one slam or five?

This cartoon by Liana Finck is in the current New Yorker (May 25, 2015, page 49). It’s a fine cartoon and I get the joke, but I think this is an interesting example of how comics read, or can be read. The intent of the joke is to have all five doors closing at the same time, hence “synchronized.” Yet that’s not how I read this. I read it as five slams, one after the other. I think this is due to standard reading order, moving from left to right. I read each slam in sequence, not as a single action.

So here’s my quick revision:

What this alludes to is the possibility that a single panel is sequential and so fits into that long-standing debate with Scott McCloud. While the images in painting are often capturing a frozen moment (if representational), what the single image in a cartoon does is capture a segment of time, a narrative. A narrative is, by definition, sequential. Like in the revised image above, the image captures the closing of five doors and the resulting sound. That’s a cause and effect relationship that takes some amount of time to happen. Also, the image doesn’t just imply time in what is depicted, but it implies a prior event: the swimmers storming though the doors and slamming them closed behind them.

I know other people have written about this. I just can’t remember who now. Barbara Postema? Hers is the book I’ve been reading most recently.