Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A checklist for decent scholarship

I've read a ridiculous amount of research on the comprehension of sequential images the last few years. Many people have written papers about this topic, often from many different disciplines. While I can respect that not everyone will aim for the linguistic and psychological approach that I use (and nor should they if they have different intents), there are several pet peeves that I found repeated over and over that make me feel like just disregarding what people write.

So, here's a checklist for getting me to take your scholarship on comics seriously:

Get your names right. I once read a paper that was cited as an "authoritative" source by another book only to find it said the author of Calvin and Hobbes was "Bob Watterson" in a trivial throwaway line. I could maybe forgive a spelling error or something accidental, but not knowing that his name is actually Bill made me lose respect for the entire paper and regard the scholar as someone who was a "tourist" in this research.

Get your basic facts right. An otherwise decent article commented that Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library was "computer-generated." It's actually done by hand. Such a mistake could easily be remedied with a Google search. And, again, this was a trivial descriptor that was unnecessary for any part of the discussion.

Do your background research. Often I read papers where they only major work of scholarship about sequential image comprehension mentioned is McCloud's Understanding Comics. As important as it was for establishing this line of thought, it is not the only work out there. Or, if they want to talk about cognition, they'll cite a textbook written over 30 years ago. This just isn't acceptable. One of these days I'll write a huge paper reviewing all the theories and experiments that I've found that have ever looked at sequential images (and there are more than you'd think... I've been painfully remiss in updating my bibliography and I'll be the first to say that there's probably more out there that I haven't found yet). Until then, do your own research beyond a cursory job. The same goes for any topic of research or else you'll get a response like this.

Say something novel. It's amazing the amount of papers that I read that merely regurgitate McCloud's ideas of panel transitions and closure without adding anything new. At best, they often just reinterpret his same ideas and draw a connection between them and something in another line of thinking. But, they don't add anything to what he said. Almost ten years ago, I just about doubled the amount of transitions McCloud had before abandoning panel transitions altogether.  So, even if you're working with transitions, I know there's more to say than he did (and probably what I did too). Truly, if you can't say something new, why bother saying anything? (AND... why should anyone read or cite your paper??)

Seriously though... shouldn't all these things be part of basic research and paper writing? Why then are they so rampantly disregarded when talking about the structure of comics? For a long time, scholars of comics felt the need to justify such research. However, the best way to convince people to take this work seriously is to actually do serious scholarship. 

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