What's odd about E P Jacobs' narration panels, though, is that he started his Blake and Mortimer series in the late 1940s, long after the period when they were thought necessary by comic creators and editors, and when almost everyone else had abandoned the device
I suppose there we have to look to the fact that Jacobs, while now thought of by us as being in the school of Hergé, actually developed out of the school of Alex Raymond. Raymond's Flash Gordon
, if I recall the reprints that used to run in the Sunday magazines of one of the British newspaper in the Eighties, were a sort of mix of illustrative panels, blocks of text, and panels with speech balloons.
Jacobs began his cartooning career as a Raymond copyist, providing his own pastiche resolution to a Raymond series which had been interrupted mid-story by the war (which cut off the supply of material from the States), and it followed this same pattern. He then used the same approach for The U-Ray
, which was in the Raymond style (he revised it as a more regular comic for republication as an album).
As you say, there are many possibilities for why Jacobs took this approach, but my guess is it lies somewhere there. Personally I really don't mind it, any more than I mind music on films, or see it as any more peculiar than times when characters appear as disembodied heads next to a speech balloon (beloved by Hampson on Dan Dare
): the question to me is if the use is tasteful, or well used. Frankly the narration is less of a problem than the often huge
balloons, with endless reams
of speech. I think it is more of a testament to how economical Hergé was as both an artist and a writer than anything else.
Raymond (and thus Jacobs) wasn't alone in the approach either: while you suggest that it was on the way out, I think that the more "texty" approach wasn't dead, it was just losing the cause at the time. The early Batman and Superman also had quite a high incidence of text to picture, often providing narrative to frames instead of dialogue.
I read one such comic and it was almost like the translator had taken a French-to-English dictionary and translated word-per-word. The way the characters spoke was stilted rather than natural.
Hah! I do hope you will remember this the next time you complain about the fact that MT&LL-C change things in translating the dialogue; you seem to have been advocating a word-for-word, dictionary based translation scheme - and now you see what happens when a translator takes that position! It's an art, not a science, translation, and has to be a flexible thing.