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As I began reading “Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot” by Jacques Tardi, I was immediately struck by the cinematic quality of this text. In fact, the first page of this graphic novel is structured very similar to a scene in narrative film.ImageThe first panel functions like an establishing shot[1] and orients the reader in the world of the story by showing him the setting; in this case, two people walking down a deserted street at night. The text boxes in this panel complement the illustration by provide additional information, such as the exact location of the setting, Cheshire Plain. Here, it is important to note that while the establishing panel provides a lot of information, because it is so broad in its scope, it provides very little detail about any one particular element. For example, because there are so many features and such little detail in the first panel, it is unclear who or what is the main subject.ImageThe second panel provides this focus by tightening the framing, while maintaining a logical connection to the previous panel. The reader is now shown the same landscape again; this time, at the street level from a few feet behind the couple. By centering the couple within the frame and providing more details, namely their gender and dress, Jacques Tardi signifies their importance. The text box also provides more detail to this panel by drawing the reader’s attention to the Bedford van situated in the middle ground of the image, which may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

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Initially, the third panel seems disconnected from the other two; it shows the profile of a man in a vehicle, hiding a gun, and looking forward. However, it soon becomes apparent through the text box, that this man is hiding inside the Bedford van that was referenced in the previous panel. Furthermore, when the reader orients himself within the space of the story, it becomes clear that the man is staring at the couple who are walking down the street toward him, alluding to the fact that he is planning to shoot one or both of them.Image

The fourth panel nicely pulls together the aforementioned elements—the man in the van and the couple walking—albeit a bit violently. This panel shows the man walking down the street with the woman, get shot by the man who was waiting in the Bedford van. By showing this action from close behind the couple, and matching where the shooter was looking in panel three[2], the reader is not only able to understand the spatial relations between the four panels, but also the chronology of them.

Jacques Tardi is not only able to establish a logical connection between his panels, but also effectively orient the reader within the space of the story through his use of continuity editing[3] in “Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot.” By doing this, he is able effectively create suspense, while simultaneously allowing the careful reader to piece together elements of the story and draw his own conclusions, before they are made explicit, or denied entirely. Furthermore, Tardi’s cinematic structure allows him to create a complex and interesting narrative, while avoiding the unnecessary confusion of his reader.

Footnotes

[1] Typically, a long or extreme long shot used to introduce a setting to the viewer.[2] This is called an eye-line match in film and is a technique used to preserve spatial continuity. [3] The main style of editing in narrative film-making used to establish a logical connection between shots and smooth over the inherent discontinuity that arises during the editing process.

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