Thursday, April 30, 2015

Since this first chapter ends in a bit of a cliff-hanger, here's the second chapter.

Chapter Two
Fire in the Shadows

Meredith Prometheus stood behind her small desk staring at the photo. It was in an exquisite mahogany frame. Pol and Cass had given it to her for her birthday a few weeks before. They had found the picture of her with them just after they had turned two. They were smiling at the camera making goofy faces. And David was there, too.
She picked it up and ran her fingers over his face and blinked back tears.
After fourteen years, it was still raw. The anger and the pain had stayed with her, always there, just below the surface. Only by keeping busy was she able to keep it at bay. Pol and Cass were wonderful at keeping her distracted, but there were still nights she’d cry herself to sleep. She hated David for not being there, but she missed him more.
They hadn’t found a body after the accident, but she knew him. Only death could keep him away from her and the boys, so he had to be dead. Still, a part of her could almost believe that he was alive somewhere out there. But, she realized a long time ago that this made it hurt all the more.
"Not now," she whispered and turned away.
A few moments of staring at her desk, and she found something else to focus on.
She cleared her throat and carefully placed the frame face-down on her desk.
She didn’t have time for this.
There was work to be done.
She sat down in her chair and began arranging papers on her desk.
Forty-five minutes, twenty-three file folders, and forty-two electronic files later, she realized that it was way past time to go home.
The digital clock, another gift from her sons, read 9:30 P.M.
Standing up and sliding her chair under her desk, she walked around the desk and out of her office.
Although, calling it an office was being much too kind. It was really more of a closet, but it was all that the museum would give her. And, she’d had to fight them for that.
David’s disappearance had been the catalyst for a series of attacks on both of their published works, and their professional reputations. She wasn’t paranoid, but, at the time, she could have sworn someone really was out to get her and smear both her and David’s reputations.
And, it had worked.
She locked the door and walked downstairs into the the main hall of the museum.
She remembered bringing the boys here just after they had arrived in Egypt.
Her, David, and the boys had been so happy when they first got here. Watching the boys’ excitement as they took in everything made her see it all again through their eyes, and she smiled.
She looked around the main hall of the museum, lost in memory, but a nagging feeling brought her back to the present.
Something was wrong.
She ran through the inventory of the various pieces that were part of the display in a flash.
A jade pendant was missing from the “Jewels of the Seventeenth Dynasty” display.
She hurried toward the front door.
Without a sound, two shadows broke away from the darkness and moved behind her.
When she reached the front door, she saw that the alarm was disabled.
She reached into her purse and grabbed her cell phone.
The lights in the museum blinked off.
She turned and gasped as a six-foot, two-inch frame blocked her path, and another, eerily similar slid in behind her.
"Hey, Mom," Cass said as he picked her up from behind and hugged her.
After he put her down, she punched both of them on their arms.
“You apes scared me,” Mer said.
"We almost got you this time," Pol said as he picked her up and hugged her, too.
"You just about missed the pendant, but we saw you notice that it was gone,” Cass said.
Meredith smiled at her sons.
Pol and Cass were obviously tall, but each boy was also strong, with the build of a gymnast. They seemed to have a grace that came from an economy of motion that was evident in every movement. It was almost like they could glide across the ground. She looked up into their faces and realized that they could pass for almost any ethnicity with their light brown skin. The only thing that betrayed their heritage was their eyes.
She looked up into their steel-gray eyes and tousled their salt and pepper hair.
She still hadn’t quite adjusted to that or the change in their eye color, though. Kids weren’t supposed to have gray hair, but both her boys had started going gray just after the accident.
It really stood out against their normal jet-black hair, too.
She still missed their blue eyes, but the change had happened quickly after the accident. The blue had matched David’s. She missed that blue. She sometimes saw it in a cloudless sky, and it always took her breath away. The thought of it made her sad.
"You big goofs. How'd you manage to disable the system this time?"
Cass smiled as he said, "Well, let's just say that manufacturers should protect their networks better."
"No kidding," Pol added.
"It was almost too easy," Cass said.
Most things were easy to her boys.
They had been playing games like this for almost a decade. The boys had suggested it as a way to sharpen their observation skills for when they became archaeologists, but she knew the real reason. Neither had any memory of that day over fourteen years ago when their father had vanished without a trace.
She played with them anyway, though, because it seemed to make them happy, and it did make her happy.
What she didn't realize was how good they'd get at it, and the other skills they'd acquire along the way.
