Thursday, May 31, 2007

Point perspective

Austin Kleon has a nice little post about point perspective in comics, noting his like of artists who don't use it at all (link via Derik). The preference for point perspective is of course wrapped up in the whole desire for iconicity that readers of this blog are probably sick of hearing me rant about.

His post got me to think about some other related issues. For instance, point perspective was developed in the Renaissance, which I imagine coincided with the Enlightenment's focus on discovery about the world and the rise of science. (Though, I have no idea since I'm not an art historian.)

What is worth remembering though is that point perspective was truly a discovery. The human mind/brain may be able to see in perspective, but we don't draw in it. There was a study** I read that talked about South African children (ages 5-9) who had trouble with understanding certain parts of images. The parts they misinterpreted the most were perspective, depth, and shading — all highly iconic and things that must be explicitly taught to people learning to draw.

Interestingly, when looking at the data, the means for misinterpretation drop for children at Grade 3 (and 9 yr. olds) in almost all categories. The conclusion of the author is that schooling teaches children how to understand images, but this could just be a coincidence in that children’s exposure to images comes in a school setting. That is, it’s not about instruction, but about exposure.

Whatever the case, perspective is not a built in part of the human graphic system. This again goes to the point that drawing is less about mimicking the perception of the world as piped through an individual's mind, and more about the way minds are enabled to convey concepts visually.

Update: I feel I should add, that there's nothing wrong with learning how to draw with point perspective, only that our minds' graphic system is not predisposed to it. As an academic, I'm not prescribing anything, just analyzing. Learning perspective requires iconic understanding that doesn't just come out of imitation of other people's drawings. That is, it once again skirts conventionality and the establishment of mental models for drawing in lieu of imitating perception.

** Liddell, Christine. 1997. Every Picture Tells a Story—Or does it?: Young South African Children Interpreting Pictures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 3. Pp. 266-283

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

All new look, same great taste!

Today marks five full years that has been online. That's quite a span for me, covering four states, three bodies of water (2 oceans, 1 lake), and three universities. So, I figured it marks a good enough occasion as any to give a massive remodeling to the site (it had it coming).

I'm hoping this new and improved version should make the site all the more navigable and pretty. Beyond the spiffy new look with color codings for each major section, the changes include...

New "comics" for each major explanatory section of the pages for:
The Home Page
What is Visual Language?, and...
What are Emaki?

I've also removed a few of the less popular downloadable essays to give more focus to the others, while adding a downloadable pdf of the edited compilation of the The Visual Language Manifesto — my writings railing on the comic industry's faults and how I think it can overcome them.

And, you'll still find the same resources for research like my ever growing Reference Bibliography, with new entries being added frequently.

I'm very happy with the new look, and hope you enjoy it too. Please let me know if you face any errors, typos, problems, etc. with it. Thanks to everyone that has supported me and my work, and I hope to see you around for another five years and beyond!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Burnt City bowl

Apparently the 5,000 year old bowl with a graphic sequence that was unearthed from the Burnt City is now going to be on display in Tehran. I love examples like this, and I'd just like to remind those interested about my previous post analyzing the bowl's graphics and critiquing the reporting of it. (via Journalista)

---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.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Remedial Comics

Poking around I found the Remedial Comics blog that does some theorizing about comics. It has some notable thoughts on what's necessary for "all ages" comics, as well as some stuff on page composition. For these he makes some pretty cool flash examples of comic pages where you can select different components like text, balloons, figures, panels, or reading paths to see how they combine or work together. It's an interesting take on the issues, and worth checking out if only to fiddle with the flash files for a bit.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Various concerns

Yesterday I had arthoscopic surgery to remove a tear in the cartilidge of my hip, so I'm currently spending most of my time laid up on the couch (with the occassional field trip on crutches around the house. Recovery seems to be going well). I'm using this time as my "vacation" before summer school starts, so hopefully I can catch up on a bunch of the non-school work I have that's built up.

I'm soon planning to launch a remodelled version of this website, which will include the removal of a few of the videos and essays I currently have up. So, if you've been putting off checking out certain papers, now might be the time to check them out (not many are coming off, but I figured I should give forewarning).

This summer I'll be giving a few talks come July/August. As usual, I'll be speaking at the Comic Arts Conference at Comic-Con International. As it stands, I'm planning to unveil a new theory about page-layout, and I'll also be on a panel about "comics and education." More on this to come...

I'll also be giving one of the invited lectures for the first annual Visual and Iconic Languages Conference at the University of New Mexico. I'm very flattered they thought to ask me, and expectedly, that one will be on visual language grammar.

Finally, my friend Alexander Danner will be having a release party for his new book Character Design for Graphic Novels. For those in the Boston area, the party will be on June 30th, 7pm at Porter Square Books.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Coercion... of meaning!

Today I gave my big first year project presentation to the psychology department. From what everyone has said, it went very well. Of course, the project itself is still underway, and I will be running several more subjects in the lab, while probably continuing the study as a whole throught the summer. This shot is of me and my advisors from afterwards. (R to L: Ray Jackendoff, Phil Holcomb, Me, Gina Kuperberg):

As I've mentioned before, my talk involved looking at the "Event Related Potentials" or ERPs involved with processing a certain type of linguistic phenomenon called "semantic coercion." ERPs are a measure of the electrical activity of the brain. We don't get a good fix on specific brain areas that are at work, like in fMRI, but we do get very detailed analysis of the time course of events and certain waveforms do seem to indicate types of brain functioning in contrast to each other. We measure this electrical activity by sticking a cap of electrodes on people and feeding the signals into a computer, which then averages out the noise over several subjects and trials to give a smooth wave for time locked events. Here's me in the cap...

So, I looked at these brain waves for semantic coercion, which involves the extraction of "hidden" meaning from sentences like The chef finished the chicken before the main course. Someone can't literally "finish a chicken," they have to finish doing some action with it, like cooking. Since the event isn't stated outright, it's said to be "coerced" from the combination of the verb "finished" and the direct object "the chicken." Here's a waveform from one of the sites on that cap that I got in the experiment:

While this is interesting as a linguistic phenomenon, I think it's really just a warm up for more comic related studies. Since I couldn't resist, I even opened my talk by showing this strip:

Now, if you look carefully, coercion happens here too. We never see the event of Snoopy catching the ball, yet we know the event happens based on the information provided by the other panels. In addition to other things, coercion is perhaps one of the things that McCloud was trying to get at with his notion of "closure." In many ways, coercion here is an invisible meaning that is created out of the visible components of the graphic sequence. Graphically, it's the stuff that happens "out of view" of the panels. The problem is that McCloud extended this to the (linear) relationships between all image sequences, which just doesn't work.

So, if I do find anything fairly robust in the ERPs for verbal coercion, perhaps a study of visual language coercion could be on the horizon as well? Or perhaps a theoretical paper first...