1. Without the voice balloon, it looks normal. The letter is just a series of lines because of the artist’s style. Then we see the balloon, and he’s saying that it really is just a series of lines. Note too how well the lines in the balloon match those of the letter.

  2. I think Arthur is right… but the envelope also has just a series of lines. How did the postie find the right house?

    It’s hard to tell if the characters are surprised by the style of the letter, but the heroine at least looks mildly disconcerted. Maybe it was this bit that unsettled her; it would unsettle anyone:


  3. I agree with Arthur too, but I would like to point out that the piece of paper he’s holding is very large.

  4. It’s large-print redacted text for people with visual impairment. We need to ensure that the visually-impaired are not excluded discriminated against when having information withheld.

  5. Yep, those aren’t redaction lines — those are just the artistic representation of “this piece of paper has writing on it, but, at this level of abstraction, I’m not making letters, just lines.”

    Then, when it’s read out loud, it remains just lines, rather than being decoded to text.

  6. I like the idea that the enlargement at upper right is being displayed for us. One of my recent pet peeves is the treatment in film and television of text messages or other content appearing on a character’s phone.

  7. Woops, didn’t finish writing! Sorry!

    I like the idea that the enlargement at upper right is being displayed for us.

    One of my recent pet peeves is the treatment in film and television of text messages or other content appearing on a character’s phone.

    I am grudgingly okay with degree zero — do not show the screen at all in the shot, or only from a distance and angle where it is clear that we cannot possibly be expected to read it. It’s clear that the intention is that we should get the gist of what it shows, either by implication from the reactions, or possibly one of the characters actually reading a bit of it aloud or commenting.

    I absolutely hate , and will shout at the director about, the step-one treatment: show the phone screen, the actual phone (whether photographed from the phone or imposed on the shape in post) , with the character holding it semi-still for way too short a moment, and not reading it aloud. That is, PRETENDING that we have been shown what is on the phone and could have read it if we were sharp-visioned and quick of comprehension.

    The best treatment, of course, is the full next step: Break it out onto our picture plane, and either have short texting-dialogue exchanges or in another fashion make sure there is time for us to read it all.

    I know there are people who think this is cartoony and unworthy of serious drama. My answer is that there are lots of styles available, and there is nothing sacred about the idea that our picture will always show something that could be seen in actual physical space.

    BTW, it would also be nice if streaming services let you pause and study the screen without their weird habit of dimming the content and tossing up an overlay of all sort of branding and controls.

  8. “The best treatment, of course, is the full next step: Break it out onto our picture plane, and either have short texting-dialogue exchanges or in another fashion make sure there is time for us to read it all. ”

    As a general rule, Americans do not like to have to read when they go to the movies. The speed with which one can engage that portion of the brain necessary to decode and process written text is so variable that “enough time” is difficult to set. Then there’s the question… is the text in question intended to be picked up in the theater, or maybe only later, when a person has a DVD copy at home?

    For example, in the Futurama TV show, they invented an alien language and started putting messages in the alien language on the screen but in the background, and though it would be years until anyone decrypted it. Nope. Weeks. So they invented another, harder one, and started using that one instead of the one that was already decrypted.

  9. Kilby: the joke lies in the absurdity of being able to say what is clearly unsayable: the letter is all redacted, yet somehow he is able to quote it verbatim; similarly, in Olivier’s example, the guy quotes an apropos aphorism, yet literally has no idea what he is saying — how can he quote in Greek an apposite aphorism if he doesn’t know what it means because he doesn’t speak Greek?

    Because of the medium, the authors of these comics are able to create this paradox, this impossibility, because in the first case, we accept the conventions of the speech bubble as representing spoken words, even though they are literally written, and in the second case, it’s because the author can make his characters say things that he the author knows, but which the characters don’t.

    I like your added joke for the second, though it does strike me as reaching for the pun, that which I (and I think you too) condemn the English translations of Asterix for doing… Maybe instead “I don’t know myself”, which sounds more natural, and doesn’t get in the way…

  10. Am I the only one here bothered by the idea that the guy takes the letter out of his mailbox, takes the time to rip it open and unfold it and read it to his companion — yet has not bothered to *close* the mailbox?

  11. “…. — yet has not bothered to *close* the mailbox?”

    I feel the exact opposite. There was something compelling to get him to read the mail while still in the yard rather than waiting to get into the house. Under such a circumstance it’d be very strange to me if he *had* taken the time to close the mail box.

  12. @ larK – Nuts. I added that “myself” just before I clicked on submit. I tried both locations, and picked the wrong one. P.S. It’s not the puns that bother me in the “Asteríx” translations, it’s simply that in all the English editions that I’ve ever seen, all of the dialog sounded “translated” (a defect that is only very rarely noticeable in the German versions).

