Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Genographic Project

The National Geographic will trace your distant ancestry for you with just a swab of your cheek. If I had a 100 bucks to throw around, I'd totally do it. Supposedly, us Cohn's have a unique genetic heritage anyhow, so I'm guessing one of the answers they'd give would just be "Mesopotamia."

Also, if people like reading about science, I highly recommend this blog by Carl Zimmer. His brother Ben also seems to be a linguist, who posts to the ever-entertaining Language Log.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Photo essays

Herman Krieger sends me this link to his photo essays which create juxtapositions within the image that then mesh with a caption. The results offer some very interesting combinations. What's most impressive to me is how he found the elements to take photos of.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why We Fight

I just saw this tonight, and it's a movie that every American should go see:

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Newsrama hosts the first part of three articles about Time in sequential art written by Joanna Estep. The piece is very well presented, and I like how systematic her analysis is, especially her use of diagrams to push along the theory. It's well worth reading, and I look forward to seeing what her next installments bring.

However, I also want to point out that it makes certain assumptions that are largely passed on from the Eisner/McCloud tradition. Mainly, it holds that "one panel = one moment," which simply isn't the case if you actually look at sequences of images from books (as opposed to just mental theorizing – of which I've been guilty of too). There is nothing about two panels that dictates time is passing – only content that implies temporal succession can yield this result. And, once you see that many panel sequences don't inherently push time along, you realize that problems arise in any linear notions of time across panels.

Following this, it also reinforces the ideas that "spatial distance = temporal distance." I had some thoughts on this like four years ago that I've never really worked into a full-blown paper, but the basic idea is that panel sizes create a rhythmic structure for reading. To really see if this is true I'd need to do eye-tracking studies though…

I'll hopefully be posting an essay I've been working on about Time myself sometime soon, but till then my old essay Visual Syntactic Structures (and book Early Writings...) delves into these things for anyone interested.

Update: I now see that Timing Part 2 is posted too. Again, worth reading, but continues the assuptions in McCloud that "reading time = fictitous (i.e. mental) time." I'm also curious why she includes her "hierarchies within images" as being related to time, since she doesn't measure any increase or decrease thereof. I agree with this: I don't think foregrounding is related to time at all, though I do think its related to distinguishing things like who is the focused actor and who is subsidiary.

Update #2: Timing Part 3 is up now, rounding out the articles. This one is about the integration of text. I'm not sure what real relevance it has for the understanding of Time after stripping away the assumptions I talked about above, but she certainly has some interesting things to say about composition and reading orders. Go read.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Meditations book

I'm pleased to announce that my Meditations series of shorts and vignettes is now available as a 258 page book! It includes all of my artistic work that is posted online (as well as lots more to come), a commentary section, and a sketchbook section. The book is available print-on-demand through Booksurge Publishing, and is currently for sale via their site (amazon should carry it soon too). I'll post a little more on Booksurge sometime soon.

So, the book also includes the full version of the freshly updated Karuna. Just for the hell of it, I'm now trying to make the WCN advertising blurbs as cheesy as possible each week. If you catch one on a WCN site, let me know what you think!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Burnt City animation VL

Last year there was the rather striking discovery out of Tehran of a 5000 year old "animation" of a goat found on an earthenware bowl. Like many, I found this fascinating and recently wanted to take a closer look at the actual sequence to see what its structure looked like. This ended up becoming a bit of an internet treasure hunt for me. First, I found the animated clip they had created from it:

However, upon closer inspection, this seemed really odd. First off, why are there two trees if this was going around a bowl? Shouldn't that be one tree, that just becomes ancillary to the next "panels" representation? Of course, that's not a big deal...

But, when I dissected the animation, things really got interesting. It's made of 9 images, yet it features several repeated goat images (watch for the white dot on the goat's behind which appears and disappears). The way this animation was made simply took the overall background (note that the trees never change), then cut and pasted the goat figures several times in different places!

