I’ve always been a nerd, but some how I managed to dodge a bullet and never really became a comic book nerd. As much as I love a good super hero story, it seemed to me that most comic books existed to display shallow characters and cheesy action scenes. The story existed just to display “cool” pictures, the pictures did not exist to communicate a good story. I found this some what upsetting, especially since I’m in the story telling business.
It bugs me that this medium has been crammed full of propaganda and children’s stories. Comics just have so much potential in the area of visual communications, its a shame to see it wasted. If words can communicate well, and images can communicate well, don’t the combination of words and images have the potential to communicate in an even better way? Humans have been using images to tell stories since before civilization began because an image can evoke thoughts and emotions in a way that words simply can’t. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
It really struck me that a comic can tell a good story when I was given The Watchmen, widely renowned as the best graphic novel of all time. The images are used to tell an amazing and compelling story, not to prop up a meaningless super hero. I shouldn’t have to sell this book to you, I’ll let it’s reviews and awards do that for me. I enjoyed the movie adaptation, but it was missing something from the printed comic format that made in unique.
Back on topic: So as rare and diluted as it is, there ARE great examples of using text and images together to tell a great story. I believe examples of this are increasing in both quantity and quality. This may be a bit on the hopeful side but I believe it is because as a society we are getting better at seeing through fluff, propaganda and because we crave more meaningful stories.
The master of this is unquestionably Scott McCloud. I am a huge fan of his book Understanding Comics, which goes in to great detail explaining how to leverage graphics and illustrations well in order to communicate clearly. Oh, and the book practices what it preaches by doing it all in the form of a comic. Scott has been a champion of the medium for a very long time now and has done a lot to bring comics from being “entertainment for boys under age 10″ to “effective medium for communication”.
The latest example of this that makes me all happy on the inside is the communications that were released with Google Chrome. With all the attention Chrome was getting in the blogosphere it was hard to ignore how Google decide to present their new project:
Page One of the Google Chrome comic. Full comic here.
They used a comic to explain a technical achievement and an advancement in software! Normally this kind of information release is handled by technical writers, and is written in a way that both goes over the average Joe’s head and puts him to sleep. However, Google knew that in order to gain market share with their new browser they had to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately for Google the advancements in Chrome are extremely technical and not at all appealing to read about unless you are a nerd, meaning many people wouldn’t care about Chrome because they did not understand why it was superior. So the geniuses over at Google decided to promote Chrome both visually and textually, with a comic! The dialog is still detailed and technical, but the images do a great job of bringing the words to life and making concepts like processes and multi-threading easy to understand for people without a programming background. Oh, and it turns out that Scott McCloud was the one who actually wrote it.
So what does this have to do with Church Communications? Everything. Traditionally much of what comes out of a church’s communications office is very textually driven. Worship guides are often a bullet point list of songs, with a low res illustration of a cross on the front. Every announcement in the bulletin is 200 words with a bold heading. Your website may have a few images, but the time and attention that should be spent on them is simply unavailable. Everything, it seems, could be communicated just as well in braille.
Obviously, my biased opinion is that we need to focus more on imagery than we currently do. Text is still extremely important because without it you just have meaningless images, but I think emphasis on text needs to be scaled back so that it compliments images more often then it pushes them out.
No, I am not suggesting that the Church release a graphic novel or that it should create a mini-series titled “Matt Chandler versus The Hulk!” (although I would buy that in a heart beat), but what I am suggesting is that we retool our communications to have less text, less lists, and more images from in house photography, not stock. It is my desire to tell the story of Christ to both members and non-members of the church, so that people can see why we value making disciples for Christ and to show people what we are doing as a body of believers. There are a lot of amazing things going on in it, but it’s largely hidden! What a better way to tell the story of Christ than to do it with compelling imagery?
I think I should have drawn this blog post…