Sunday, October 28, 2007

Graphic non-fiction links galore!

Wow, all of a sudden I have a ton of great links to share, all about graphic non-fiction. And sometimes you find them in the darndest of places...

Last night I was hanging out in a pub on the MIT campus and happened upon Joost Bonsen, the creator of an interesting new book called Howtoons that aims to get kids excited about engineering. It has all sorts of projects for things that people can make at home with commonly found items. There is also a Howtoons website featuring lots more online.

Also there was Joost's friend Drew, who pointed out to me that the latest edition of Nature features the graphic "Adventures in Synthetic Biology" teaching about DNA and engineering biology. It starts with some very basic concepts, and then ramps up to some very complex stuff (a pdf. is also downloadable from here). Very cool!

Finally, several months ago a student named Shane Smith had emailed me about an essay he was writing about "essay comics," and, practicing what he preached, that's exactly what he's created! "Academaesthetics: How the essay and the comic can save each other" is a (long!) graphic essay arguing just what that title says (linked site leads to pdf). Definitely worth reading, especially for its comparative analysis of mine and McCloud's definitions of "comics" and as a well executed use of the medium it's advocating.

Go now!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ambiguous signage in words and pictures

Things have been crazy busy lately, so blogging has been a bit sparse. However, here's a few signs I found around the Boston area that struck me as interesting for their ambiguity. First off...

This sign posted outside a fence to a lumber-yard features a line I've noticed more and more around here, which is "Police Take Notice." What initially amused me about the sign, and this phrase in particular, is that this can be read in two ways.

The first, what I assume is the intended way, says something along the lines of "No Tresspassing. Police will notice if you do."

The other interpretation is directed at the police: "No Tresspassing. Hey Police, that means you! Stay out!" I just pictured some guy with no shirt, overalls, and a shotgun looking out at his lumber hoping no cops come around.

Here's the other sign, from a street post:

This one is clearly trying to prevent domestic abuse, fairly clearly stated by the text. However, the image can be a little ambiguous. Given that only two hands are shown without connection to other bodies, it is technically unclear whether they belong to the same or different people. The different readings give very different interpretations.

Again, starting with the intended view, they belong to different people. The fist of one person is being stopped by another person — the illustrated stopping of the fist of domestic violence.

However, if you perceive the two hands as belonging to the same person, it seems like the common gesture of one person grinding or punching their fist against their own open hand as if itching for a fight. This gets just the opposite meaning, since it implies a desire/threat for violence.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Panoramic Comic

Via the TalkAboutComics blog comes a link to this very cool comic where the entire story is depicted using successive panoramic viewpoints. It's a very interesting use of the Infinite Canvas. Narratively, most of the comic is what I'd call "passive/negative entities" — just a non-active cityscape — though it oscillates with scattered glimpses of the character in the apartment (though does not show him doing a sustained activity. The text is primarily dominant, but the panoramic certain gives a narrative feel that feels fairly unique. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Visual language in society

As I've mentioned before, I think that the meshing of the notion of "comics" with sequential images (a simple glossing of what I call visual language) actually hurts the perception of the graphic form by pigeon-holing it into a specific cultural context.

If this form of communication was actually used like a language there would be no reason people would call it "comics," and I certainly wouldn't have to be arguing that it is literally a language. Its recognition as a language would be self-evident from its usage.

This is why I always correct people who claim that we have a visual culture, or that people these days have a vast visual literacy. They have a familiarity with technological or cinematic representations, certainly. But, when 2/3 of America can likely not draw a coherent narrative sequence? Visual fluency, I doubt they have.

Truly, the need to argue for a "visual language" only comes out of a society where such usage is exceptional, not the norm. You can't have a culture where people claim visual communication is vast and prevalent, while at the same time have books arguing for increased usage of it.

Can you imagine books arguing for why people should be using language more? It wouldn't happen, because language is so prevalent and pervasive in society that to do so would be boring.

That's the extant of visual language I'd like to see — where someday people will look back on my writings and think its bizarre that someone had to argue for someone to even need to make the argument that its language.