She had come into work one morning, and the entire main hall had been rearranged into a mirror image of itself. She hadn't realized what had happened until she heard giggling coming from just outside the main hall. Not only had they disabled the alarm systems for their trick, they had re-enabled it so nothing looked wrong when she had come in. In fact, none of the other museum staff had even noticed. Not that it would have mattered, since they had swapped it back the following night.
Her favorite trick, though, must have involved quite a bit of setup.
Somehow, the boys had replaced an entire wall that was a reproduction of Egyptian hieroglyphics with a wall that they had created.
The hieroglyphics on their replacement wall had all been done in the style of the Simpsons.
Not a single person noticed that day, so they left it up.
It was up for three weeks before someone finally noticed.
It wasn’t the museum staff that caught it, though. It was a grade-school kid that got it. He noticed Bart Simpson dressed as an Egyptian farmer holding out grain to Homer dressed as a Pharoah and pointed it out to his teacher. Several characters from the show appeared. They even stuck the three-eyed fish on it.
Once it was brought to their attention, the museum staff were amazed at the amount of work that went into it. The aging and the attention to the smallest details with the hieroglyphics really impressed them. The curator raved about the workmanship and hoped to one day meet the artist.
Mer, of course, knew who was responsible and let the boys know that the Simpson-glyphics had been discovered.
The next day, the wall was back to normal, and the curator had a new wall decoration in her office. It still hangs there today, and she never misses a chance to show it off to visitors.
Mer watched Pol walk over to the display and carefully replace the pendant.
She had never ceased to be amazed at her sons. They had grown into fine young men, but she worried about them.
Their father’s disappearance had deeply affected them even if they couldn’t remember exactly what had happened that day, and no amount of discussion of the accident helped. Whenever the subject came up, both boys would become distant and simply refuse to talk about it.
Even if they wouldn’t talk to her, they coped in other ways, it seemed.
They had pushed each other to excel in everything. It was almost as if they were trying to make up for their powerlessness back then, preparing themselves for a fight that had already been lost years ago.
She thought about how proud David would be of them now.
She knew that there was nothing that they could have done then, though.
Now, however, it seemed to her that there wasn’t anything that they couldn’t do.
Mer was amazed at the skills and knowledge that her boys had acquired since then. It seemed like they soaked up knowledge from anything and everything around them. And, more importantly, they stored it for easy retrieval later. She had occasionally quizzed them by grabbing a book from the floor of their bedroom and picking some random page and asking them about it. They would typically read her back the entire page from memory, but sometimes they would show off for her and recite multiple pages.
They knew more about the culture and history of Egypt than most full professors of archeology, and they understood its influence on the development of the entire region better than all but a handful of people on the planet.
They absorbed languages, and at only sixteen, could speak seven languages fluently and write in five.
They had an affinity for computer systems that simply astounded her and never ceased to delight them as they quickly learned how to hack their way into almost any system in the world.
She remembered pulling them out of school when they were six.
They had gotten into trouble for sneaking out of class.
It had taken the teachers nearly five hours to find them, and might have taken even longer until one of the teachers chanced to notice somebody in the library.
This incident had only been the first, though.
Every day for two weeks, they left class and went to the library. After the third day, their teacher simply sent them there.
Mer had asked them why they were getting in trouble after that first incident.
“Everyone else is just so slow,” Pol had said.
“We need to go faster,” Cass had added.
“Yeah, we’ve already read every book in our class.”
“And now we’re about finished with the library.”
A few quick questions had confirmed what she already new, her sons learned faster…much faster…than normal.
After speaking with their teachers, Meridith had pulled them out of school.
This had been the beginning of them teaching themselves.
She had been able to keep up with their voracious appetite for knowledge until they were about ten, but it hadn’t been easy. They had gone through all the books at the museum and complained loudly about how slow the Internet was at the apartment. Multiple calls to their Internet provider didn’t yield any results, though. Sick of waiting, they dug in and started hacking on the modem/router. Within a day, upload and download speeds tripled. Within a week, those speeds quadrupled. Still, it wasn’t fast enough.
At this point, both Pol and Cass had come to her one day and asked if they could start going to the city library by themselves. She said no at first, but then something happened that took her completely by surprise.
Pol had said, “We thought you might feel that way, so Cass and I prepared this informational packet.”
The packet contained a map indicating the shortest, safest route to the library on foot, the time it would take to make the journey on foot, the library’s daily schedule, the typical patrol patterns of the local police, the names and phone numbers of the library staff, and the phone numbers of the cell phones that they had somehow purchased for themselves. The twenty-five-minute walk to the library through Cairo would also take them right past the museum where she worked.
