Lynda Barry, The Freddie Stories
I love this book — I first read it in the 1999 paperback edition put out by Sasquatch Books, but now Drawn and Quarterly has re-issued it in hardcover with new artwork, a new afterword by Lynda, and about 50 extra strips.
Something that has been in the back of my mind popped up when reading this book — I think I enjoy reading comic strip collections more than I do “graphic novels” or plain ol’ comic books. There’s something kind of magical about watching a story unfold in these four-panel segments.
The genius of Lynda’s strip style is that she can cover so much in four panels — the strips aren’t even what you would consider typical cartoons, something like Garfield or Nancy with speech balloons and visual gags — the narration often takes up at least half to 3/4 of the panel, and then the drawing is rarely an illustration of the narration, but rather, some sort of juxtaposition, a glimpse of the scene, or something that pushes the story further or comments on it and makes you go to the next panel. So, there’s interplay between the narration and the panel underneath, but THEN there’s the jump to the next panel, where a lot can happen. She telescopes time in a really interesting way. And THEN there’s the jump that happens when you turn the page.
In the chapter “Blood in the Gutter” of Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud talks about the importance of “the gutter” — the space in between panels — and how the gutter “plays host to much of the magic and mystery that are at the very heart of comics.”
Here in the limbo of the gutter, human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea. Nothing is seen between the two panels, but experience tells you something must be there. Comics panels fracture both time and space, offering a jagged staccato rhythm of unconnected moments. But closure allows us to connect these moments and mentally construct a continuous, unified reality.
I might argue that there are three elements that act as gutters in The Freddie Stories — the line between the narration and the rest of the panel, the space between each of the four panels, and then the space in between the page spreads. I think this highlights why I love reading strip collections so much, this one in particular — we’re given so many breathing moments, spaces in which we can fill in the gaps and use our own imagination to make the story our own. It highlights the real magic of the inherently interactive experience of reading — the words and the pictures need us to make them come alive, they need us to fill in the gaps…
Filed under: Lynda Barry