Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I love this time of year

And now, for the 2006 edition of my annual Big Game poem:

Why so sad little stanfurd tree?
By Neil Cohn, November 2006


Oh why so sad little stanfurd tree?
Afraid you'll lose to Berkéley?

With a team like yours, I can guess the shame
That you must feel as you enter Big Game.

Your talent this year must be awfully thin,
Sitting at Pac-10's floor with a single win.

Poor stanfurd tree, you don't think its fair,
That you'll be pummeled by the mighty Golden Bear?

Perhaps you'll be lucky and you'll claim a score
But another loss to Cal will add to the previous four.

So, enjoy your one win and hope for a repeat
To avoid the embarrassment of an eleventh defeat.

But hope won't be enough come this Saturday
Cause at game's end, in Berkeley the Axe will stay!

Go Bears!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Time essay analyzed

In Derik's continuing exploration of panel transitions (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), he does an interesting job of dissecting my latest essay "Time Frames... Or Not." To keep things localized, I'll make my responses there, but he seems to have done a fairly thourough job of it. Worth perusing.

Also, Blogger has helpfully decided to add tags in finally, so I'll be trying to work those into all my past posts in due time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Brain

Not much is known about the Brain. Here's a nice little video explaining about it:

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Problems with Transitions

Over at Derik's blog he's been examining McCloud's panel transitions based on influence from film theory (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 ...more to come).

While Derik only does it a little bit, the application of film theory to panel transitions isn't altogether new. John Barber essentially grafted McCloud's and my own (old model of) transitions onto Eisenstein's thesis/antithesis/synthesis model in his masters thesis. This was then argued against by Ben Woo in his thesis, dismissing it more because modern film theory does than any explicit argument against Barber's thesis. I'm not up on my modern film theory that much, but I believe Eisenstein is fairly passé at this point anyhow.

A few months ago I started noticing how similar Eisenstein's montage was to the cognitive linguistics notion of "Blending." Blending takes two concepts and extracts parts from them to create a new entailment. A classic example is "The surgeon was a butcher" — both surgeons and butchers are skilled at cutting flesh/meat, yet when combined together they illicit a meaning that the surgeon was sloppy. This is just like the 1+1=3 idea from montage.

And it certainly does appear across panels. I had a whole section on blending in my paper A Force of Change. Though, I think that the structures governing sequential understanding (i.e. syntax and semantics) are different from this.

Really, Eisenstein's montage and McCloud's closure are kind of like the film/comics equivalent of ether; a magical "mental" substance that doesn't really exist that glosses over any real substance the mind might actualy be contributing. They're like pop-science: a simple easy explanation for a very complex phenomenon. Just like Freud and Jung are still thought of by laypeople as being what psychology is about, their theories are far left behind to modern thinking. In fact, I'd venture to say they're more used by humanities/social sciences these days than psychology or cognitive science.

Of course, I've been railing on the panel transition approach for quite a while now, over the course of several alternative models. And, it's not just the idea of transitions that has problems: it's any approach that only takes into account panels that are immediately adjacent to each other. Any linear approach to the idea of creating meaning in sequential images will ultimately fail.

As I mentioned on one of Derik's posts, the major shift comes in what one is looking at. Instead of looking at panels' immediate surroundings and basing the system around those juxtapositions, we can instead acknowledge that whole sequences mean things (events/actions/situations/ideas). From there, it becomes a matter of identifying what functions different panels play in creating that overall meaning. Just because we read and write panels linearly doesn't mean that's how we understand them.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to watch Derik go through steps in his thinking in relation to what I did. He named it "rethinking transitions" so it'll be fun to see what his rethinking leads to.

Updated 12/1 with additional links to further entries

Comics software sucks

I apologize in advance for this rant...

