Most comics use omniscient third person to tell their stories. In other words, the comic’s narrative eye knows and sees everything happening in the comic’s world. With omniscient narration, comics can relate events occurring in different times or thousands of miles apart. The comic can share events that are otherwise secret, that a particular character would have no reason to know. Omniscient narration is incredibly useful because it lets the story focus on whatever aspects of the story are most interesting whenever they would best serve the story being told.
In the panel above, from Marvel’s reboot of Crossgen’s Mystic, the omniscient point of view allows readers to see the outside of the orphanage. This provides setting information — time of day, location — and also commentary on that setting, in the form of the graffitti that questions how much of a home the orphanage actually is. The panel shows information that the characters involved would not be able to relate since they’re inside the building. The smooth shift in focus, from events that would be impossible for the characters to see to the characters themselves, echoes the omniscient eye of filmmaking and is a common comics technique.
Every so often, comics limit their perspective. Most of the time, that perspective is limited for dramatic or artistic effect. The particular example below shows an example of how a comic uses a brief period of limited perspective for dramatic effect.
In this panel, the comic’s main characters, Giselle and Genevieve, are running away from the orphanage where they’ve been raised. The panel’s art moves in what looks like the opposite flow of normal panel structure. In western and English-speaking comics, the flow of action tends to run left to right and top to bottom, while the artistic focus in these panels seems to move from right to left.
The action here actually follows the regular western pattern because the girls are running out and away from the orphanage — down and to the right. The point of view of the art, however, is limited to the girls’ perspective. The girls have stepped out of their familiar world and into a dark and unknown future. As they move furthur away from their past, the panels show only what the girls would see as they run away. The doorway framing the head of the orphanage recedes into a smaller and smaller image that moves further and further left, while the unseen girls flee further and further away into the darkness of the right. The art here thus limits its focus to display what the girls are experiencing, rather than showing a literal depiction of their flight.
Mystic is charming, but its style is mostly traditional. The kind of visual play seen here is unusual rather than normal, at least for the single issue of the series that’s been released so far. In addition to its story of adolescent coming-of-age, though, the comic offers a nice look at how limited perspective can help tell a story.
Mystic #1. G. Willow Wilson (writer). David López (penciller). Álvaro López (inker). Nathan Fairbairn (colorist). Marvel Comics, 2011.