Monday, May 31, 2010

8 years!

Today, May 31st marks 8 years of! That's quite the long time for me... I had just graduated college and the Lakers were in the playoffs back then. Funny enough, I'm now still in school (ahem... grad school) and the Lakers are once again going to the NBA Finals. I guess the more things change...

Anyhow, this summer looks to be fairly eventful. I have quite a few blog posts lined up for the coming weeks, so hopefully we'll be seeing some more constancy on here. And, in July I'll be giving my annual ComicCon presentation, this year discussing my Masters project that analyzed the comprehension of sequential images in the brain. Just to whet your appetite, the title of the talk will be "This is your brain on comics."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Panels in Japanese vs. American Mainstream/Indie comics

This semester my student Amaro Taylor-Weiner did a great senior project following up to my cross cultural study comparing Japanese and American comics. He was one of my students in my "Visual Linguistics of Comics" class last Spring, and he jumped at the chance to do some work of his own.

We compared the amount of information held in 300 panels from each of 10 Japanese manga with 20 American comics of different genres: 10 Mainstream books and 10 "Indie" comics**. We found that the genre differences in American comics were marginal compared to Japanese manga, which used types of panels in very different ways. A poster of the study can be read here.

Interestingly, not shown in the poster (outside the error bars on the graphs), the patterns found in the Japanese panels were far more consistent across books than panels in American books, which were much more variable. The most variable were actually the Indie comics — some seemed to pattern like the Mainstream books and some like Japanese manga.

We interpreted these results as having connections with aspects of Asian versus American cognition related to research on attention, and further support that there are indeed different cultural visual languages.

He did a great job on the project, and I wish him the best as he goes on to his post-graduation endeavors!

**Thank you to all the great comic companies that donated books to these efforts! I'm still accepting donations from anyone who wishes to contribute (especially international books!!).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Advice for aspiring comic theorists

I read just about any paper about theories of comics I can get my hands on — some are pretty good, but some leave a lot to be desired. This should maybe be expected from a still-burgeoning field. Usually, when aspects of a paper have troubles, there are some consistent problems. So, here's some advice for potential "comic theorists":

1) Don't cast your theories so wide they are difficult to validate. Broad sweeping claims should only be made if they can be backed up by examples and/or citations. It's better to be specific and explicit in your theories.

2) If you're going to create a theory about comics, base it on the properties found by analyzing actual comics instead of pure theorizing. Often times people get so involved dreaming up of logical possibilities that could occur (or borrowing them from other theories) that they don't notice what does occur. At the very least...

3) Test your theory on actual comics (lots of them!). If you don't find your theory accounts for things you find going on in them, modify your theory appropriately.

4) Develop your theory with conventional examples, not exceptions. Often times the exceptions make for the most interesting examples, because they are noticeably different than "normal" usage. Granted, you can use those exceptions as clues to how conventional aspects of the medium work. However, if your theory is just about exceptions, it won't generalize to "normal" aspects of the medium too.