by Barbara Postema

About Barbara Postema

Barbara Postema is Senior Lecturer of English at Massey University in New Zealand. Her monograph, Narrative Structure in Comics, was published with RIT Press in 2013. She has contributed work on comics to Image and Narrative, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, and International Journal of Comic Art, as well as collections such as The Routledge Companion to Comics and Graphic Novels. She is a co-editor (together with Candida Rifkind and Nhora Lucía Serrano) of a new book series from Wilfred Laurier University Press, Crossing the Lines: Transcultural/Transnational Comics Studies.


“The comic image finds its truth in the sequence,” writes Thierry Groensteen in The System of Comics ([1999] 2007, 114). Individual comics images may not mean much. In fact, in isolation, they can often seem ugly or banal. But working together with their surrounding images to form a sequence (or even multiple sequences), these individual panels come alive and start to move, progressing the narrative of the comic. For this reason, Will Eisner (1985) dubbed comics “sequential art,” making the sequence the key defining aspect of comics. Certainly, the sequence of images as it appears in comics sets the form apart from (most) other visual or textual forms, as neither literature nor film share this feature. This is what makes comics “a form of reading,” as Eisner elaborates (7). Instead of reading words and sentences, in comics, readers decode sequences of images in panels: Eisner writes, “The rendering of the elements within the frame, the arrangement of the images therein and their relation to and association with the other images in the sequence are the basic ‘grammar’ from which the narrative is constructed” (39). He is describing the basic apparatus of comics here: pictures, panels, frames, gutters, and pages. Panels and their placement on pages are not random or accidental: in them, the sequence becomes the vehicle by which images transfer narrative. As Scott McCloud has pointed out in his formulation for a definition of comics, images in comics are in a “deliberate sequence” (1993, 8).