Tracing Pages Essay
An obvious similarity between page 205 of Stitches by David Small and page 221 of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is the authors’ application of repetitive artwork. Repetition emphasizes the differences between each panel, and it is in these differences that the story is told. On page 221 of Fun Home, Bechdel depicts herself looking at her father in panel four, and in panels two and three they are mirroring each others’ poses. These details increase the illusion of character interaction throughout the first six panels and sharpen the contrast between their conversation and the still silence of Bechdel’s contemplation in the last six panels. Besides the shift from using speech bubbles to using captions, the illustrations of the last six panels demonstrate this contemplation through Alison’s shifting eyes, which no longer look to her father, but instead explore her own space. Similarly, on page 205 of Stitches, Small utilizes differences in the details of his character’s eyes to offer insight into his emotions. Though the general image stays the same in each panel, the minor details once again tell the story. Small demonstrates his confusion with the addition of a slight downward curve to the eyebrows in panel three, and in panel four he illustrates sadness by deepening the crease between his eyebrows and leaving a gap in the linework under his eyes. Each change in the artwork from panel to panel expresses a new emotion, signifying the stages of grief Small experienced during the discovery of his cancer. On these pages, repetition is employed by both authors to accentuate specific details in each panel and provide insight into the characters’ thoughts and emotions.
In the pages from Fun Home and Stitches, choice of frame also greatly impacts the interpretation of the comics. While Bechdel maintains the same angle in each panel, Small shifts the angle slightly as he moves from one panel to another. These choices reflect how the authors intended to influence the reader’s interpretation of the page. In the page from Fun Home, the sustained angle is symbolic of the unchanging relationship between Bechdel and her father. Their relationship, like the perspective of this scene, remained stagnant, despite her previously stated expectations of further bonding. Bechdel also slightly blocks her father in the scene, hiding him behind herself. This depiction of her father is symbolic of his choice to continue to hide his sexuality and represents the difference between their levels of self-acceptance. This lack of character development is another example of stagnance reflected in the use of a consistent angle. Small, on the other hand, utilized the slight change of angles from one panel to another to create the illusion of a circling motion similar to arc shots in films. This slows time while also producing a dizzying effect that illustrates the feeling that David’s world is turning on its axis. The circling motion also adds drama to the scene by highlighting David’s stillness, as if he’s frozen in place from the shock of learning that he had cancer. Bechdel and Small both strategically utilize angles to control how the reader views and interprets the scene, but while Bechdel keeps the angles constant to demonstrate a lack of change for the characters, Small shifts the angles to communicate internal conflict and manipulate the perception of time.
Comics heavily rely on audience participation. As Hilary Chute explains in the introduction of her book Why Comics, “Comics is not an illustrative form, in which the words and images match, but rather one […] in which the words and the images each move the narrative forward in different ways the reader creates out of the relationship between the two.” Chute’s explanation is proven correct through Fun Home in which Bechdel heavily relies on the interplay between words and images to tell her story. The choices she made throughout the composition of the page were to support her written narrative while creating a subtle pattern of comparison between her and her father for the readers to interpret themselves. She utilized repetition to add depth to her character interaction during conversation and allowed the reader to visually compare her characters by maintaining a constant point of view. Conversely, while Bechdel directly tells the reader why the depicted moment on page 221 was important in her life by utilizing captions, Small demonstrates the importance of the depicted moment on page 205 through illustration. By relying more heavily on images, Small invites a more straightforward form of audience participation because the reader must interpret the illustrations themselves. Small utilized repetition and frame to aid the reader in this task by emphasizing small details to manufacture a stronger emotional impact and provide them with enough information to easily draw a conclusion. David Small and Alison Bechdel use repetitive images and choice of frame strategically to aid their storytelling, but while these tools allow Bechdel’s illustrations to better support her written narrative, they allow Small to let his illustrations stand alone, therefore making audience participation more straightforward in Stitches and broader in Fun Home.