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Art and Narrative: A Regular Eisenstein, Or Something…

That comics and film have much in common is pretty much a given. The bond they share as mediums of visual communication is strong, and over the years there has been a great deal of cross-pollination between the two artforms. I’m not talking about comic adaptations of films or films based on comic books – although there certainly are a lot of those these days – but rather the nuts and bolts that hold the two mediums together.

As a former film student, I read a lot of theory and watched a lot of films, and one of the most memorable (well, besides Citizen Kane) has always been Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potempkin. Maybe it had something to do with the way my film Prof raved about it, or the numerous times I have seen it referenced in other films, but that picture had a powerful impact on how I regarded film, and visual communication in general. I have never forgotten the experience of sitting in a darkened room as the reels whirred and the images of strife and violence washed over the screen, without soundtrack or spoken dialogue.

I was so impressed by my first experience watching Potempkin that I sought out whatever I could find on Eisenstein, and wound up writing several papers on his works. I was fascinated by Eisenstein’s Montage Theory (or, Soviet Montage as it is sometimes called, which has to do with the juxtaposition of visual images to create new meaning. Eisenstein’s theories have had an enormous influence on how films are edited, and on visual mediums in general.

Flash-forward several years... and I’ve still never been to film school. I wound up studying close to home and never got around to making my own moving pictures.

But the desire never went away.

Like the famous "Odessa Steps" sequence in Potempkin, it has always haunted me. I think that’s why I responded the way I did when I first read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: I sensed the many similarities between what McCloud was said about comics, and what I’d read years before in the writings of Eisenstien...

...and I HAD to make comics.

Interestingly enough, the deeper I delve into the connections I first spotted between Comics, Film, and Eisenstein, the more I have realized how influential his ideas have been on the people who make comics. Both Scott McCloud and John Barber, at different times have mentioned his influence.

Eisenstein himself might not have written about Comics, but many of his ideas apply to Comics as much as they do to any other visual medium. As an artist with an appreciation for comics, Eisenstein would have probably loved to have seen how it has grown and flourished as an artform over the last century, and he probably would have appreciated how much Comics and Film have come to share.

So, after you’ve finished reading Eisner and McCloud, why not do yourself a favor, and read up on Mr. Eisenstein – he knew a little about sequential images. ;)