Asynchronous Depiction refers to a phenomenon in comics that occurs when the text, usually contained in balloons or captions, exceeds that which could reasonably be spoken within the span of time depicted in the panel. Because panels necessarily depict a finite amount of time that is more than a moment, but generally not more than a few seconds (around 10 at most), the text in a given panel can take longer to read than the action in the panel requires. As Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith note in their book The Power of Comics: History, Form, and Culture, “The relationship between the words and the static image can never be absolutely synchronous, but skillful comics creators make an effort to create panels in which the words correspond to the duration of the action.” (p.138)
When images and text are not synchronized in this manner, the panels tend to appear wordy and unappealing to the eye. The reader’s eye might wander to the next image, disrupting the intended flow of the story, or the reader may lose interest if the wordiness continues. Too much asynchronous depiction is generally considered detrimental to a comic for these reasons, as good action sequences “usually contain fewer words… so the tempo picks up as the reader moves rapidly from panel to panel” (Duncan and Smith, p.139). Moreover, an imbalance of words tends to reduce the efficacy of the comic medium as awhole, as the control of pacing, engagement of the reader’s imagination, and art style are the advantages of comics that make them a unique experience.
Asynchronous depiction is not always “accidental,” and editors and writers are aware of its existence. Marvel released a parody series in the late 1960s featuring most of their major characters entitled Not Brand Echh.
Issue #4 depicts the parodied X-men not only struggling against the villainous Magneat-o, but also with many issues of self-awareness and the comic pokes fun at many of the conventions of the comic medium. The characters themselves comment that they are being crowded out by the excessive text bubbles caused by the villain’s monologue. They then turn the asynchronous depiction on its head by utilizing the interfering bubbles as makeshift weapons, allowing them to ironically enhance the action, making this a perfect example of how this normally awkward phenomenon can be used to creative effect.
Duncan, R., and Smith, M. (2009). The Power of Comics: History, Form, and Culture. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc.