Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Panels connected by sequentiality

Derik has a short post that makes a nice note about how understanding of individual panels is sometimes conditioned by their context in a sequence.

I think this is a very important point that is well illustrated by his example. Sometimes, understanding of the elements in an individual panel relies on the information in other panels.

Most all cultures and individuals have little trouble decoding most propositional information in images (i.e. that an image of a horse means "a horse", or that an image of person is "a person", etc). However, certain individuals may have trouble comprehending the objects if their meaning is conditioned by a sequence. For example, this sort of meaning by context is often what children under four and other "non-visual language fluent" readers (or those fluent in a different type of system) struggle with.

Why is this important/interesting?

1) It lends validity to the idea that there is a fluency required for sequential image comprehension (and thus that there is a "system" guiding understanding to be fluent in).

2) It implies that even perceptual understanding (i.e. vision and object recognition) might rely on sequential understanding in these contexts, meaning that mere perception alone isn't enough to explain sequential image comprehension (i.e. again, a system for sequential images is necessary).

3) It hints that these sequential images were created to be in sequence and not just as random images strewn together. This is also a support against an image-to-image system of understanding like panel transitions, since transitions could function no matter what is thrown next to each other. This sort of execution has a more global scope: it's a whole sequence made to be a whole sequence, not just one after another.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Metaphor and Metonymy in Comics Storytelling

Kukkonen, Karin. 2008. Beyond Language: Metaphor and Metonymy in Comics Storytelling. English Language Notes 46 (2):89-98.

This paper from the literature point of view explores meaning-making in comics, particularly from metonymy and metaphor. It argues that the "semiotic" approaches of European comics scholarship that dissect parts into structrualist "minimal units" are insufficient to capture the complexity of comics' meanings, and is thereby a tacit argument against viewing "comics as a language" in the semiotic sense.

(Groensteen takes this same perspective against minimal units, though maintains the "comics as a language equation. I actually think that "minimal units" are *kind of* there, but it's beside the point, since linguistics hasn't really been concerned about "minimal units" since around the 1950s...)

While she does explain and support the cognitive linguistics view of metaphor taken from Lakoff and Turner, she does not actually use it in exposition. Most of the examples of metaphor and metonymy she cites are through a close reading of Watchmen, involving large scale metaphors on the scale of plots, themes, and motifs, and doesn't ever cite the correspondences of one "coneptual domain to another" that conceptual metaphor entails.

Her view of metonymy is equally broad. For part-whole metonymy she cites scenes where a whole understanding of an environment is given across multiple panels. This would imply that all instances where multiple characters are shown in their own panels but part of the same broader environment (what I call "Environmental-Conjunction") are metonymic, because they construct a broader whole by only seeing the parts. This is a curious proposition that I (mostly) like, though one that seems at least partially limited by not having a robust view on the broader narrative grammar for how sequential images are comprehended.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Japanese children, drawing, and imitation

These are a couple great articles by Brent Wilson about how children in different cultures learn to draw, particularly contrasting the Japanese with other cultures. Both articles contain more extensive discussions that I'll mention here, only focusing on some of the highlights...


Wilson, Brent. (1999). Becoming Japanese: Manga, Children’s Drawings, and the Construction of National Character. Visual Arts Research, 25(2), 48-60.

Here Wilson provides fairly striking evidence that over two-thirds of the drawings produced by Japanese children in primary education (K-6) are imitative of manga. However, even many of his "non-manga" types could have been drawn from manga and still might be drawn in that style. He also notes a developmental trajectory: There is a decline in non-manga drawings after kindergarten.

I would guess that this is in part a socialization process. Since kids at kindergarten start playing with other children in a structured arena, and all of them know manga, there is more of a motivation to draw in the style of the group than whatever way they might be drawing at home. Also, it reflects a growing sense of literacy. Since kids are learning to read, manga become reading material in addition to stimuli for learning to draw.


Wilson, B. (1988). The Artistic Tower of Babel: Inextricable Links Between Culture and Graphic Development. In G. W. Hardiman & T. Zernich (Eds.), Discerning Art: Concepts and Issues. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing Company.

In this article, Wilson focuses on the argument against the belief that the Romantic view that children develop an inborn "artistic" capacity and that external influences are bad for it. He compares this in part to a sort of "Tower of Babel" phenomenon, where everyone has a universal inborn "language of art" that develops uniquely suited to each individual.

His theory against these claims is that graphic symbolism is a language that is transmitted through cultural patterns imitatively. He cites numerous evidence for this from numerous countries and time periods.

Pertaining to Japanese children though, he has a fascinating note that nearly all of the 6-year old Japanese children they studied could draw coherent sequential stories, compared with other countries where only about half of some groups of 12-year olds could. He also notes that Japanese children use increasingly more complex methods of graphic narrative as they age, (examples from 9 to 12), though they are all imitative of manga techniques.


These examples support that drawing ability is learned, as well as that imitation boosts abilities rather than hampers it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Leigh's Paintings

As long as I'm recharging a bit for future blogging and managing my preparation for the new semester here at school, I felt I should at least devote one blog post to shill for the new website my father established for his paintings. He's put up numerous works of his along with essays about them, including this one below which hangs in my home.



Most of my family is highly creative in various domains. So, if you're interested in checking out some nice impressionist-ish paintings, go check it out!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Blogging MIA

I have unfortunately been remiss in blogging lately. I actually just got back from an intense 8-day long Soo Bahk Do martial art test (not to mention the month and a half intense training preparing for it), and am just now reintegrating into "normal life" (if you can call what I do "normal")...

This week is the start of the Tufts school year, which will excitingly feature my teaching of a class on "Comics and the Mind" as well as numerous research projects. Hopefully I'll have some more experiments online soon, as well as papers released for public consumption. In the meantime, stay tuned and I hope to resume regular blogging soon...