On Cutting

By which, in comics, we tend to mean moving from one scene to another.

I’ve been re-reading a book of interviews with Orson Welles conducted by Peter Bogdanovich, because I’m thinking about doing a book for black-and-white next year, and Welles loved black-and-white and hated colour. While reading this, I’ve been thinking a lot about lighting, and taking cues from black-and-white film — one of the things that defines a good film noir, to my mind, is a heightened sense of where the light sources are. Which isn’t something a lot of people do in comics — know exactly where their light source is in any given panel. And so that’s one of the angles I’ve currently got on a b/w book: that it’s a comic that would shoot around defined light sources.

Dogme-like restrictions like that can produce interesting visual effects — one recent one that most of you will be familiar with is Ron Moore’s call on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA that, in the space scenes, the camera POV should be, whenever possible, physically defined and not arbitrary.

Anyway, I’ve just been flicking over an early chapter (for the hundredth time) and something interesting finally impacted on me. The cuts in CITIZEN KANE are, more often than not, dissolves. Not a method that transposes well (or often) to comics. But the thing is, in KANE, the dissolves were “electric.” An electric dissolve, in the old term, is where the dissolve is physically attained on the set by having all the lighting on dimmer switches, and turning them down slowly in sequence. So the dark creeps in from the sides towards whichever element of the composition is called out as the last thing to be seen before the dissolve completes.

Which is really fucking interesting to me for some reason. It’s very theatrical — and theatre is a big part of comics, 80% of Eisner’s DNA was theatre. I mean, it’d eat up extra panels and real-estate… but, you know, naturalism is only one way to skin a cat. Imagine replicating electric dissolves as a scene-cutting method…

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