Saturday, September 22, 2007

Status report

School is back in full swing, which means my time to devote to other projects (like blogging) has received a decimating blast. I'm still planning to post my research project on page layouts sometime soon — I just need to find the time to make some edits at this point.

On the good side though is that I have multiple projects in the works. My experiment using Peanuts strips is well underway in the coding and preparation of stimuli, and should hopefully be rolling with subjects in a month or so.

I'm also working out a coding schema to analyze the various donated books I've got on my shelves. Hopefully that will tell us some interesting things about the ways different populations encode information in their comics. Most excitingly, I have some students interested in working on these projects with me, which means the potential to get a whole lot more done that isn't just reliant on my time constraints. (yay!)

And, having just experienced a rather boring summer rehabbing my hip from surgery, I'm now trying to plan ahead to next year by designing a "Cognition of Comics" course. We'll see if it gets picked up for the summer school, but if so, it should be a lot of fun.

Also in the news, I'm now slated to be a fascilitator at the VizThink Conference in San Francisco in January. There's an interesting and diverse line-up of speakers, so it should be quite the event.

Oh, and I have a meeting with Noam Chomsky in a week. That should be interesting.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Comics" needs less nouns and more adjectives

In the comments of a previous post, I started riffing about the different uses of the terms "graphic novel" and "comics", and what might be a better terminology. It seems like people are constantly looking for that upgrade in terms so "comics" won't be looked at disparagingly. But, as I discussed in this essay, just giving a new term won't necessarily solve the problems — what you really need is a whole new network of associations that is brought about by the new term.

We kind of have this with "graphic novel." For some, it insinuates something different than "comics" — it's long-form, non-pamphlet, non-mainstream genre of a serious topic, etc. It evokes a different subculture and literary movement.

But, for others, its just an upscale synonym for "comics", and many who see that status difference want to capitalize on it by bootstrapping "comics" into it. Companies like Marvel and DC don't give a damn about the alternative movement of "graphic novels", but they do see the term as a way in which they can give their products a respectable label. (and, I'd guess, this is the way that most outside the comics community view it)

As I've said before, I see "comics" and "graphic novels" both as simply social contexts in which a "visual language" (of sequential images) is written. This visual language is used in different avenues, the same way that we use English to write "articles" versus "novels" — such is the (potential) difference between "graphic novel" and "comics."

However, I think perhaps this whole terminology game has been played wrongly. If you want to get across this different viewpoint — which truly does give an alternative network of ideas — then what we don't need is an alternative term to talk about different works of "sequential images." Any time that a new term is created it will just be a synonym for "comics" with a little different flavor, be it graphic novels, comix, sequart, or strip lit.

Really what we need is not a noun, but an all purpose adjective. And, I think that adjective should be common parlance — not something new that is made up. Personally, I like "graphic", since this visual language is inherently graphic representation. So, while "graphic novels" might stand, instead of "comics", etc. you get:

Graphic books
Graphic stories
Graphic essays
Graphic fiction
Graphic non-fiction
Graphic humor
Graphic short story
Graphic short

Rather than trying to identify both medium and form wrapped up into one term (and thus also subculture, etc), you just get an overarching description of the manner in which that form is written (graphically, instead of just text). Not only does this fix the terminology issues, but it also puts these things on equal footing to text. It's not "comics" vs. "books": "graphic books" are just another type of book.

Edit: As noted by Eddie Campbell in the comments... this view well meshes with the use of "author" as the person creating this "graphic book." There's really no need to use some separate term like "cartooonist," especially if, as many have said, really all we're doing is "writing in pictures." The less sepratism we have in our vocabulary, the more integrated this visual language will become in society.

Video of Ray Jackendoff

It's not quite topical to the things I usually talk about on this blog, but my advisor recently gave a talk at Google that has now been posted to video:

Jackendoff's talk on "The Peculiar Logic of Value" centers on how humans conceptualize systems of value. He hypothesizes that value is conceptualized as an abstract property attributed to objects, persons, and actions. There are several distinct types of value, including Affective value (does it feel good or bad?); Utility (is it good for me?); Prowess (is so-and-so good at doing such-and-such); Normative value (is it good of so-and-so to do such-and-such?); Personal Normative value (is so-and-so a good person?); and Esteem (does so-and-so have a good reputation?). Each of these kinds of value plays a different role in the ecology of the value system.

Monday, September 10, 2007

ACLU comi... I mean "graphic novel"!

Apparently the ACLU has an "online graphic novel" titled Defenders of Freedom up at their site. I find their use of wording interesting. The piece itself states, "We are not trying to disguise a civics lesson in a comic book" — though their tagline calls it their "first graphic novel" (apparently more will follow?).

This seems like another instance of "graphic novel" being used as an upscale synonym for "comics" — without regard for format (it's on the web!) — as opposed to using it to denote a separate categorical frame/artitic movement. The quote in the piece bears this out, since "comic book" is used fairly negatively here (and straight-up ties it to the notion of superheroes), when the work is obviously done in the "comic medium."

Here again a notion of a "visual language" would be useful. What the ACLU is trying to say (I think) is that they want to communicate this valuable information in a graphic form that is accessible (visual language), but they don't want it to have the stigma of "comics" (the social construct associated to superheroes, etc.) biasing people's opinions of it.