  13. Mitch4, I’m 1000% with you on this one: it would be no problem at all for them to either give us a complete zoom of the phone’s screen, or show us the text as a subtitle.

    I’ve seen tv shows and movies do both, so I know it’s not an unreasonable thing to ask.

  14. larK, the comparison doesn’t quite hold up. You ask, “how can he quote in Greek an apposite aphorism if he doesn’t know what it means”.

    Pun aside, the Centurion is just parroting a proverb he’s heard in similar settings (as a caution against hubris, perhaps). He doesn’t know the actual meaning of the phrase. In contrast, reading literral _lines_ out loud is plainly absurd (and therefore funny).

  15. I’m trying to remember where I saw it, either BBC America or PBS, but a fairly recent program characters texting with text superimposed over the shots, in an informative yet stylish manner IIRC. Doctor Who? Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock? Somewhere along those lines.

    Relating to the letter, I can see a gag where Lorem Ipsum text is visible in a letter, and a character reads the letter aloud, only to read literally it in Lorem Ipsum.

  16. Alfred Hitchcock did it best, with a point-of-view camera exploring the room. If the detective sees what might be a clue, we get a close-up of it. Hitchcock even constructed giant-size props when necessary to get the perspective right … such as the giant-size letter pointed out by Kilby.

  17. Grawlix, I went looking for good examples of this thing done poorly and well, and when I finally decided to search for other people’s ideas instead of relying on my own recollections, the articles I found both mentioned the BBC Sherlock! Turns out the articles were from about 2012, so while they were right about that example, their ideas of what would be cutting-edge may be out of date.

    Also I disagreed with some of their evaluative calls. One of the things they praised Sherlock and others of that time for was getting rid of the dialogue bubbles. I’m fine with dialogue bubbles.

    My locus for first noticing it done a way I liked, in a large-screen context, was “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010). But that was a sort of superhero and/or comix based movie, albeit in parody, so I was defensive and when muttering about it for a ponderous drama would always feel like throwing in “Not that it is only suited for something like Scott Pilgrim”.


    Mark in Boston, I don’t know if your Hitchcock comment was for this sub-thread or another. But if for this one, I have to disagree. Oh yes, his technique was great for his films. But for the cases I was complaining about, almost the last thing I would want would be a close-up of the face of the phone. As those articles I was reading pointed out, that’s a poor solution because it calls a halt to the action. Much better to have the text float on screen, with or without bubbles, but leave the actors still there acting.

  18. Mitch4 – I have never had the screen do all those things when I am sending or receiving a text.

    Then again I do so very limited. Until mom started having problems in May, my only texts were to or from Robert. I am guessing a good half of them are “OK”.

    Texts between us occur when we are in stores (or elsewhere in public) and are separate and he is ready to leave. text from him – “?” replies – “bathroom, be right out” or “near registers” or “crafts” (mostly at Walmart). He can no longer hear me yell from the kitchen to the office, especially with ac on and door closed, and we never think to turn on the intercom units we bought 30 years ago when we moved in so I now text him when dinner is ready. Since the outside latch to the side storm door latch froze while I was putting out the garbage two winter, 2017 and called him with the cell phone to our house phone to ask him to let me in (too snowy and icy to try to get to the front door and up the steps) he has made me send him a text whenever I walk out of the house. This is something which annoys the heck out of me and he gets texts such as “walking into porch with soda bottle” followed almost immediately by “walking back into house from porch” and so on.

    I used to buy him surprise Christmas gifts and sneak them into the house while he was upstairs. I have not have found anything in a number of years. I really want to find something and send a text “going out to sneak in your surprise Christmas present” followed by “back from sneaking in your surprise Christmas present”.

    Lately there have been 3 way text messages between (among”?) my two sisters and me with details about mom.

  19. Well, in comics, swear words always show up as unusual characters (#£*&, etc.: there was a Get Fuzzy arc about this); I thought that similarly, the guy was reading legal jargon he doesn’t understand, rendered as meaningless lines for us not to understand, by the cartoonist. Hence, the Astérix comic (original text:”Je ne sais pas: c’est du grec”=I don’t know: it’s Greek; the last part also means “I don’t understand it”). After all, we, as adults, understand gnothi sauton, but would a child?

  20. @ Arthur – Samson doesn’t put a date on his stuff, so nobody would know that it was a “different” day. I wonder whether DSotH appears in print at all. If it’s only online, that might explain the lack of the usual syndication markers.

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