Thursday, June 27, 2019

Analysis of the Depiction of Memory in Batman Hush, Part One

As I work on my graphic memoir, I am always thinking about (and confounded by) ways to visually depict how memory works, weaving around in time, triggered by specific things in the now, and how one memory can trigger another.
Recently I read the Batman graphic novel Hush by Loeb, Lee, and Williamson, and I was intrigued by how they managed memory.  So I wrote it up to make notes for myself, then thought I'd share them here in case they are of interest to others!  These are only my impressions from reading the book... apologies to those who know more than I do about these artists, their work, and the post-millenial Batman world than I do!
In this first page example, I see the standard page appearance.  Black background and gutters, detailed ink, multiple colors.  Whenever we are in Gotham City, as we are here, things tend toward the blue overall.  Bruce/Batman's narration is in the blue shaded boxes.
So we have read some 50 or so pages that look like this in the clear cut now of the story.

Then the comic starts to train us how to read its greater complexity, as Tom Hart, one of my great teachers, likes to say!  On the page immediately following the above, we find ourselves in one of Bruce's memories.  The time jump is triggered by a comment made by the doctor on the bottom of the above page, and our understanding is helped by the physicality of the page turn, and the completely different visual style,
The monochromatic coloring and the loose watercolor style not only trigger a difference in time, but also mimic the vagueness of memory, which is generally less precise in our minds than the now of our lives.  The memory goes on for several pages before, on a page turn, returning to the more full-colored and detailed depictions of the now. 
We see several such memory sequences, always on a page turn, and always filling several full pages, before the comic takes its next jump in depicting the complexity of time.

In this next image, I see the jump in complexity, again, the page training us how to read it.  Rather than the page turn helping to mark the time jump, the authors rely just on the style shift.  
I like how the character and position of Alfred helps to root us in place.  I also note how this memory, unlike the earlier ones, has a white gutter, but I am not sure what it is signalling.  
Anyhow, now that we readers are trained to read time/memory jumps without the aid of a page turn, or even a full page of memory, the book can do more complex things.

The next example shows how the book expects us to read location changes and time jumps not just from the now of the story to the past, but from one point in the past to another.
So, the first two tiers above are in the now of the story, with a location change to Metropolis.  Unlike Gotham City which is always depicted in blue tones, Metropolis (home of Superman) is depicted in red tones.
In the third tier we jump in memory to something that happened just the previous evening in the story, in Gotham.  We know where we are in time because we just saw this exact image (with different narration) in a previous page.  It doesn't have the looseness of the other memory scenes because it is so recent.
Between the third and fourth tier, we jump from the memory of the previous evening to a memory from childhood.  The shift to the now familiar loose watercolor style triggers the time jump, and the shift in color scheme (along with the narrative cue) signals that this memory is not from Gotham, but from a childhood visit to Metropolis.
So we are now, in the space of one page and four panels, jumping between two places and three points in time!  HOW COOL IS THAT??
Stay tuned for the next post to read the rest of my analysis.

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