Saturday, January 31, 2009

"The 99" Panel Discussion

As I mentioned in my last post, last week I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel discussion here at Tufts with alum Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator and publisher of the comic The 99 and Dr. Chip Gidney of the Tufts Child Development Department. That video has now been put online and is viewable here (Windows Media, 1:09:09).

The description of the talk is here:

Naif al-Mutawa (A 94)
Creater of the new comic book series "The 99". "The 99" is a series of comic books based on superhero characters who battle injustice and fight evil, with each character personifying one of the 99 qualities that Muslims believe God embodies. Publisher Teshkeel Media is dedicated to "… cultivating and harvesting those themes intrinsic in our regional culture that will speak equally to children both in and outside of the Middle East." According to Forbes, the Teshkeel Media Group and "The 99" were one of the "top 20 trends sweeping the globe" in 2007. Dr. al-Mutawa attributes this to the "universal themes" in the series that transcend the Muslim backgrounds of its heroes. A principal author of the series, Dr. al-Mutawa is also the author of several children’s books on prejudice and race, and is a clinical psychologist and businessman by training.

Calvin "Chip" Gidney
Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development

Neil Cohn
Department of Psychology

and moderated by
Julie Dobrow
Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, Communications and Media Studies Program

Co-sponsored by the Communications and Media Studies Program, the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service This program is made possible by a grant from the Tufts Diversity Fund.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I am Tufts University!

Apparently, someone over at the Tufts website thought my work was interesting enough that they decided to do a feature on me. SO... I am very flattered to report that, for this week only, I am featured on the homepage of the Tufts University website. From there you can link to an interview with me, also found directly here. The interview will be up indefinitely, but I think the homepage will only feature me for this week.

I also had the distinct pleasure this morning to sit on a panel here at Tufts with alum Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator and publisher of the comic The 99, which is a globally distributed series with multicultural superheroes that each embody an attribute of Muslim values (though in the book this is apparently done without religiosity). The book is being praised for its multicultural and boundary-crossing qualities along with providing a positive alternative to many media representations of Islam.

We had a very fun and interesting panel discussion, which I've heard may appear online sometime soon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Visual literacy"

The phrase "visual literacy" is one that is often bandied about these days, and has begun to grate on my nerves a bit — if only because it is a bit vague and vacuous in meaning. The phrase at this point is basically being used to mean a familiarity with anything that is an image and (usually) not text.

However, what kind of "literacy" is this exactly? The range of things covered by this term include vastly disparate material: diagrams, paintings, graphs, websites, comics, etc.

Not all of these items are processed in a similar way, and "literacy" for one does not necessarily equate with "literacy" for another. For example, I know people who are highly fluent in reading the visual language of comics, yet find "infographics" like flow charts mind-numbingly opaque (and vice-versa).

Such a phrase implies 1) that visual communication and expression is homogenous, and any diversity is washed over by its shared virtue of being "visual", and 2) that comprehension of one of these forms equates to or leads to equal understanding of the others.

This seems far from the case. The various things that are covered by this term have very different motivating structures and properties, and comprehension with one does not necessarily lead to the same skills with others (and especially does not imply that for production). Really, what we have is a number of disparate forms that each involve their own forms of fluency independently, despite a shared visual modality.

The implication that such diversity is homogenous is a kind of orientalism — likely just a view embodied from a culture entrenched in a verbal modality that is still grasping at a method of communication that it doesn't yet fully embrace or understand.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Anyone speak Croatian?

For anyone out there that speaks Croatian or just wants to check it out for the sake of novelty, my article "Un-Defining 'Comics': Separating the Cultural from the Structural in 'Comics'" (which was published in the IJOCA and the first chapter of my book Early Writings...") has just been translated in the Croatian magazine Zarez. You can find it scanned and posted here (Scroll down to the second article and you'll see my sciencey illustrations).

Check it out!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Lots of stuff going on round here... First off, thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes yesterday, especially The Comics Reporter.

This week marks the first week of school, and I'm greatly looking forward to my first lecture on Wednesday of my Visual Linguistics of Comics course. It seems I'm once again a little bit of a rabble-rouser, since the university has never done a course accessible on podcasts like I've proposed.

So, the administration is still looking into things. If it does happen, it's likely the elearning version will start up a few weeks into the actual class. This isn't so bad though, since digital learning really doesn't have to be at the same pace anyhow, right? Stay tuned for more info, and email me if you want to be added to my list of interested e-students...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Elements of Page Layouts

Belgian graphic design student Chris Vosters sends along this 7-page pdf graphic essay that expands on my paper, Navigating Comics, on how people move through page layouts.

Chris does a great job of categorizing both explicit and implicit ways in which an author can direct the flow of movement across a page layout without relying on the rule system my paper describes.

I highly recommend checking it out!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The interface of humor and narrative

This Zippy the Pinhead strip from a week or so cuts to the core of the canonical joke pattern in comic strips:

What's interesting to me about this is the choice of descriptors here. "Conflict" and "punchline" here have to do with joke telling, and could correspond to varying parts of an actual narrative arc.

For example, narrative often features a denouement at its end preceded by the Peak of actions. The Punchline could go into both Peak or denouement. In one case, the Punchline would be the apex of the actions, what the strip has led up to. In the case of a denouement, the Punchline would be a reaction to or resolution of that Peak.

So, what we actually have is two separate "schema" for narrative and for jokes:

Jokes: Intro-Set up–Conflict–Punchline

Narrative: Establisher-Initiation-Peak-Release

You could imagine these running parallel to each other, and then different parts hooking up into each other in varying ways. How exactly these schema interface depends on on the desired pacing of the joke I suppose.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Resolutions and some such

Happy New Year! Bonne Année! 明けましておめでとう!

Various fun is brewing out here in visual language land. Given the several requests I've been receiving about my upcoming Visual Linguistics of Comics class, I'm now looking into finding a way for the course to be offered digitally via podcasts. If you're interested in taking such a course, please contact me. If I can show a list of names interested, the administration might be more likely to let me do it.

I'm also analyzing the data from a few very good looking experiments, so perhaps I'll be posting on those soon. I've got a few other interesting blog posts in the barrel coming up soon. Perhaps that will be my digital resolution: to blog more even when school is in session!

In the meantime, regarding psychology of resolutions as a whole, check out this great article by one of my department's profs.