His Face All Read: Showing, Not Telling

One of the oldest maxims of writing is the simple statement, “Show, don’t tell.” In her comic, His Face All Red, Emily Carroll applies this principle to her illustrations and uses the reader’s intuition to streamline and focus her narrative. Much of the subtleties regarding the character relationships are communicated through her illustrations rather than the character’s words. Take for instance the younger brother’s subordinate position in the community relative to his brother, which is depicted in the sizes of their homes.houseThe same information can also be seen in the very first frame, in which he is depicted in the far right of the frame, isolated from the community.tavernIn this way we are given detailed information about the characters from a single frame that would take a paragraph of narration to convey.

Carroll complicated the “show, don’t tell” principle by conversely using it to intentionally add ambiguity to her story. Take for instance the two instances in which she saturates the frame with red. The first time, when the older brother kills the beast, the death of the beast is taken as definite fact.beastBut the central crux of this comic’s mystery lies in the reader’s interpretation of the next instance of this device, during the murder of the brother.Capture3Here the story can branch into a multitude of different directions. The brother could truly be dead, and some shapeshifter goes on to take his place. The brother could have survived, and through some unknown circumstance ends up untouched back in the village in three days time. By not directly showing the murder of the older brother, Carroll allows for multiple explanations of the plot and creates a narrative with a unique flavor for every individual reader. First she establishes the practice of communicating definite fact through illustration, and later turns that concept on its head by intentionally obscuring the absolute truth of the narrative.

Just as an interesting aside, the film Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson) does a very similar thing of filling the frame with red to imply violence and/or murder.Untitled


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