“So, barring an unforeseen meteor strike, which is extremely unlikely, we should be relatively safe.”
So, she had relented and let them go.
Mer reset the alarm and looked at her boys outside in the dim light of the Egyptian night laughing with each other and remembered how much smaller they were that day she let them go to the library for the first time.
She remembered following them that first day just to make sure they got there safe and sound. She had been very careful to stay out of sight so they’d think that they’d made it all by themselves.
She remembered watching as both boys looked carefully one way, then the other, and quickly crossed the busy street to the library.
Just when she had been congratulating herself for her superior parenting skills, both boys had turned around, looked directly at her, and shouted across the street, “It’s OK, Mom, we made it! See.”
Embarrassed, she remembered waving back to them, and then carefully crossing the street herself.
After hugging them and kissing them both on the forehead, she had walked back to the museum, and the boys had disappeared into the library.
She remembers that she hadn’t even bothered trying to hide as she returned late that afternoon to walk home with them.
They had visited the library every day since and spent almost twelve hours a day there for over six years.
The librarians knew them by name and had even granted them honorary librarian titles after they helped with several reorganization projects.
But, these were far from the only things strange about her sons.
Her boys had never been much for naps, not even before the accident.
There had been a terrific battle of wills one night between the two of them and her and David when they were just thirteen-months-old, a battle that had lasted for three, agonizingly long hours of screaming and crying. They had taken turns crying and screaming, allowing the other to rest his throat. By the time it was over, she and David had lost spectacularly and quite definitively, resulting in the immediate abolition of the hated nap time.
Since the incident in the tunnel, though, her sons rarely seemed to sleep.
She had questioned them about sleep and had spent many sleepless nights just watching them.
They slept, of course, but they didn’t seem to need nearly as much sleep as she did. One, maybe two hours a night seemed to be all that they required, and missing that for a couple of days didn’t seem to bother them much at all.
Mer had read dozens of medical texts and had them examined by more than a few doctors just to make sure that there was nothing wrong. And, when all of the tests came back negative, and their health was officially affirmed by several doctors, she simply shrugged, kissed them both on the forehead, and took a nap.
And here were her big, strong men walking home with her. She almost felt like she was being escorted by body guards. The boys were almost a foot taller than her, and they moved with a confidence and grace that belied their age.
She hooked her arms around theirs and walked toward their apartment.
In the warm, cloudless night under a blanket of stars, she chatted with them about the role of artisans and their status in early Egyptian society.
She beamed, as they only corrected her once before they made it home to their apartment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's time to get back into the swing of normal, everyday writing. It's been too long, and I've recently discovered how much I need to write just to stay marginally sane. With that said, it's time to use this blog for what it was built for, my writing. Hence, my decision to place the first chapter of my novel Beacon here.
I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter One
The Light at the Beginning of the Tunnel

Down among the dead with the dust and decay of millennia, the boys smiled and looked up at their father.
"Remember boys, always pay attention to the details of your surroundings,” said David Prometheus to his sons. “You’ll never be disappointed when you really look at something.”
Jeff looked at the boys and rolled his eyes again.
"Doctor Prometheus, I really don’t think this is the best place for your kids," he said.
At this, Pol glared at him, his pale blue eyes like knives. He clenched his jaw, while his identical twin Cass made a face and stuck out his tongue. Neither liked being told what they could or couldn't do…but then, neither do most two-year-olds.
Their father just smiled at Jeff.
"Mer wasn't feeling well, so Pol and Cass get to come with me. Besides, how many boys get to watch their father work an archaeological dig in Egypt?" David said.
"And, remember you don't have to be so formal,” he continued. “Call me Dave.”
“Out here in the field, we're all the same, just a bunch of kids digging in the dirt and playing detective with mysteries that are thousands of years old," David said.
Jeff didn't answer. He just shrugged his shoulders and grunted. If Dr. David Prometheus wanted to bring his kids down into these tunnels and be called Dave, there was nothing he could do about it. He was just a grad student, so he knew enough to shut-up and do what he was told. Not that David had ever belittled him, quite the contrary, both of the Doctors Prometheus joined in on even the most menial work and always included him in dig planning sessions. They were annoyingly wonderful people.
Jeff noticed the boys quietly jabbering back and forth to each other. They seemed to be larger than most two-year-olds that he had been around. He had never believed in all that crap about twins having a special connection or their own language, but after observing Pol and Cass for the last six weeks, he was beginning to think there might be some truth to the stories after all. It seemed like they were actually communicating.
