Skip to content

In the moment

How do you effectively portray and play with time in comics?

In moving image media such as cinema, timing is, to a large part, in the direct control of the director and the editor, and the linear viewing experience of traditional film and television. It is, of course, possible for the viewer to pause, rewind and skip forward if watching outside of the confined viewer experience of the movie theater. However, if the director has done their job right and created an engaging story, you will most likely watch at the normal speed, as intended.

This scene from Better Call Saul gives a sterling example of playing with time. Please note, this video has a trigger warning; please view at your own discretion.


Take a moment and let that sink in.

Did you feel the same intensity of emotion as Kim?

Were you focused, then calm, then relaxed, before lulling into relaxation, and perhaps some anticipation given the warning. And then, were you as surprised by the adrenaline moment* as Kim was?

Somewhat shocked, slow to comprehend? Dazed and confused?

Stories are pretty amazing things. They can teach us a lot about each other and the world. But it takes a masterful hand to keep you engaged in that world, and even more to put us in the experiencing body of its characters.

If I were to break down this scene and depicting it in static, disparate shots, the choices of timing available to me immediately change. However, much remains the same. I have images. Words. Flow/drawing attention. Framing. Choice of transition between shots.**

The thing I do have, that the filmmaker doesn’t, is the fractured nature of panel transitions. I know that comics can hook a reader to the same extent as that scene does. If they couldn’t, comics wouldn’t have survived for this long and expanded into so many avenues of our daily life, all over the world.

I create comics. I need to be able to do that too- to stretch out a long moment.

Fade into a relaxed lull, so peaceful, and then Exploding!

Stunned moments.

Unbelieving shock.

Dawning realisation.

The curtain closes, the scene ends, the page turns.




* Adrenaline moment- Rule 42 of Ed Hooks’ 52 quick acting notes.

An “adrenaline” moment is one the character will remember when he turns eighty and looks back on his life. The best movies include plenty of adrenaline moments.

(for more on Ed Hooks’ work)

** see Scott Mcloud’s seminal text Understanding Comics for more on panel transitions

A brief introduction to panel transitions

Book and McCloud’s site

(header image an excerpt from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Creative commons licensed)


If you’re still here, what do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working within comics as opposed to cinema when dealing with time. Know any great examples, from any medium? Keen to hear your thoughts.