‘Berlin’, And What Filmmakers Can Learn From Graphic Novels

Adam Westbrook
5 min readFeb 18, 2021

How Jason Lutes masters visual storytelling.

On my desk sits a framed page of storyboards from Hayao Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away.

Spin the frame around and on the other side is a print from Scott McCloud’s graphic novel The Sculptor.

They’re in the same frame to remind me that film and comics share a common ancestor.

This discovery expanded my appreciation of both art forms and thinking of myself as a Sequential Artist helps me understand the clay that I’m moulding as filmmaker.

The film and the graphic novel are related like a pop song to a poem and, just like reading or writing poetry can make your songwriting better, I think filmmakers benefit from indulging in graphic novels.

I love seeing how a good graphic novelist approaches a scene because it is almost guaranteed to be different to a film director, while still using the same clay: a sequence of images with (or sometimes without) words.

But more than that, I think graphic novelists have a more interesting understanding of the relationship between words and pictures.

Words and pictures

The dynamic between these two halves of visual storytelling fascinate me.

Back in journalism school I was trained in an arcane craft called “writing to picture” and I learned that the ways words and images can be combined can create poetry — even in journalism.

And because they work with space instead of time, comic artists see this relationship from a slightly different angle.

It’s hard to articulate how words and pictures work together so let me use an example: Jason Lute’s epic graphic novel Berlin.

Jason Lute’s epic graphic novel “Berlin”.
Adam Westbrook

Video artist working at The New York Times. I write a weekly newsletter about visual storytelling and creativity. https://adamwestbrook.substack.com/