Jeff liked the boys more than he cared to admit probably because they were so different than other children he had encountered. Thinking back, he hadn't seen either of them cry or throw a tantrum since he had joined the dig nearly six months before. They were quiet and well-behaved, sure, but there was something else about them. Jeff noticed it the first time that Dr. Prometheus…not David, the other one…Meredith…had brought them along to a museum where she and her husband were doing some research. When they walked in, holding their Raiders of the Lost Ark sippy cups, they had been jabbering back and forth to each other and then just stopped. They carefully bent down and set their sippy cups on the marble floor in front of them, being very careful not to spill a drop of juice, and stood back up. Then, both of them looked…really looked…around the main hall of the museum like they were taking everything in and cataloging it. Jeff remembered the wonder writ large on those little faces and couldn't help smiling at the memory.
Jeff looked up to see David smiling at him, and he realized that he had been smiling at the boys.
"Amazing, aren't they."
"I guess," Jeff said and shrugged, but at that moment, he sure wished he could remember his father describing him like that.
"And here we are," David said.
A wall of dirt and sand blocked the tunnel, which was wide, about fifteen feet, and tall, about nine feet.
David stood in front of a smaller opening that had been started decades before and then abandoned after only a couple of feet. It didn't look so much like another tunnel as just a slightly wider stretch of the existing tunnel.
Recent work in the Giza Necropolis focused on the Pyramids, but the Sphinx had always held a certain fascination for David. So, here they were in one of the oldest tunnels in a site near the Sphinx.
"All right, let's get our gear," David said as he slipped his black backpack off his shoulder and placed it on the ground.
"Mer and I think that it should be right around in here," David said to Jeff.
“At least that’s what six years of research is telling us.”
Jeff started to grab his tools out of his messenger bag when he saw both boys perform the same motion with their little packs.
Chuckling to himself, he pulled out his brush and trowel and joined David as both started to carefully pull the dirt from the wall.
Jabbering away at each other, the boys dug with their small shovels in the floor of the tunnel.
Minutes passed and the jabbering stopped.
It took David a second to realize that the boys were being quiet....too quiet. He turned and saw his sons standing, looking at him, and pointing at something in the dirt.
"Dad!" Pol and Cass said at the same time.
Jeff turned from his work at the sound of their voices.
"Well, what do we have here?" said David.
"It looks like you boys have found something."
"Mind if I take a look?"
Both boys beamed with pride.
Jeff saw a something metallic in the ground. It was about the size of a large coin with a dull silver coloring. There appeared to be some kind of glyphs barely visible on it.
Jeff saw David move toward his sons, and then he noticed that the tunnel seemed brighter.
Then, he heard the boys begin to cry.
"What in the world?" said David.
Then, he shouted, "Get them out of here now!" and turned back toward where he and Jeff had just been digging.
Jeff ran to the boys.
Light filled the tunnel and parts of the ceiling began to fall in large chunks.
The air was thick with dust and heat.
The light was so bright that Jeff had to shield his eyes.
As he bent down to grab the boys, a large chunk of the ceiling fell and struck him on the back of the head. He fell to hands and knees.
Jeff shook his head and tried to stay conscious.
He blinked and saw David move away from he and the boys.
He blinked again and David was barely visible from the light that flooded the tunnel.
He tried to blink again, but his eyes wouldn't open. His legs and arms gave way, and he passed out.
Pol and Cass screamed, "Dad!"

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dreams of Fading Contrails

Three days ago something I care a great deal for died. With the landing of space shuttle Atlantis on July 21st, 2011 to close out STS-135, America’s manned-space program is officially dead, or at least in a deep coma that could last for years and years.
Space is now something in our past and maybe a hope for the future, but right now…right now, we are in limbo. We don’t have a manned-space flight program anymore, and that is truly sad. And humanity is the worse for it.
STS-135, the official designation of Atlantis’s final mission began with a spectacular launch on July 8th, 2011. I know, because I was there. I was there to see the death of something that I love.
Before we get to the launch, though, a little history lesson. Humans were last on the moon December 14th, 1972. I would have my first birthday 16 days later. I’m just a bit too young to have experienced any of the wonder and excitement of the Apollo program except as history. So, when the shuttle program started with Columbia’s launch on April 12th, 1981, I got to experience what I imagine people must have felt for Apollo. For me, it never really ended. I vaguely remember Columbia’s first launch, but I do remember desperately wanting to see a shuttle launch. To a kid in rural Arkansas, the space shuttle was more than a machine, it was made of hopes and dreams.
