British Comics at the Fin de Siècle

In the Spring

“In the Spring…,”Illustrated Chips (1890)

Artist: Oliver Veal

In this strip from the first issue of Illustrated Chips, Oliver Veal cultivates a sophisticated form of image-text interdependency, carrying it through a narrative rather than relegating it to stand-alone gag panels. The first four panels are word-specific. All relevant information is supplied by the dialogue and narration. Two young lovers make secret plans to elope, and the girl’s father overhears them and “determines to thwart the wicked design.” Starting with the fifth panel, both the words and the pictures become integral to the narrative. As the man waits for his lover to arrive, he hears footsteps: “Ha! she comes! I know her footsteps so well. My happiness is now complete!” But we see what the man cannot: the footsteps belong not to his lover, but to her club-wielding father. The man persists in his ignorance through the next panel, in which he cries “My dearest!” even as the father prepares to pummel him with the club. The second-to-last panel shows the father striking the man over the head, accompanied by the simple caption, “But he quickly discovers he has made a mistake.” The strip wraps up with a word-specific final panel:

“And [he] returns a crestfallen man, and evidently worse for his adventure.”

In panels five, six, and seven, this comic uses image-text interdependency for humor and building narrative tension. The reader knows what is coming to the man in the fifth panel, but the man does not. This dramatic irony, in addition to being humorous, causes the reader to sit up and ask, “What happens next?” With only words or only pictures, the comic would not have this effect. If it were a silent strip, we would not track the man’s lack of awareness; if the pictures were taken away, we would believe the man when he says, “I know her footsteps so well.”

A balance of reading and seeing is necessary in understanding this comic, but Veal makes it easy on the reader. His drawings are simple: the characters are rendered in silhouette, and he provides broad, user-friendly visual clues, such as a raised fist (panel three) and a wooden club (panel five). The comic can be read and understood without paying close attention to the illustrations. The reader can concentrate on the words, keeping the pictures in his peripheral vision, and still grasp the tensions and ironies between image and text. Therefore, this strip functions as an elementary course in true, sequential image-text interdependency.

British Comics home | previous image | next image