Posted by: Sally Ingraham | March 5, 2015

Comics to the beat


A riff on the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, and Pittsburgh’s 40th Street Bridge – Sally Ingraham 2015

I woke up thinking about things Frank Santoro said last night about music and comics at the Pittsburgh Comics Salon that I attend monthly. While I lay in bed around 5:45 a.m. waiting to see if my school would call for a snow day (last storm of the winter, perhaps?) I read his extensive notes for a recent symposium on page layout, and thinking about comics in musical terms.

Thank goodness I did get my snow day, because by 7:30 a.m. my head was so full of ideas I would never have been able to focus on the kids I was supposed to be mentoring…!

The Comics Salon had really loosened me up, shifting me away from the clear and careful black and white lines that I’d been using in February. The drawing exercise we did put colors and scribbles in my hands, and produced a one page comic that I was really pleased with.

Frank (author of Pompeii and Storeyville) had just briefly touched on his ideas about comics and music at the Salon, but it was enough to set my mind spinning. I’ve been working with beats a lot this week at school, creating new ones from established melodies so that our students can spit rhymes during these manufactured “breaks” in songs (for our upcoming Hip Hopera!)

Because I’ve got beats on the brain, the idea of structuring panels or pages of a comic like the beat of a song, or letting the movement of the story flow like a musical phrase makes so much sense to me – and is really exciting!

Directly after tumbling out of bed and inhaling some cereal, I set to work, unleashing a collection of experiments for myself. Inspired by the Comics Salon exercise, I chose to scribble shapes and then go back with lines (using my own photographs as reference.)

I picked just two colors to use. (I’ve been in love with minimal pallets lately in the comics I’ve been reading – Luke Pearson’s Everything We Miss, and Isabel Greenberg’s The Encyclopedia of Early Earth do lovely things with just a few colors.)

And of course, the music – the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony came into my head (it often does, I’m obsessed with those cellos!) and I decided to draw it. The comic you see above is built from the first phrase of the 2nd movement of the symphony (ish).

FullSizeRender (6)

Never mind the first two bars … My comic is composed of the 3rd-6th bars, with each frame equaling one note, the size of the frame indicating the speed of the note, and each line equaling a bar. 2/4 time in the music is represented by the typical-sized panel in an eight panel grid equaling a quarter note (or one beat).

I hope that the content of the frames also represents an aspect of the music. Give it a listen and see what you think (my comic takes place from 0:05-0:12…):

Now I pretty much want to draw the rest of the piece! Determining how to represent other parts of the musical notation would be fun, if I wanted to get really literal about it. But just thinking about “composing” a comic as opposed to writing one is helping me think about my process entirely differently.

We’ll see where this takes me.


  1. […] seems to me that they bring together so many types of communication – and they do it well. In my last post I talked about the connection between comics and music, which I’ve been thinking about a lot […]

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