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There is No “Camera” in Comics

Since joining The Center for Cartoon Studies, I’ve noticed that my fellow comic creators bristle when certain words are used in reference to comic making. If you are hoping to write a graphic novel, especially in collaboration with someone else, it’s best to know that some artists do not like the following words:

1. Camera. The word “camera” is often used in screenwriting and refers to the actual camera on set. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris talks to the camera throughout the film as a way of “breaking the fourth wall” and sharing one-sided discussions with the audience. So, in John Hughes’s script, it would read something like this:

Ferris turns toward the CAMERA and says…

FERRIS: They bought it.

The reason why comic artists bristle at the word “camera” when discussing comics is because there is no camera in comics. It makes them feel like film’s younger, hand-me-down brother.

So, what word can we use as a substitute for camera? I use “READER”:

Ferris turns toward the READER and says…

FERRIS: They bought it.

A related bristling word is “shot” (Example: We see a low-angle shot of the Empire State Building). Again, there is no camera in comics, so there is no shot. The best alternative I can offer is “view” (Example: We see a low-angle view of the Empire State Building).

2. Illustrator. Comic artists do not like being called illustrators. Illustrators are artists who create drawings that illustrate an article, book or advertisement. Many comic artists, especially the ones who write their own stuff, feel they perform a different task than illustrators by using comics, so they prefer more specific identifications like “comic artist” or “cartoonist”. Unfortunately, they often have to call themselves illustrators in order for laymen to understand what it is that they do, so if you use one of these preferred terms you could score some social points with them.

Categories: Blog
  1. 02/20/2011 at 11:34 AM

    True say, Tim. To the uninitiated, these things may seem like picky points, but they also speak to a widespread misunderstanding of how comics function.

    Example: in 2008, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novel Skim was a finalist for the 2008 Governor General Awards in Canada … however, the nomination credited Jillian who wrote it and NOT Mariko who drew it. This prompted Seth and Chester Brown to write an open letter criticizing this decision, which was then signed by a number of prominent cartoonists including Art Spiegelman, Lynda Barry, and Chris Ware.

    I don’t have a problem with being called an illustrator when I’m illustrating an image for an article … because It usually is an illustration. But illustration is just one tool in the cartoonist’s toolbox, and comics are a different beast.

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