This essay will deconstruct Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel The Sandman Volume#1 Preludes and Nocturnes (1991), in order to gain an understanding of narrative is presented through the use of image. It will also comment on the codes and conventions within the chosen text. Preludes and Nocturnes is the collection of eight comics in the Sandman series, with Neil Gaiman writing for a regular series for the first time. As such Preludes and Nocturnes is somewhat a work in progress, as the creative team honed their work.
If read from cover to cover you will see a marked improvement in the writing over the course of the volume culminating in a much more tightly wound climax than at the beginning. The first chapter Sleep of the Just is a good place to start looking at the panel construction of the narrative. On the page (Tab. 1) we see the first three panels over-laying the fourth panel. The first two panels are narrow and rectangular and the third is square. The gutters are very narrow and not a lot is happening in the panels. This indicates that panel-to-panel, not a lot of time has passed between transitions.
However rather than use moment-to-moment transition the creators have used subject-to-subject as a method of keeping a moderate pace for the reader to become interested in what they are seeing on the page. This is continued throughout the eight panel page. Alternatively, the creators could have shown the first two panels as one, allowing the dialogue to take place straight away as the car pulls up to the mansion. The panel could then be expanded showing the mansion in more detail and allowing for the removal of panel three completely.
We already know the man is here for a reason, therefore we make an assumption he will leave the car and knock on the door. ) This would potentially allow for the removal of Panel Four, going straight to the man knocking on the door and the door being answered. This would then clear up what is a relatively cluttered page and make the narrative much more direct. Dialogue and pacing are used to high degree throughout this chapter sometimes appearing cluttered and confused, and sometimes this is compound by the unusual panel shapes employed.
However this has been used to great effect (Tab. 2) The thin oddly constructed/shaped panel’s one and two, are almost seen as though they are slices of Burgess’s insanity and obsession. Subject-to-Subject transitions are used to aid pacing in what otherwise would be a lengthy a page due to the amount of dialogue. Although the majority of the spoken word is short, there is a lot of it to read. A six panel page is probably right for this instance however more conventional panel shapes would probably aid the reader more.
The caption box in the first panel is used in parallel to what is in the picture; the reader doesn’t actually see the words of the spell tolling in his head, but they are given a sense of the psychological effect it takes on Burgess. On the very next page closure is used perfectly. Burgess demands for the being to come forward and with each chant, that being becomes more corporeal with the end result, the creature arriving in the room. The dialogue used is interdependent to the imagery.
Without one or the other the reader wouldn’t be able to pick up the full picture of what is happening. To speed this page up you could probably remove the panels with Burgess and just have the three panels of the creature appearing with the dialogue situated around him, as if surrounded by people. In (Tab. 3) we can see a classic example of moment-to-moment transitions, twelve panels depicting and old man dreaming of becoming young again as he walks along a dark corridor before realising he is in a nightmare of his own making.
Twelve panels on a fifteen panel page seems like a lot, however it serves to really ramp up the tension in the terms of the narrative as this is a turning point for the whole story. Interestingly the transitions used serve as the opposite to what is actually happening; the de-aging process of decades in just a few seconds or minutes intensifies the dream/nightmare feel. For the sake of quicker pacing you could perhaps take a few panels out here and there, showing a larger passage of time between the transitions and the de-aging process, however you would then run the risk of losing the tension build up.
An interesting point to note is the dialogue for Morpheus, his speech bubbles are jagged black items with white text, that serve the purpose of defining his character as not of this earth and more important than any other speaker. (Tab. 4) poses some interesting issues. Panel 1 bleeds in from the top of the page to the half-way point with the next two panels over laid. However here is where it can get confusing for a reader who reads from left to right on a single page. Panels 4-6 do not follow the traditional design of a comic book.
Rather than continuing the dialogue under panels 1-3 they extend onto the next page and initially this is confusing as the readers first thought is to go down the page. It is almost as if the writer wants you to stop and think for a moment. This layout is continued through panels 7-13 and in panels 10-12 the structure becomes jagged indicating Cain’s fractured mind finally snapping and lashing out at his brother Abel, the word “IRVING?? ” capitalised and coloured in red accents this.
This section uses several different types of panelling ranging from aspect-to-aspect (panels 1-4 7-8) subject-to-subject (5-6 9-13. ) This unusual layout has been created because of the opening dialogue, Lucien the Librarian stating that “It has been a strange century. ” The creators probably felt that they could accentuate this by creating this page layout. It would have worked much better if it had been done over a single A2 sheet but restrictions prevent this so readers would have to be careful to make sure they read the page right.
It would flow better if the panels with Cain and Abel had been left out entirely or at least placed on a separate sheet. Again closure is shown on the final panel with blood spatter getting that message across loud and clear. (Tab. 5) brings good examples of word specific text in subject-to-subject panels, also note the colour change to black and white, given in context with each panel it conveys the message that all is well and the world is resting.
The use of Morpheus’s coat as a panel enveloping Arkham Asylum is used to indicate that he is back in control of the dream realm and is repairing the damage done by his captivity. Throughout the Preludes and Nocturnes there has been a constant improvement in the way it is presented and written. In particular as the narrative continues, there are subtle changes in colours, from really quite dark to eventually ending up with a white background as Morpheus goes about his quest to right the wrongs done to him.
The writers also moved to more traditional conventions of comic books in respect to panelling moving away from the sometimes claustrophobic and cluttered panels in the early chapters to the more familiar boxy panels that most sequential art uses, however that is not to say the gothic inspired artwork doesn’t have its place, in the early stages of the story, entrapment and imprisonment were key themes. As the creative team honed their skills the works became more coherent and easier to understand. It is easy to see why this series is so popular.