Time bending


A fundamental, and fascinating, quality of any narrative, but especially one that incorporates a visual element, is the manipulation of time.  Unlike objective time, which is classically a constant and unidirectional phenomenon (at least at the human experience of reality) time in a graphic novel is much more flexible.  It is reflective, in a way, of an individual’s subjective experience: the same hour can drag or can whizz past.  Within its overall forward movement, time can slow down, speed up, freeze or jump through wormholes from one point to another (sometimes with the aid of a label, as above). When characters are exchanging dialogue, time across panels will track the length of the utterances, typically no more than 2 to 7 seconds per panel.  In a scene without dialogue, however, for example where a horse and carriage is travelling along a road, several minutes may be concentrated into a single panel.  When Stefano comes up behind Alphonse to capture him, time is slowed down so an event that took place over a few seconds is stretched across several panels.  Then there is the depiction of episodes that exist outside of time because the observer is shown events that are, in fact, false (such as the aged Marquise d’Urfé).  One of my favourite pieces of time manipulation co-mingles the past and present through the use of a single scream that snakes around a double-page illustration.  The panels at the top of the two pages describe Robert Damien’s attempted assassination of Louis XV in the past, while the panels at the bottom describe Robert Damien’s being tortured in the present.  In terms of the relationship between time and space, generally what the observer sees first in space they will expect to arrive first in time.  For an English reader this means time travels from left to right, but for a Japanese reader time travels right to left.  One very important narrative advantage that is served by manipulating time is the opportunity it allows to release information to maximum effect.  For example, a key part of the interrogation of Guillaime is sent to the future where it reveals information that is important to the villain’s imminent demise.

Like Russian dolls, different time frames can be stacked within each other, as in chapter 4 (‘Places des fleurs’), for example.  Inside the overall forward movement of the narrative Casanova is able to think back to his childhood.  His period of recall is still in the present but that present is now essentially put on hold (as is also the case with the dream sequences).  Within that memory we have a scene in which a central image of Casanova’s mother is surrounded by panels of Casanova as a child being chased.  The central panel and the surrounding panels are occurring simultaneously in time but at different speeds (an impossibility in the real world) and on the following page the situation is reversed with Giacomo in the central panel and the mother moving through time and space around it.  This disjunction is then dissolved as son and mother become united in space and rate of elapse of time.  The young Casanova next becomes the present-day Casanova who is not localised to a specific point in time and space (to smooth the transition and maintain coherence, the older Casanova adopts the same posture as the younger.)  We then slip through a wormhole to a future point in time and space to resume our narrative at Madame de Pompadour’s garden party where, as previously, an observer can witness events happening simultaneously in different locations (in this case the dressing of Madame de Pompadour is juxtaposed against the dressing of Stefano).


‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is freely available here.

Long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.


#time #storytelling #graphicnovel