Actions Speak

by Sergio Aragones
Genre: wordless humor
Context: published in 2002 by Dark Horse; sequel to Louder Than Words

I don’t know how much I have to say about this book. Sergio Aragones has been working for years on MAD’s marginal doodles, drawing Groo the Wanderer, and more. While his these books aren’t my favorite work by him (which would be his autobiographical stories from Solo and Funnies), this book serves as an almost-perfect example of how to tell a story in pictures. Each page is a single gag done without any words. This sort of thing sounds really easy until you actually do it.

How do you lead the reader’s eye to the important parts of the action? Aragones fills his panels with figures and background, but he still manages to compose each drawing so that the important action or story beat is set off.

How do you show a character’s feelings? Drawing pitch-perfect expressions is pretty difficult, and it’s even harder when you don’t have any dialogue or lettering styles to bolster that expression.

What choices do you make in what exactly to show? Do you show the exact second of slapstick violence? The second after when someone is reeling? The second before, implying the impending humor?

Each page of this book contains hundreds of conscious choices that Aragones made, and there’s barely a bad choice among them. His panel shapes and layouts are varied and experimental while always remaining readable and ordered. Even if you don’t read humor comics, there’s a lot to get out of Aragones’s work.

If you still don’t believe that this book an impressive feat, try it for yourself. I read somewhere about an assignment given (School of Visual Arts? Center for Cartooning Studies? Kubert School?) where the class had to draw the story of the Tortoise and the Hare without any words. Plot it out in your mind. Where do you start? How do you lay out the rules of the race? How do you show motion?

Here’s an image search of pages from the book so that you can see what I’m raving about.

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