Thursday, November 29, 2007

Big Game Poem, 2007

Ode to The Play
By Neil Cohn, November 2007

Hello stanfurd Cardinal, this Big Game is a treat
As it marks the occasion of an incomparable feat.

Twenty-five years, we celebrate this night
Of giving the sports world its most riveting sight

After all of these years, we still watch its reprise,
Shouting and screaming like it’s before our eyes.

“Amazing! Sensational! Dramatic! Heart-rending!”
Starkey summed up a most unthinkable ending.

Five laterals you say? A clock down to nil?
A band on the field, later feeling quite ill?

You thought that you’d won after that field goal,
And with four seconds left, had your eye on a Bowl.

But you can’t blame the Bears, for acting the dethroner
Of making your school look like a well-placed tromboner.

For the Bears don’t quit when you might think they’re done,
They’ll take your squib kick and fight til they’ve won.

Now twenty-five years have gone and past,
But once again at the end, Cal will hold the Axe.

Somehow it’s fitting, despite all of your cries,
For you to receive sport’s most dubious prize.

And so stanfurd, “Thank you”, in your own stupid way,
For making Cal look as good as we did in The Play.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Projects galore

Wow, three blog posts in three days, and I'm not even on winter break yet! Lots of stuff has been going on.

First off, my buddy Alexander alerts me to a strip over at the Comics Reporter that somehow slipped my eye when I was over there this morning. It's a good treatment on graphic fluency and why being able to understand comics involves cognitive skills — that some just don't have.

Anyhow... I'm extremely close to being able to start running subjects for my Peanuts comics experiment. This has taken me waaaaay longer to get up and running than I expected, so it'll be good to finally start getting some data. In hopes of not running into this problem again, I'm already planning to set up my next experiment, which will use newly created sequences made of various panels from Peanuts strips. I'll talk more about it once things get closer.

Additionally, there's a good likelihood I'll have a major new paper posted online by next week. Unfortunately, its not the paper on page layout (which is still undergoing editing... hopefully over winter break), but it is another paper I did over the summer that's due to be published in a collection next year.

Oh, and I have to do a book review for a class I'm in, so it looks like my critique of Groensteen's System of Comics is finally going to be finished sometime soon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Reruns: Fight the Comic Aristocracy

I have a "rerun" of my older article Fight the Comic Aristocracy over at Sequart. It deals with the the "aristocratic" structures that are in the comic industry and the democratizing force that the notion of "visual language" can have in contrast to it.

I used the term "aristocratic" there pretty much to stand in for "Bourgeoisie" or "elitist", but in a somewhat broader more abstract sense. In retrospect it does admittedly sound a bit hokey, but I couldn't really think of something better. Ah well.

When it was originally posted over at (the-then-) Comixpedia, they broke it up into two separate articles, while here I've retained it in its intentional one big piece. I've also cleaned it up a bit and junked a few parts that I thought were clunky. So, if you didn't get enough when it came out a couple years ago, enjoy it once again!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Eye-movements reading comic pages

Omori, Takahide, Taku Ishii, and Keiko Kurata. 2004. Eye catchers in comics: Controlling eye movements in reading pictorial and textual media. In 28th International Congress of Psychology. Beijing, China.

A team of Japanese researchers perform two experiments examining eye-movements across comic pages to show that both page layout and balloon placement factor into how readily comic pages are read.

They found that, for an average of 8.5 panels per page, there are an average of 20.3 fixations. Most of their study focuses on panels that were skipped over for one reason or another, and examining modifications made to see whether they would still be skipped over.

There were two major changes that showed significant effects in decreasing the rates that they were skipped: balloon position and panel layout.

The first factor in skipping is if a panel is followed by another panel with dense text. They altered the "dense balloon panels" by distancing the balloon further away from the preceding panel. This change resulted in a significant reduction in the times that the preceding panel was skipped.

