Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cross-cultural cognition via French Comic Translation Censorship?

I recently found this very interesting post about the "censorship" of French translations of Marvel Comics. Apparently this will be a chapter in a new book, but the examples they have posted (some relinked on the side here) are very interesting from the point of view of cross-cultural psychology and meaning.

While the post shows other types of censoring, the most overt things to me in the examples they show have to do with motion and action:

On the left is an originally American version of this page, while on the right is the French version of the same page. As you can easily tell, the biggest changes (besides the text) are the erasure of the impact star (the flashy star-shaped thing showing impact) and various speed lines (showing motion) and focal lines (emphasizing the impact point).

The post describes that this censoring took place to make these dynamic pages more "palatable" to children, as deemed by the government. However, I wonder if some other things are going on here as well.

First off, the lack of impact stars is interesting because it actually changes the meaning of the images. Daredevil and Captain America are no longer overtly strike each other. Without those stars, they may be interpreted as acrobatically dodging the blows. The impacts are no longer apparent.

Secondly, these changes may be a subtle way to try and make these American books appear more like native French comics. Several years ago, another presenter on a Comic-Con panel with me presented some interesting comparisons between French and American comics showing that French comics generally tried to show motion with few or minimal speed lines. The effect of erasing them in these pages makes the images closer to this native style. In other words, they are trying to translate the American Visual Language closer to French Visual Language.

As I was curious back at that presentation, I wonder if there can be a broader cross-cultural study done on this phenomenon. There have been several studies of "Paths" in linguistics and psychology, and speed lines are an overt manifestation of these types of paths. I am curious if:

1) American and European comics do in fact substantially differ in their proportion, usage, and type of motion lines.
2) If these differences reflect aspects of deeper issues in cognition related to the comprehension of path actions

Targeting these issues specifically could be an insightful way for using comics to study deeper aspects of cross-cultural cognition.

A broad look at a corpus of American and French comics could easily get to this issue. (My current corpus is lacking a good amount of French comics... if any of you French publishers are listening and feeling generous...). However, a follow up study looking at the Marvel translations and tabulating the proportion of these same items deleted could see if they truly are trying to translate the visual language in addition to the written language.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Summer in spring!

As of Friday, I have officially entered Summer Break (here in a very rainy New England Spring), which means I'm hoping to have lots of interesting projects going soon. One of my goals is to resume blogging more frequently, at least a post a week. I think this should be doable given what I have lined up.

Most of my summer research is going to be devoted to running experiments in the laboratory here at Tufts, though I'll also be posting some online studies in the coming weeks. So, either watch this space, or keep an eye on your inbox if you're part of my "experimentation email list."

Monday, May 09, 2011

Comics as a Binary Language

The paper "The Comic as a Binary Language" by J. Laraudogoitia examines the structure of comics by converting the contents of panels into binary code. Coding a broad number of Eurpoean comics, a panel holding the protagonist of a story ("lead character") is given a "+" while a panel without is given a "-". The author then uses a series of computations to examine the regularity of sequences where the protagonist does or does not appear, or if there is constancy to the amount that they appear througout a book.

The results show that there is a quasi-regularity to sequences that feature the protagonist or don't feature the protagonist. That is, there are "runs" of sequences with protagonists, then runs without.

While interesting for coming up with a positive result — and very creative for applying computational methods to comics (somehting I don't think has otherwise been done), I find numerous problems with this paper.

First, why should we assume that Protagonist vs. Non-protagonist is a meaningful binary juxtaposition? In some ways it reflects of my distinction between Active and Inactive (or Passive) entities in a panel (originally based on Natsume's distinction of "positive" vs. "negative" entities). However, my breakdown is superficially "things that move across panels" to "things that don't." Protagonists could fall into either one of those categories given the appropriate sequence.

But... what if there is more than one protagonist? What if a scene shift happens where a new character becomes the lead character — this would just be coded as a consistent "-"?

Mostly though, I am unsure of what is interesting about these results. The visual language in comics features consistent "runs" of protagonist or non-protagonist panels: so what?

The analysis throughout focuses only on linear sequences based largely on Markovian chains, but I think my work has strived to show that sequences of images cannot simply be considered linear sequences. They have hierarchic structures guiding them — which such a binary analysis of the surface elements would be unable to show.

This study is an interesting first attempt at using computational methods to analyze visual language structure — and I love that the research has now begun permeating such extents. Hopefully further studies will bring more interesting results.

ResearchBlogging.orgLaraudogoitia, J. (2008). The comic as a binary language. An hypothesis on comic structure* Journal of Quantitative Linguistics, 15 (2), 111-135 DOI: 10.1080/09296170801961785

[Originally posted 6/2/08]

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Deaf Comics

I have always wanted to learn sign language, and my labmate, who is an interpreter, recently began teaching me American Sign Language. It's been very fun to finally be learning it, and a great education in non-verbal languages (which I'm obviously interested in!).

She also recently sent me a link to That Deaf Guy, a comic about a deaf man and his family. It's a very smart and well done strip, that has some great humor about signing and deaf culture. My favorite are the "Dos and Don'ts" of relating with deaf people. Go check it out!

And, along those lines... here's an awesome deaf rapper!