A New Discovery For Me…

In a previous post, back in March 2020, I wrote about the types of relationships that words and images can have with each other. I also discussed how this can be used to unconsciously discover story elements on a page. I focused primarily on a particular type of comic panel, the inter-dependent panel. As a reminder, is where words and pictures/images convey different meanings separately but in combination convey a meaning that neither has without the other. Since then, I have been researching the topic further through books, videos, and website articles and I’ve discovered something profoundly useful that I want to share.


As a very novice writer, I have just discovered subtext. Many experienced writers reading this will be familiar with subtext but I think this can be a great tool in creating comic books. What is subtext? In scriptwriting, subtext is the implicit meaning of a text—the underlying message that is not explicitly stated or shown. Depending on the medium used to tell a story, there are many ways to achieve this. However, in comics, the inter-dependent comic panel is an excellent tool to convey subtext. It makes the story more engaging and more memorable for the reader because the truth of a scene lies not in the words or in the images, but in the essence between word and image. This puts the reader’s brain to work, piecing together clues to arrive at the emotional truth of the scene.

How Do You Achieve Subtext?

Body language and facial expressions are two great tools at an artist’s disposal. Facial expressions, in particular, are a fantastic way to convey subtext. I feel like the use of expressions in comics today is not as strong as it could be. In Scott McCloud’s book, ‘Making Comics’, there is an in-depth look at the emotions and facial expressions artists can employ. This is a powerful tool for subtext. For those pages alone, the book is worth purchasing but there is so much crammed into that publication. It’s a valuable publication that I highly recommend to creators. I return to it over and over and always learn something new as a creator. 

Where might you use subtext? One obvious example is where a character is trying to hide their true intentions or emotions from another character. This helps employ another strategy to draw in the reader, tell them a secret. Let the reader know something that the characters in the story don’t know. Let them discover the character’s motives and intentions. Going back in comics history this would have been shown in thought bubbles and captions that show the reader the inner voice of characters but often reads as just exposition and can reduce the entertainment in the story. Subtext through the use of images is a harder achievement but one that is well worth pursuing.

What do you think? Do you see subtext in comics? Can you think of good examples in the industry? The first article sparked some interest and I hope this one also gets the gray matter working.