There are 7 main categories of Narrative art. Narrative art is art which tells a story.
- Monoscenic — represents a single scene with no repetition of characters and only one action taking place
- Sequential — very much like a continuous narrative with one major difference but uses frames. Each frame is a particular scene during a particular moment.
- Simultaneous — has very little visually discernible organization to those who are not acquainted with its purpose concentrating on repeatable patterns and dualities
- Panoptic — depicts multiple scenes and actions without the repetition of characters. Think of the word ‘panorama’. ‘All-seeing’ (pan + optic)
- Progressive — a single scene in which characters do not repeat. However, multiple actions are taking place in order to convey a passing of time in the narrative. A progressive narrative is not to be interpreted as a group of simultaneous events but rather a sequence that is dependent on its location. Actions displayed by characters in the narratives compact present and future action into a single image.
Progressive Narrative Art
In this post I talk about the difference between Continuous and Synoptic.
A continuous narrative is a type of narrative that illustrates multiple scenes of a narrative within a single frame.
Multiple actions and scenes are portrayed in a single visual field without any dividers. The sequence of events within the narrative is defined through the reuse of the main character or characters.
It emphasizes the change in movement and state of the repeating characters as indicators of scene or phase changes in the narrative.
Continuous narrative art is pretty much exactly the same as Sequential narrative art except minus the frames that help the viewer to know where one phase ends and the next begins.
Trajan’s Column, depicting one event: The Dacian Wars
These days you find Continuous narrative art in comic strips, picture books and story boards.
This scene from In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak looks a blend between Continuous and Sequential, because although there is a frame to separate the pictures, the two frames almost seem to form a diptych (but only at first glance — there are two moons after all). I feel this is, overall, an example of Sequential narration.
Synoptic is the adjectival form of ‘synopsis’, which should give us a clue about what’s going on. Synoptic art = the synopsis of a bigger story.
A synoptic narrative depicts a single scene in which a character or characters are portrayed multiple times within a frame to convey that multiple actions are taking place.
This causes the sequence of events to be unclear within the narrative.
Synoptic narratives typically provide visual cues that convey the sequence, but still might be difficult to decipher for those unfamiliar with the story.
They’re not just used in ‘art’. Here’s an image from the Stihl home page:
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had that many clones of yourself working in the yard whenever big jobs needed to be done?
This is Mughal painting — a style from South Asia.
By the way, it would be unusual to find a painting like this in a modern, Western picture book because the characters are facing the wrong way! In picture books, the action goes toward the page turn, unless there’s some unusual reason to reverse it.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONTINUOUS AND SYNOPTIC
Continuous narrative art gives you clues, provided by the layout itself, about the sequence of phases depicted.
But you have to know the story before you can understand a synoptic narrative. This wasn’t a problem anyway, because everyone of the era understood the basic plot of the myths, fables, stories and wars depicted.
Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats
the double spread
a better quality image
a closer look
The cat drinking milk is an example of continuous narrative because the fall of the hill forms a clear temporal guide.
Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow
Again, the road itself provides a temporal guide. So this is an example of Continuous narrative art.
Marla Frazee’s Books
Marla Frazee makes a lot of use of this technique.
For example Mrs. Biddlebox (There’s an image of the thumbnail sketches for this book on Frazee’s webpage.)
from Boot and Shoe
Jan Ormerod’s books
Usually have the action repeated. See “Sunshine”, “Moonlight”, “Putting Mummy to Bed”.
Getting dressed scene in Sunshine
Here, Olivia the pig waits impatiently for her mother to sew her a different colored soccer shirt in Olivia and the Missing Toy. Not seen here is the bit where she walks off, bored.
From Olivia and the Fairy Princesses.
I make use of this same technique to show a child getting ready for bed, but in an interactive picture book app, Midnight Feast.