by Barbara Postema
“The comic image finds its truth in the sequence,” writes Thierry Groensteen in The System of Comics ( 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).