323: “–” (Bill Watterson)

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

                Imagine the comic without that quiet third frame of Calvin looking at the butterfly. I don’t think it would mean the same thing. The third frame gives me a moment of quiet, a pause as Calvin and I think about what’s been said and wonder what happens next. Wonder how we’ll respond. In the last months, I’ve been wondering about moving that quiet frame around. As I talk with people, and teach, and learn, and wander around with myself, what happens if I put the quiet frame at the beginning of the strip? Or at the end?
                I see the “set up, pause, response” structure a lot. In some ways, I live that structure a lot. I start trying to write about this comic, and then pause for a moment, looking at the screen and the butterfly in my mind. Looking at Calvin’s hands, my hands, holding something. I wonder what’s next. Then I keep writing, or delete what I’ve written so far. The first two frames could be something a friend says, or me falling off my scooter, or showing up at the grocery store to discover there’s no more eggplant. The pause opens a space between that experience and what I’ll do next.
                What if we move the third frame? What if it were at the beginning? When I try to imagine the comic that way, then the quiet first frame of Calvin staring at the jar leaves me uncertain for a moment. I wonder what he’s holding, and why. That unknowing can feel uncomfortable, but it’s also a place in which I’ve been finding a lot of support. It’s a moment before my interpretation crystalizes into the idea, this is what I’m seeing. It’s a moment when I can notice more. To put it another way: pretty much every movie scene would start with an empty room if we started the story sooner. And the room wouldn’t be empty: light, shadow, furniture, the cracks of our masonry crumbling with time, a cat napping in the corner. I wonder what I would see if I thought about all my scenes starting with that extra frame at the beginning.
                What if we let the quiet frame be the end? Then the comic leaves us with Calvin staring at the jar. In lots of ways that might feel less satisfying. The action of letting the butterfly go is a release. It’s a good idea. It makes me feel better. But if the quiet frame came at the end, maybe I would be left wondering what should/would/could happen next. Maybe I’d be left trying to pose my own ending. Maybe I’d stop thinking about an ending, a beginning, and hang there for a moment in opening time.
                As I think about it, I wonder where else I can put a quiet frame.

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