Upon further searching, I found this great page showing the archiving of the bowl, which actually looks like this:

Quite immediately I could see that all the 9 frames could not fit on such an object. The most interesting shot by far though, was this one:

Note on the bottom is a recreation of the actual sequence of the goat. It only contains five "frames," and the goat only jumps once, as opposed to the two hops taken nine frames in the animation. So, the animation exaggerates the degree of movement — as well as how one can really consider it "animation" in the first place. Looking at the bowl, unless someone put the hollow bottom on a "point" of some sort and spun it, real animation couldn't come from it at all.

To me, calling it "animation" is a presumption about its function and usage in society, which there has yet to be expressed evidence for. Creating a false animation from the pieces of it – which doesn't accurately reflect the original – simply misrepresents the discovery. In my opinion, this is irresponsible scholarship (or potentially journalism, depending on "who made the call" for terminology).

In searching for a modern comparison, would it be so hard for research to just have called it a "comic" (or "fumetti," given that the archeologists were Italian), or would that have been too demeaning for them? From my visual language perspective, the original turns out to be quite interesting. Another good ancient example of VL grammatical structures, just as I suspected.

---EDIT 2/25/06---
Additional thoughts on "animation" in the Burnt City Bowl can be found in this post.

---EDIT 11/2013---
The comments section on this and all posts related to the Burnt City Bowl are now closed, due to the inordinate amount of anonymous and slanderous comments left by people clearly bearing some type of political agenda (however construed). All comments made on this blog of such a nature will be deleted during moderation prior to being published.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's!

Hope love fills your day, no matter what kind it is. Last year to the day I finished posting my "A Love Story". Maybe now would be an appropriate day to (re)read it?

Update: While you're at it, also check out Joe Zabel's short review of "A Love Story" in this week's Webcomics Examiner. Joe is very kind in his praise. I disagree that the peak of the story is at the begining though. It might be a fairly rich scene visually, but definitely not the "peak" to the story itself – which only comes out when you focus on the philosophical subtext that the characters are indeed "mouthpieces" for. Thanks Joe!

Monday, February 13, 2006

I'm a stub!

I discovered that I have a stub at the ever usefulComixpedia wiki. To whoever's writing about me: whatever lies you come up with, make'm grand!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Mayan Visual Language?

I haven't done a review for a while, so here's an absolutely fascinating one (again, listed in my bibliography):

Nielsen, Jesper, and Wichmann, Søren. 2000. America’s First Comics? Techniques, Contents, and Functions of Sequential Text-Image Pairings in the Classic Maya Period. In Comics and Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics. Magnussen, Anne, and Hans-Christian Christiansen (Eds.).

This absolutely fascinating article provides a structural analysis of what could be interpreted as Mayan Visual Language. Some examples very clearly use the VL grammatical categories I've been researching, such as this one here (read here, R-to-L, click for high res.):

Most of these artifacts were taken from “vessels” (vases), so the sequentiality of the reading (layout) would be gained by turning the object itself. This is reminiscent of the 5000 year old goblet found in Tehran with sequential art on it. The authors also speculate on the usage of speed-lines and speech balloons, which have semantic variation in representation (speech balloons turn into flames used to show anger – a notable conceptual metaphor in its own right).

They also note writing and images exist sometimes exist independently of each other, but by and large are overshadowed by text-image pairings with sequential art. It's interesting the reverence placed on image-text pairings in contrast to Western counterparts:
"In Western society, the combination of text and image was, for centuries, considered a debased form of communication. Only artists who directed their work towards a mass audience, predominently the lower classes, dared venture into text-image pairings. The Mayas, however, considered the combination of text and image the most exquisite and exclusive form of artistic communication, and reserved it for elite consumption only." (p.73)

Would that we achieve what they had. All in all an absolutely amazing piece. I wish more analyses on cultural systems were done like this.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Art (frame-of-mind) History

As I’ve discussed before, I think that our culture has a perspective on drawing that is oriented to an “Art frame-of-mind,” which is opposition to a “Language frame-of-mind.” While Language stresses communality and shared signs, the main threads in the Art frame-of-mind are Iconicity, Individuality, and Innovation. These are cultural orientations in the “West” that impact the way we treat drawing and the way has developed in our culture.