Life, of course, has a habit of getting in the way. I got older, got married, got a job, and had kids, but I’d never taken the time to actually go see a shuttle launch. The shuttle program, of course, kept going, even in the face of Challenger and Columbia.
I don’t think I will ever forget where I was when I found out about Challenger. I was in the 8th grade in a room that doesn't exist anymore in a building that doesn't exist anymore. When the announcement came over the intercom, it hurt. Shuttle launches had become routine, so class was no longer interrupted to watch them, so I didn't get see what happened until hours later. Columbia, I remember hearing about it as it was happening. I was home on a Saturday with the family, it hurt, too.
Even these two tragedies couldn’t stop the shuttle program. It kept on going, keeping the dream of space alive…even if the shuttle never got more than an 8-minute burn from the Earth, we were still a spacefaring species.
Months and months ago, it was announced that the space shuttle program was ending, and I took notice. Very soon, I would no longer have a chance to see a launch of one of the beautiful shuttles in person, so I started planning. It was simply impossible for me to get away with Stacy, Mike, and Alex to see the launch of STS-134, Endeavor’s final mission, so I was left with only one last chance, STS-135, the final launch of Atlantis and the final mission of the space program.
So on July 5th, I gathered up the family, and we drove 20 hours so that I could witness the death of something I love.
Kennedy Space Center is an absolutely amazing place. The passion of the people for not just the shuttle program, but for space is palpable, you can feel it radiating from everyone who lives and works there. It’s infectious, too. I certainly feel a renewed passion for space, and I believe that that same passion has been kindled in my sons. But, there was a sadness there, too…a disappointment in the ending of the shuttle program without a successor already on-line.
NASA has always been a political football, and the current political climate and budget situation have simply taken their toll, which is sad. I believe that I read that NASA’s annual budget is now 1 billion less than what is been spent annually on air conditioning for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two wars and a financial meltdown that have only served to enrich the super-rich in this country have crippled NASA.
Doesn’t anybody dream about the future anymore? I’m beginning to wonder.  Americans don’t seem to care about dreams anymore, unless they’re dreams of profit, and space isn’t about profit. It never has been.
Space is about the power of imagination, dreams, and ingenuity. It's about daring impossible things and succeeding.
And, it’s dangerous. Never forget that.
Fourteen human beings gave their lives during the shuttle program. Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik died on mission STS-51-L in Challenger. And, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, and William McCool died on mission STS-107 in Columbia. Yes, it is very dangerous, but it is worth doing.
Humanity is supposed to be out there learning about the universe that we live in. Robotic exploration has its place, but robots simply have no sense of grandeur and lack the poetry necessary to describe gazing out over a Martian valley. They can't describe what it feels like to see Earthrise from the surface of the moon. Only humans can do that, and right now humans don’t even have the opportunity.
Alex, Will, and Mike just after launch
On July 8th, I stood at Banana Creek watching a countdown clock. Atlantis only had a 20% chance of launch that day, but I had a feeling. As I stood there outside the Apollo / Saturn V Center watching that countdown clock, I couldn’t help but have a big stupid grin on my face. I was 3.4 miles from the launch gantry (3 miles is the minimum distance) with a truly awe-inspiring view that encompassed launch pad 39A and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). I was still grinning like an idiot as Atlantis lifted off and arced into the clouds riding two bright stars. It was truly beautiful. But a launch is not just seen, it is heard, and more importantly, it is felt. The sound produced as the twin SRBs fire is amazing and reverberates through your body even at 3.4 miles away. It really does need to be experienced in person, and I do realize just how lucky I was to be there with Stacy, Mike, and Alex to experience it.
Sixteen days ago I witnessed the final launch of the space shuttle program, the death of manned-space flight and something that I truly love. Its death only increased my passion for space. But, more importantly, it reminded me just how powerful and necessary dreams are. I hope it showed my sons that no dreams are too big or too impossible. And, I sincerely hope that space isn't relegated to just a dream for very long.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Comics Storytelling

More comics stuff because that's apparently all I think about.
One of the great benefits of attending a comics convention is getting to talk to people that make comics...pencilers, inkers, letterers, colorists, and, yes, writers. This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina and talk to lots of people intimately involved in making comics. Discussions covered the range of comics-creating spectrum, but they all had something in common...storytelling.
