic effect.
The Ultimates Vol. 1
There are a few techniques used on this page to create a slow motion effect. The first is a subtlety in the art – the detail in the debris and in Cap are very high. In film, we associate motion blur with motion – this kind of clarity is associated with still images, and makes the image appear static.
The next technique is a time discrepancy between the words and the images. The images show a small amount of action, yet there are large blocks of text. The text takes us longer to read than it takes our mind to process the images: thus, we linger longer on each frame than the action would take: slow-motion.
Sin City: The Hard Goodbye
Sin City, like all of Frank Miller’s work, demands a full-scale investigation of all the techniques pioneered, invented, or perfected. I’ll start with this page, because it’s a great use of slow motion and contrasts nicely with the image from The Ultimates. I pulled this pair of pages from this site, which discusses the pacing of this entire sequence, but I’d like to zoom in on these pages because they are awesome – the first page moves incredibly quickly, while the second demonstrates extreme slow motion.
Page one contains 5 panels, which is above average for Sin City. They’re also particularly dense panels compared to a lot of the book – panel 1 has 3 actions (2 sound effects and Marv’s swing), panel 2 has 3 gun shots and a grunt — you get the idea. There is a lot happening.
This is further heightened by the lack of dialouge and brief sound affects – the words are small: none of the sound effects are more than 4 letters, and the dialogue is all brief. This has two effects – we read it faster, simply due to the lack of words, and we realize that each panel comprises a thin slice of time.
Now look at the placement of the sound effects, word baloons, and composition. Everything draws the eye down and right, the two directions associated with forward momentum in comics. This has the collective effect of rushing the eye through the page, accelerating the reading speed and the peceived sense of time. The page ends with a BLAM in the terminating corner of the page, pushing the eye onto the next page.
And what a next page it is. Marv is practically frozen in midair – it contrasts with all the things that made the previous page seem so fast.
First of all, there’s only one panel, as opposed to 5 small ones. We’re invited to pause before turning the page and take in the image in all it’s detail (like in The Ultimates). Now contrast the words – this page has a single sound effect, and it’s a letter longer than any sound effect on the previous page. The typography is huge, taking up more of the page and by extension, more time.
Now my favorite part. Look at the direction the eye is drawn. The eye starts at the sound effect, and then moves down to Marv. And what direction is Marv travelling? Up and Left – directly opposite the flow of time! The bottom-right side of the page is intentionally boring. Frank doesn’t want our eye anywhere near that corner, because that means we’ll turn the page.
So we linger on these images. Longer than natural time. These techniques are the comic equivalent of slow motion – and to me, they’re a lot more interesting than film, because there are so many ways to mix and match techniques to achieve the effect.