Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why Do You Make Comics write in visual language, If You Do?

Over at TalkAboutComics, Joey Manley asks "Why do people draw comics?", and makes the observation that...

A lot of people who read comics also make them. Maybe even most people.
Almost everybody I’ve ever met who reads comics has, at some point or another, actually made one, even if he or she never showed it to anybody.

To me, this has to do with the nature of the visual language of sequential images. Unfortunately, our failed definition of "comics" conflates the idea that "comics=sequential images", when really "comics=cultural context" and "sequential images=visual language." By this notion, what Joey is talking about is that comic readers are highly likely to create stories (comics) using this visual language.

Perhaps this should be unsurprising then, since it means this visual language works like any other language. People get exposure to it, and imitate it in order to learn and practice their fluency.

This is not a case of people "drawing comics" the way that filmmakers "make movies" or other types of "artistic" craftsmanship. Rather, this is more like the way that Americans "speak English" or Quebecois "parle en Fran├žais" because those are the languages of the communities to which they belong. Comic readers constitute the language group for visual language in America, so their "drawing comics" is simply participating in the (visual) language of their community.

Note that this also applies to the particular graphic dialect that they might partake in: those who read manga are likely to draw like manga, those that read superhero books are likely to draw that way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More on the Burnt City Bowl

Apparently I've been getting linked to a lot for my previous post on the Burnt City animation drawing of an illustrated goat jumping along the outside of an earthenware bowl.

In my post, I argued that — contrary to the fairly dubious claims that this was the "world's earliest animation — this is better suited to be thought of as just an ancient example of visual language use. The closest modern analog would be a "comic", though I hate applying the term to ancient artifacts.

Now, I was recently revisiting the claims that this is animation based on some of the comments to the original that redid an animation based on the bowl. Admittedly, these do look better than the original. I suppose the idea would be that this bowl would be spun on a base where the "flip-book" quality would emerge.

However, what I'm wondering about is why would anyone expect that this would have such a usage? Isn't it a lot more logical just to assume that it was used as a bowl. Why would we think that ancient bowls with sequential images on the outside are somehow exempt from their normal use as receptacles for holding things?

In fact, beyond the modern coffee mugs that do this, we have lots of historical examples as well. For example, there is a whole huge collection of these types of bowls from ancient Maya.

So... why shouldn't we think that its primary function is just as a bowl, and that it just happens to have a cool example of sequential images on it with absolutely no intended use as "animation"?

---EDIT 11/2013---
The comments section on this and all posts related to the Burnt City Bowl are now closed, due to the inordinate amount of anonymous and slanderous comments left by people clearly bearing some type of political agenda (however construed). All comments made on this blog of such a nature will be deleted during moderation prior to being published.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Help my Science!

If you have roughly 15 minutes to spare, please take my comics related experiment! I am currently working on an a fairly extensive project that I've been able to put one portion of online. Hopefully this will be the first of many that will be accessible from my website, but right now I need your help!

Like I said, it should only take roughly 15-20 minutes, and participation will enter you into a drawing for a $50 gift certificate to Best Buy with a 1 in 50 chance of winning. This experiment will only be online for a limited time, so please help out soon!

--------EDITED 2/21--------

Data collection has now ended for this experiment. Thanks SO much to everyone who participated and/or linked to the experiment. This will be extremely helpful for this project. Stay tuned for more experiment postings on this site, or email me to be updated when more tests are available. Thanks again!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Pictorial and Linguistic Features of Comic Book Formulas

Neff, William Albert. 1977. The Pictorial and Linguistic Features of Comic Book Formulas. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Denver, Denver, CO.

Neff compares the patterns of formal properties for comics in different narrative genres of Adventure, Romance, Mystery, and Alien Beings or States. He analyzes the fields of panel shape (vertical, horizontal, square, circle), angle of view (lateral, high, low), and type of shot (close, wide) in comic panels. He also looks at pragmatic sentence types and parts of speech of stressed words from the text of comics.

His results show distinctions in the "formulas" of different genres, showing that different genres do use differing patterns for their distributions of these fields, and he then describes his interpretations for what those forumlas indicate about the genre (and vice versa).

While I don't doubt that such patterns for genres exist, this study had numerous problems. The categories for analysis were a little broad (only wide and close shots?) and often washed over in coding (diagonal panels were grouped as either horizontal or vertical). The interpretations of the genres' formulas also seemed a little like just so stories.

However, I take this entire study with a grain of salt because the sample size of his analysis is so small. For each genre, he uses only two comic books (pamphlets). While he does get statistically significant results using chi-squares, he pools frequencies across books, which eliminates any variation across books with no way to analyze it. Shouldn't he be using averages for this?

Two books per genre, and limited categories in the fields of analysis, are far too little to really get a sense of the patterns of an entire genre. His total number of panels in all was only about 530. In comparison, I consider my study comparing 300 panels in each of 12 Japanese and 12 American paperbacks (Cross-Cultural Space) to have been small in scope, and have just initiated a study of at least 200 books of varying genres and countries.

While I greatly appreciate the attempt at doing such corpus analyses (and am actively doing more), and especially like seeing it as a "hidden treasure" in the history of this type of study, this one unfortunately lacks the scope to be taken seriously.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Origins of narrative

A friend of mine forwarded me this facetious article about the narrative structure in films, which left me thinking about why exactly a consistent structure like the one that is found in Freytag's Triangle might be found so prevalently.

Studies on "story structure" have consistently found that people (in our culture) have better memory for stories that follow this arc than those that don't, indicating that it isn't just a vogue thing — it's cognitively advantageous. So, on the one hand, we might attribute this to an "innate" universal structure found in people's minds. This would be in contrast to the idea that there is an "archetype" floating out in the world that stories follow. Really, as with most all human behavior, there are no structures "out there" — the only place that such structures can exist is in people's minds.

Of course, the immediate comeback that might arise would be that not all cultures' stories follow this Aristotelian narrative arc. However, a simple fix around this would be that, like the patterns in languages, different cultures might externally have different narrative patterns, but the capacity of all human minds have structures that allow those diverse patterns to emerge.

For example, most all languages use Subjects, Objects, and Verbs, though they put them in differing orders. It may be the case that analogous categories exist for narrative, but that the Aristotelian narrative arc simply is one of the patterns that these categories are put into for a (i.e. our) particular culture.

Deeper though, we should think about the function of narrative in the first place. It seems implicit amongst most approaches that narrative is for telling stories. However, why might a mind have a need to tell "stories" specifically? Rather, I think stories are merely a symptom of the broader function, which would appear to be about ordering information — particularly about objects and events.

With such an organizational system in place, stories serve a cognitive purpose as a way to facilitate comprehension and memory. Entertainment and artistry for those stories is just a affective bonus.