Using Understanding Comics to Understand New Media

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts about the rhetoric of the hyperlink, which I was working on with my Textual Media course. I’ve complicated my students thinking (I hope) by suggesting that we can use Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud’s wonderfully insightful dissection of comics (itself in comics form) to understand new media.

Among the many useful keywords and concepts McCloud provides is a rubric of panel-to-panel transitions, in other words, techniques for tying together two distinct panel frames on a page. Inspired, I think, partly by an awareness of how cuts work in film, McCloud gives us these six categories:

  1. moment-to-moment (showing the passing of time)
  2. action-to-action (showing cause and effect)
  3. subject-to-subject (in film, an example would be a cut to closeup or a wide shot)
  4. scene-to-scene (shifting the action across significant time and/or space)
  5. aspect-to-aspect (what McCloud calls a “wandering eye”; these transitions are rarely used in Western comics, but they appear much more frequently in Japanese comics, usually to evoke a mood or atmosphere)
  6. non-sequitur (with “no logical relationship” between panels)

Now, I wonder — and I’ll be asking my students this soon — what are the new media analogs of these transitions? How, say, can simply using text and hypertext evoke these different transitions? Some are easier to imagine than others. Hypertext on the World Wide Web makes it incredibly easy to create non-sequitur links. But what would an aspect-to-aspect link look like?