Now, I’m not an art historian, nor do I really want to devote a great deal of my own time to researching it, but the thought did arise of how the Art threads arose. Medieval drawing seemed fairly uniform in terms of style – more conventionality than iconicity or individuality. Where did the change occur?

My speculation would place Iconicity starting around the Renaissance period, along with the growth toward accurate anatomy and perspective. It was a period of learning about nature instead of dogma, and so drawing was culled from perception of nature. I’m guessing that the Individuality and Innovation threads arose in response to this Iconicity, especially with more modern movements like impressionism and abstract art.

But, all this is guesswork. If anyone with more drive, knowledge, or resources for these issues wants to confirm or squash these speculations, I’d be first in line to read up on them.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

We the People, third times the charm?

Hey, I just found out We the People: A Call to Take Back America has now entered its third printing in about two years. Not bad I'd say. Unfortunately, the subject matter will stay relevant for a long time to come, even when this administration has gone and left (assuming they do leave... gulp).

For those who have it already, how many comic creator cameos can you spot in it?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Six degrees of Wikipedia

As many people are now discovering, there's a fun new tool called "Six Degrees of Wikipedia" which does just what one thinks: finds the connections between entries. Alas though, stumped it on my second try. It seems "Karl Marx" and "George Bush" are separated by over ten entries, so it gave me an error! Sounds about right actually...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Antecedent

I'm always one to plug good works, especially political ones, so here's the "press release" for a new monthly strip at Comixpedia:

Bryant Paul Johnson is a very talented artist who creates a regular comic (comics are not just for kids!) called Teaching Baby Paranoia that wonderfully blends history, fiction and footnotes.

His new series The Antecedent looks at events in American history that eerily parallel current events today. The first installment "Two Fisted Shenanigans" tackled fiscal conflict of interest in the Washington administration - Jack Abramoff was not the first scoundrel in the lobbies of government. The second, just posted installment "Seditious Acts" looks at the Alien & Sedition Act in the Adams Administration - the original Patriot Act in American history.

In my book with Thom Hartmann, we bring up several parallels between older and current politics, including the Alien and Sedition Acts. Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to check out this new strip!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Buddhism and Brains

This month's Wired Magazine has an interesting article about Buddhist meditation and neuroscience. While I haven't read the actual paper, I can't say I'm particularly surprised that the study showed a huge increase in gamma waves and altered brain structure. This would have been perfect for some of my classes as an undergrad, where much of my focus was on "Buddhist Psychology."

A lot of the critiques that are discussed in the article largely stem from a misunderstanding of Buddhism (aside from the worrying about getting acurate and unbiased results). While in some sects and practices, Buddhism is very much on par with the orientation of other religions (such as Pure Land Buddhism), but in other ways though, it is far closer to science and psychology. Indeed, some aspects of Buddhism actually reveal the limitations and problems rooted in scientific dogma, like the belief in objectivism (although, I'd argue that it comes from a root in religion anyhow).

My undergrad thesis advisor co-authored an interesting book on the relations between Buddhism and cognitive science that discusses a lot of these same issues. I imagine we'll be seeing more books of this sort over the next few years.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I recently found Sequart.com site that professes to be "for the sophisticated study of comic books and graphic novels." The term "sequart" is meant as:

Sequart (n.) -- seh-kwart -- the artistic medium of sequential static imagery, whatever its composition, typically combined with text. The term is employed to distinguish the medium itself from particular genres and formats, such as comic books or graphic novels. "Sequart's diversity may be seen from Peanuts to Spider-Man, from product manuals to the Stations of the Cross."

So, basically they mean something close to VL (I mention my problems with the term in this article). Yet, despite their stated goal of reaching beyond genre, they almost solely focus on the mainstream and superhero comics. For instance, their book review of Superheroes and Philosophy really has nothing to do with "sequart," and everything to do with genre.

I couldn't even find much of anything on any of the major graphic novel publishers (Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, etc), while ample space is given to things like superhero continuity, etc. Concerns for webcomics are also conspicuously absent.

It is encouraging to find more intelligently written works of writing on such things on the web, even if they don't live up to their own stated pan-genre intentions.