Pardon me for stating the obvious, but storytelling is crucial to comics.
Yeah, well, DUH.
Sometimes you just have to state the obvious.
Anyway, chatting with Marvel Editor Bill Rosemann on Sunday actually helped crystallize a few things that I had been struggling to articulate. Clear storytelling from panel to panel and page to page are what make comics so easy to comprehend, and comprehension is kind of essential if you want a reader to invest his or her attention enough to actually want to know what happens. A reader simply can't do this if he or she can't figure out which panel comes next on a page. I'll come back to this in a second, but it gets into a part of the importance of panel borders. Sure, breaking the borders of a panel can look really cool, but when done and done and done, it loses its impact. And that is precisely why it should be done sparingly because it is supposed to have an impact. Every panel simply cannot have the same dramatic impact, even if they were all the same size. If they did, then there would be no impact since they are all the same. It's like posting to a forum with your caps lock on. If you're shouting everything you say, then what do you do when you actually need to shout.
Getting back to the page and panel arrangement...a clear panel flow is vital to keeping your reader. Look, I know that we have some amazing artists working in the medium that can execute some achingly beautiful pages, but if I can't follow the flow of the story then those pages are useless from a storytelling standpoint...beautiful, but useless. For the record, I'm what you'd call indoctrinated. I've been reading comics for decades, and if I have trouble following the story, then imagine someone with less comics reading experience trying to understand the story. They couldn't. And that would be a failure on the part of the writer, the artist, or both.
And, they're not just failing the reader, they're failing the story. You see, it's the story, stupid (to shamelessly steal from the first Clinton presidential campaign). It's more important than every individual aspect of comics. Everything, and I do mean everything from the script to the art to the colors to the lettering exist to serve the story. If a reader were able to identify a story as being written by me, that's fine since all artists have an individual voice, but if making sure a story is identifiable as a "Will Allred" story interferes with the storytelling, then I've failed on multiple levels. This will probably sound strange, but this is why my first allegiance is to the story. I take whatever meager skills I possess and whatever tricks I know to tell that story to the best of my ability and hope that it gets even slightly close to the vision I have for it locked up in my noggin'.
I really want to talk about page layout a bit, but I think I'll save that for next time, but enough rambling for now. Before I finish this, though, I'd like to thank everyone at Heroes Con for all the great discussion.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Comics, A Definition

I've been thinking quite a bit about comics lately...well, okay, quite a bit more about comics lately. I've always loved comics, but it's only within the last several years that I've started trying to figure out why the form appeals to me so much. Also, as a comics writer, figuring out how and why something works or doesn't work is simply invaluable as I struggle to tell the story in the best manner possible. Anyway, while thinking about this, I discovered that most people can't even define comics. It ultimately boils down to the ol' tried and true "I know 'em when I see 'em," which is less than useless. It's difficult to use something effectively or to figure out why it appeals to you if you can't even define what it is. So, I went looking around for a good definition. Turns out that Scott McCloud (in his groundbreaking Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art) has already done most of the heavy lifting (and he formatted the whole thing as a comic, too). McCloud's definition is...
"juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberated sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." (Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art Page 9)
After arriving at this definition (a discussion that takes a few pages and is extremely interesting), McCloud mentions a term that comics pioneer Will Eisner utilized in Comics and Sequential Art to describe comics, sequential art. Nonetheless, what’s important here is sequence. Comics are not simply the combination of words and pictures. On the contrary, comics don't require words at all. What they do require is sequence. In fact, comics are all about sequence and the magic that happens between the panels, something McCloud calls closure. With a sequence of images, a reader is required to perform some cognitive processing (closure) to build a narrative from the disparate parts (panels). Reading comics isn't like watching a movie which is simply experiential processing. To quote the very articulate and prolific Warren Ellis, comics happen "behind the senses" and require engagement by the reader. Something else important here that I haven't seen discussed is context. Each panel lends context to the other panels which helps the reader build the narrative. If closure is the act of creating the narrative, then this inter-contextuality serves as the building block that enables it.
I guess what brought this up is recent discussion on one of the Grand Comics Database (http://comics.org/) mailing lists about single panel cartoons. My contention is that single panel cartoons aren't really comics since there's no sequence. Sure, they contain both words and pictures, but there's no closure or inter-contextuality. It's simply a small piece of art, no more comics than if someone placed a word balloon on the Mona Lisa.
This is, of course, all fodder for my dissertation and future issues of Diary of Night, both of which I am still working on.
Enough rambling for now.