The other major factor was when panels were vertically stacked next to a long adjacent panel (what I call "blockage"). The lower panel was often skipped so the reading follows the horizontal path. When altering these layouts to make the panels horizontally arranged, the rate of skipping decreased. However, this phenomenon was only observed in a couple of scenarios (6 instances) and they don't mention how many of these skips lead to going back and rereading the skipped panel. They also don't state how many times "blockage" occured and didn't lead to skips.

Slight decreases in skipping were shown for moving characters' positions within a panel, though not to high percentages (significance is not shown).

Additionally, a recognition task asking whether various panels were or were not in the comic showed significant increases in accuracy for the modified versions. No differences were shown in accuracy of reading comprehension for the story.

While they state that their participants all had comic reading experience, I wonder the degree of "comic fluency" that they have. The desire to jump towards panels with dense text insinuates a focus more on text than on the visuals, which was characteristic of a naive comic reader's eye-movements compared with an expert reader in Nakazawa's eye-tracking study.

Further, this study supports an idea that "blockage" situations are harder to process (evidenced by the skipped panels). However, I have empirical evidence from my own experiments on page layout (to be posted soon hopefully) that following the vertical path of panels is the prefered reading path, and that preference for it does depend at least partially on expertise in comic reading. Also, their studies used only the results from 25 subjects (half seeing modified versions half not), whereas mine used 145, so looking at a broader populace would be good here.

Hypothetically, I could tackle this issue myself, since the lab next door to mine has an eye-tracker at my disposal. We'll see... I have a few other things on my plate right now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Capturing vs. Generating Comics

A good friend of mine who works for the company that produces Second Life sends over this link about using the Comic Life software with Second Life screenshots. I've expressed my displeasure with Comic Life before, but I haven't really thought about comic creation of video game clips before.

Something about it rubs me the wrong way... And I think its the same issue that I have with why "photo comics" don't work, and why only some CGI comics feel comfortable.

The problem is that they don't come from some sort of conceptual basis. They are just capturing events in the (virtual-)world and the displaying them in segmented parts. But, contrary to regular comic sequences, they aren't produced to be sequential.

(This may be the same reason that pin-up/cover artists don't always translate to being good "storytellers": they are used to drawing single images, not sequences. Or: they have good visual vocab, not so good visual grammar.)

The capturing vs. generating sequences makes a huge difference, since in one you are actively setting out to express concepts visually, and the other you're just collecting whatever actions might be given to you. In fact, I'm guessing that the CGI comics that read the best (and there are some good ones) are the ones that were first drawn in thumbnails or layouts. The actual "visual language production" occurs at the thumbnail stage. The rest is all just refinement. These "event capturing" comics bypass the stage where visual grammar is deployed.

Of course, the grammar could be deployed "online" in the processs of that CGI comic being created, but I doubt most who do this have much capacity for visual grammar in the first place. They use it thinking that it is an alternative to having graphic fluency, only their non-fluency then shows through in CGI instead of poor drawings.

In many ways this issue is similar to an Internalist vs. Externalist debate in linguistics/philosophy as to where meaning comes from. Traditional philosophy/linguistics (and I think? a commonsense view of meaning?) has held that meaning of sentences is derived from the truth value of how that sentence relates to the "real" world. The Internalist side (including my advisor) says that those meanings only connect to concepts in a person's head, regardless of their truth value to the world.

"Capturing of events" for comics is much like the Externalist viewpoint — sequences of images are depictions of some form of events, and it doesn't matter how they get depicted. The Internalist side would be the opposite: Sequences of images are derived from the conceptual expression of a human mind, and reflect the fluency of that mind.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Is this a Comic?

Patric Lewandowski joins the club of discussing the definition of "comic" with a new column over at Comixtalk. He has yet to mention my split between comics and visual language, but did use the magic VL words, so perhaps he's on his way there? Seems to be the start of a potentially interesting treatise at least, and I look forward to seeing where he's going with it.

At the very least, I'm glad Comixtalk has some other people writing about formalist-ish topics, since I'm far too busy to write things these days.