The older I get, the longer it takes an idea to get from my head onto a page. Once it's on a page it takes even longer to congeal enough into a thing that can stand on its own among other paragraphs and thoughts. As I've been working my way through my first comic story that will be given to an artist, I'm trying my damnedest to make sure that the work the artist receives won't be overladen with excessive dialogue and description. In other words, I can't write sentences like the one you just read. In college writing courses they always said "Show, don't tell," and that took some work to start to employ on a regular basis. In a visual medium it's even more important.
So I've been thinking a lot about imagery, and how wordless parallels between images can be a form of poetry. I think the key has to be restraint. For example, if I were to write a cliched image of a young boy looking at himself in a mirror on the first panel of page one, then if I opted to have the last panel of the last page feature an old man looking at himself in a mirror, there's probably not much need for any words. Readers glean a specific feeling or meaning by the juxtaposition of those two images. Gratuitous metaphor, or even inner monologue is moot at that point.
There is always that ever present notion of cliche, though, as I mentioned. In my last blog I talked about the idea that everything we know of as art is really the byproduct of centuries of storytelling, and thus most themes and structures of creative thought have already been watered down by the time they inform us. If you're going to use comics as a means of direct storytelling, the use of parallels as a means of visual storytelling can work, but it probably relies heavily on both the writer and artist working in a way that can be subtly understood if it's not overt or heavy handed.
There's also some level of confidence that creators must have in such use of parallels if they're going to work. Less is more, but if the creators don't trust the imagery, or the unison between thought and execution, then it can't work. And as with anything, parallels aren't something that should be overused. It's really an exercise in allowing something to stand on its own, while letting seem self aware of exactly what it's doing. That's where the skill of the creators comes into play.
So why are parallels on my mind so much right now? When I decided that my story wouldn't be told in completely linear way, it started to make sense that I could use parallels between images to not only cut down on over-writing, but to also be a form of poetry, flashback, and to a lesser degree, philosophical suggestion. Then the story can maintain a literary sensibility, but the metaphors unfold as images unencumbered by words. This is far from novel, far from groundbreaking thought, but it is nonetheless a thought worth exploring. How will it work? Will it even make it into my comic? Time will tell, but the journey from thought to concrete work is indeed a fascinating one, and I'm enjoying using Exile on Plain Street to document some of my thinking about process.