A doubleshot of reviews**:
Fein, Ofer, & Kasher, Asa (1996). How to do things with words and gestures in comics Journal of Pragmatics, 26 (6), 793-808 DOI: 10.1016/S0378-2166(96)00023-9
This study looked at the role of gestures in comics (specifically, those in the European comic Asterix). The study had people interpret the meanings of both panels from the comics, and of photos where people took on similar poses. The backgrounds of the panels were erased, so there was no context for the gestures. In one part, they were asked to write possible dialogue for the gestures, and in another task they were given potential meanings and asked to assign them.
It concludes that gestures in comics are interpreted the same as ‘real life’ gestures, and that the meaning imbued in them comes from the ingesticular force (i.e. the intent of the expression) rather than the propositional content of the accompanying speech (in word balloons). One interesting tidbit noted that some people said the photos were actually harder to interpret than the comics panels (though the stats disputed this). If this were true, then it would support McCloud's insinuation that cartoony images are more "base" than realistic ones. I'd like to know the degree of fluency the subjects had with reading comics and whether people with more "comics" experience rated higher or lower in this regard.
Raecke Jochen. 1999. Using Comics as Data for Research into the Connection between Pointing Gestures and Deictics. In E. André, M. Poesio, and H. Rieser (eds). Proceedings of the Workshop on Deixis, Demonstration, and Deictic Belief at ESSLLI XI.
This is a short and hard to find article that I had to scour several libraries to find. This study uses comics to analyze the relationship between deictics (words that "point" to something else, like pronouns) and gestures in Serbo-Croation. His method codes a corpus of comics comparing the relations of the images' gestures to the conent of the speech balloons. He finds that pointing gestures by far dominate the gestures, and pointing gestures alone do not fulfill the meaning of the representations (i.e. multimodality is necessary). This isn't surprising, since pointing gestures are indexical, which means that they only indicate meaing in something else (the same way a pronoun refers to a different element for meaning).
**This post was originally posted 12/23/05