Saturday, August 02, 2008

Vocab gaps

This interesting and quite fun essay/post reviews the book Reading Comics and ponders the definition of "comics" and some other terminological issues. Its biggest query is 'what is the word for the act of making a comic... the producing of sequential images bit?' (paraphrased).

I agree there's somewhat of a gap in vocabulary, but think that its partially symptomatic of a larger issue: not recognizing that drawings (especially in sequence) constitute a system of communication. That is, we lack the recognition that drawn works use a set of mental patterns the same way that, say, English does.

We in America speak in English.
We in America draw in ___?___.

Note that we also have many words describing the avenue or subroutine for picture-making: painting, sketching, penciling, inking, coloring, etc. But, no word for one actually does with those media besides the uninformative "drawing," which inadequately covers the dynamic process of creating sequences of images.

In a previous thesis of mine (¡Eye [heart] græfIk Semiosis!), I argued that vocab in a language for graphic creation partially relies on how that culture's graphic systems are structured. In Western representation, we have a dominantly sound-based "writing system" with a preference for highly "realistic" drawings — and our words for these things are very different: "Writing" versus "Drawing." Contrast this with Japan, who use a wide range of meaning/sound values in their "writing", while using much less realistic representations — and they use a single word for both concepts (kaku: かく), while using two separate Chinese characters to distinguish uses (writing: 書く, drawing: 描く).

So, in our case of English, what we're left with is a gap in vocabulary, for those representations that run a middle ground between our prototypical conceptions. Anyone who reads this blog should know my answer: The missing graphic system is what I call "visual language" (when done with images in sequence).

We in America speak in English.
We in America draw/write in American Visual Language.

If this is language, then we might as well just adopt language related vocabulary. I have no problem with the idea that I write in pictures (as well as words), and I doubt many others do either.

And, as I've argued before, recognizing that such a system exists (visual language) is the first step towards defining (or rather, un-defining) "comics." By taking away formal definitions that rely on the "comics=visual language" equation, "comics" can be defined as what we've always known it to be: socio-cultural objects (books, strips) in which a visual language is written, often pertaining to particular genres, and a culture surrounding them.

Finally, many have complained that debating vocabulary is a waste of time. But, something like this has realistic applications. Take for instance pushing the notion of visual language through the idea that sequential images are "written." Where would you learn such a thing?

You learn to write in a writing/language class, and such would be the case with visual language too. You learn to write in pictures in a writing class, not an art class — bringing it directly into the fold for education and development in a very practical and communication-driven way.

2 comments:

afdumin said...

Here's my thoughts:

We speak in English.
We draw in pictures.

To say that "we write/draw in visual language", seems to answer the question of what we do when we create seqential images, but it still doesn't answer the question of what we do when we make comics. By your own definition, comics are not purely composed of VL, but rather a combination of a visual AND written language. So the question still remains, "what is the word for the act of making a comic?"

Neil said...

Thanks for the comment.

I think in the case of comics we're "writing in both visual and written languages bimodally" or "writing multimodally." It's almost similar to the issue of what we do when we're both gesturing and speaking, except anything with speech being dominant usually just gets sucked up into "speech plus other stuff" (for better or worse).

It might be good to have a word to express things that involve more than one modality at once. I've toyed with "Holitic Conceptual Expression", but it's a bit bulky... suggestions?