Unintentional Connections?


Friday, January 29, 2010

A while back on Blog Flume, Ken Parille wrote an interesting post deploying Ivan Brunetti’s idea that one of the “common pitfall” of cartooning is the making of “unintentional connections” between images in different panels. (Brunetti made that statement in his great little book Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice).

In post and the comments section, the question was raised as to how to decide whether an connection is unintentional or not. Most good cartoonists care about not just what’s inside a panel but how panels relate to each other, not to mention the composition of the whole page.

Here is an example that illustrates the problem: two panels from Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google Sunday page of November 15, 1925. The left facing bull in the first panel does make a connection to the image of the same bull facing right in the second panel: instead of one bull in two panels we seem to be looking at one weird, two-headed monster. More subtly, the sweep of the horizon line in the two panels seems continuous. Was DeBeck aware of what he was doing? Does intentionality even matter, or should we just treasure the overall effect?

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15 Responses to “Unintentional Connections?”
  1. joedecie says:

    I think any artist worth their salt will consider the look of the strip as a whole, sometimes things slip though the net however. In this comic I didn't notice until later the join between the poster in panel three and the bridge in panel four, but now that I've noticed it, it bugs me. I'm not going to redraw it though…


  2. Cricket says:

    He may or may not have intended it, but I'm sure he noticed it once it was down on paper — and he would've removed it if it didn't "work". (Of lesser cartoonists, one can't be so certain.)

  3. David King says:

    I like it when this kind of stuff happens–weird connections are what cartooning is all about!

  4. Jacob Covey says:

    The unconscious act is till a valuable one. The talented artist will also be a conscious one and make note of unintended connections. If we value only the intentional act then there's no room for surprise. Any artist or viewer who can't be surprised by the enormous mystery that is inherent in Art is bound to be limited in experiencing that Art.

  5. Jason T. Miles says:

    I don't understand all this hand wringing about intentionality. Even Donald Ault does this in his great Carl Barks/Synchronicity piece for Comic Art #4… and I think this kind of thing only contributes to the long standing deprecation of comics and cartoonists.

  6. Jeffrey Meyer says:

    You fools

  7. Oliver East says:

    some mistakes are happy, some not. i try and leave them all in.

  8. sk says:

    Unconscious act or not, linking the anonymous sword-wielding bald men through design is a wonderful way to make them seem more like a hive.

  9. Jeet Heer says:

    Yeah, I agree with Jacob and Jason that bringing intention into the discussion is probably a mistake. Intentionality has been out of fashion in literary discussions for a long time; see "The Intentional Fallacy" as discussed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_fallacy.

    I guess the better question is to look at how these connections between panels can either: work very well (as in the DeBeck example) or be visually disruptive (as in the one Brunetti created to show the problem).

  10. Bryan says:


  11. Sean Ford says:

    the unintentional connecting in that brunetti panel above makes me like it so much more.

  12. dimesfornickels says:

    I try to do it on purpose when I draw because I think it's one of those things that only comics can do and get away with

  13. Ivan Brunetti says:

    Just two quick notes:

    1. My CARTOONING book was meant for novices, not masters like DeBeck. Students often do things in comics without noticing how distracting those things can be (occasionally there are very happy accidents, but waiting around for those accidents is not a good artistic strategy).

    2. Many here are ignoring the spirit of that page in my book, which actually says all of these "wrong" things can be used to the artist's advantage. I was just pointing out that it's good to be mindful of these things. Also, my book stresses that it's better to think in terms of good and bad instead of right and wrong. If something "wrong" works, then a good artist decides to leave it in…

  14. Anonymous says:

    a nice example is the multiple strokes continued between 2nd and 3rd panels in this PBF comic:

    helps add some continuity to a gutter that spans millions of years!

  15. Jose Luis Olivares says:

    I'm pretty sure the cartoonist wanted to make the bull look like a funny creature, right? It works really well!

    This also makes me want to do "Exquisite Corpse" jam comics where you would draw the connecting lines on the next panel.

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