One of the pre-installed applications on my new macbook is the "comic" making program "Comic Life." I'd played with the demo before, but figured I'd jump back in with this one to see what was changed. What didn't change was my opinion of it: not good. (It's basically a goofy photo album making program)

This has been my opinion of many of the other programs as well, ranging from Comic Book Creator to Strip Creator to Comic Creator to The Balloonist, as well as (less so) Manga Studio and Comic Works.

While some of these are very well designed programs, such as Comic Life, all of them are fundamentally deficient in the way that they are built. That is, I have the feeling that they were designed by people who have little understanding about the theory behind comics. It's one thing to have advice or commentary from people who make comics, its another to actually understand the structure of the medium and how to best utilize software to manipulate it. Especially if you want it to be used as a professional grade system, it is embarrassing not to take this into account.

(While I wouldn't be surprised if some companies consulted comic artists, I'd be very curious, for example, if Scott McCloud has been consulted on any software like this, as he is the most well known theorist out there).

For instance, a few things I noticed after using Comic Life for about half a minute...

Isn't it a bit curious that in the selection of templates for pages there aren't even standard grids, yet they do include layouts that I've experimentally seen to be problematic for readers? Why is it that when you drag in a panel, it simply appears on top of the others, and not bound within some sort of layout schema? Why do you have various templates for balloons and bubbles, instead of a generalized Carrier field that takes different representations, tails, etc. (and my god how annoying the sound effects are...)

... just to name a few. I could probably go on for pages.

Most of these programs fall into similar patterns, structuring the software as a design program... which is fine if you want to do a modified drawing program, but not if you want to be a visual writer. Even the seemingly well thought-out and evolving Comic Studio is doing things far different than I would think most useful or efficient.

As I might have mentioned before, I've had designs for a "comics" software program for about 5 years now, but have no coding skills (and little time) to work on it. So, if there's any talented and enterprising programmers out there (or companies that don't want your current product to suck so much) that would like to give it a go, feel free to drop me an email.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

New Article: Visual Poetry

Flatteringly ask and you shall receive: After a bit of a haitus, I finally have a new Comic Theory 101 article up Comixpedia entitled "Visual Poetry."

Expanding on my riff on poetry from the last article I did on "Seeing Rhymes," this one explores what a formal visual poetic structure might be like. Throughout the piece I construct a new "poetic trope" based on some theoretical principles. For those curious, I literally made up the poem and its characteristics as I wrote the piece, no planning whatsoever.

Actually, the main reason it took so long to finish was that I had to draw the examples, and drawing time is hard to come by these days. It's an okay example, but I imagine (hope?) more people will take up the idea and run with it better than I did.

See! See! My theories can be applied to practice too!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

LiwLi updated, links

I probably won't continue commenting for every post of my new Meditations piece "Life is where Love is," but I've always loved today's page for some reason. Maybe I just got the blacks right or something... I don't know. Anyhow, the "visual essay" now enters its body...

Also, in taking a procrastination break from devising stimuli for my ERP experiment, I've updated my links listing to the side. So, a few more comics, blogs, etc. for people to click through if they too are procrastinating doing something. Enjoy!

Grab Bag Comics

Back in like February of this year when I was living in Chicago, I went out to mail a package at the local UPS store. I happened to be mailing one of my Meditations books and the guy behind the counter, Chuck, started querying me about my interest in comics. It turned out that he had graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a degree in sequential art! So, naturally we hit it off great, and he was one of the people I wish I spent more time with while I was back there.

Chuck recently began posting his online comic "Dumstruck" on his Grab Bag Comics site again after a bit of a summer haitus. I definitely recommend checking it out. He started the journal comic at the start of the Iraq war and has decided to keep on it until the conflict sees an end. (I hope you enjoy doing the comic Chuck, that might be awhile unfortunately...)

The strips now are reposting his summer entries that weren't put up before. Amusingly enough, I found I'm even in one! He does a pretty amusing version of me, complete with exuberance for linguistics and bandaged wrists from my bout with tendonitis earlier this year.

So yah, go check it out!