Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New paper: Action starring narrative and events

Waaaay back in 2008 I first posted about a phenomenon in comics that I called an "action star", such as the third panel in this sequence:

I argued that these panels force a reader to make an inference about the missing information (in this case Snoopy getting hit by football players), and that these images also play a narrative role in the sequence—they are narrative climaxes. Because this inference omits information within this panel, it is different than the type of "closure" proposed by McCloud to take place between the panels. Rather, you need to get to the last panel to figure out what happened in the one prior, not what happens between panels 3 and 4.

So, to test this back 7 years ago, I ran a few experiments...

At long last, those studies are now published in my new paper, "Action starring narrative and events" in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology. Though McCloud placed inference as one of the most important parts of sequential image understanding over 20 years ago, and this has been stressed in most all theories of comics, this is one of the first papers to explore inference with actual experiments. I know of a few more papers that will be following too, both by me and others. Exciting!

You can find the paper along with all of my other downloadable papers, or you can check it out directly here (pdf).

Here's the full abstract:

Studies of discourse have long placed focus on the inference generated by information that is not overtly expressed, and theories of visual narrative comprehension similarly focused on the inference generated between juxtaposed panels. Within the visual language of comics, star-shaped “flashes” commonly signify impacts, but can be enlarged to the size of a whole panel that can omit all other representational information. These “action star” panels depict a narrative culmination (a “Peak”), but have content which readers must infer, thereby posing a challenge to theories of inference generation in visual narratives that focus only on the semantic changes between juxtaposed images. This paper shows that action stars demand more inference than depicted events, and that they are more coherent in narrative sequences than scrambled sequences (Experiment 1). In addition, action stars play a felicitous narrative role in the sequence (Experiment 2). Together, these results suggest that visual narratives use conventionalized depictions that demand the generation of inferences while retaining narrative coherence of a visual sequence.

Cohn, Neil, and Eva Wittenberg. 2015. Action starring narratives and events: Structure and inference in visual narrative comprehension. Journal of Cognitive Psychology.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Comicology conference in Japan

For anyone who might happen to be in Japan at the end of next month, I'll be speaking at Kyoto Seika University's upcoming conference, Comicology: Probing Practical Scholarship from September 25-27th. The conference will be hosted by the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and there's an impressive lineup of speakers, so it should be a great time.

You can find more information online here (link in Japanese... looks like their English site hasn't been updated with it yet), though you can email for information here.

Here's the official poster (right click on it to check out a larger version):

I'll actually be doing a few speaking/workshops while I'm in Japan, both in Tokyo and Kyoto. Most are by invitation only, but you can email me if you're interested in learning more. My talk as part of the Comicology conference will be on Saturday the 26th.

I'm very excited to meet many of the other speakers, and it will especially be nice to see Natsume Fusanosuke again, given the great time I spent with him the last time I spoke in Japan.

(Interesting tidbit: yes, ニール•コーン is the standard way to write my name in katakana, though when I was living in Japan I started using my chosen kanji of 公安寝留. If you read kanji, it might help to know there's a little Buddhist joke in it, a remnant of my undergrad studies. I did that in part because my last name is how you spell "corn" in Japanese. I still use my hanko stamp with the kanji, and I used to have it on my business card up until just this year).

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Comic reading fluency

At my ComicCon panel, someone asked me whether I have a measure for comic reading experience. Indeed, I do! I've been using the Visual Language Fluency Index (VLFI) score which is computed by asking participants to self-rate how often they read various types of comics, draw comics, and their expertise for reading and drawing comics. For those doing research with comics and visual narratives, this measure can be downloaded from my Resources page, along with full documentation and files for computing it.

I've used this measure across many studies now, and we often find that aspects of comprehension related to the visual language of comics correlate with participants' VLFI scores. That is, this appears to be a decent measure of proficiency that can correlate with ratings, reaction times, and even brainwave amplitudes to show differences based on participants' "fluency" in this structure.

Given this, I got to thinking... I wonder if this data could tell us something interesting about comic readers in general? So, I spent the other day combining together VLFI data from over 23 experiments that we've now done on comics over the past 8 years, which amounted to over 1000 participants. Here are some interesting things that came out...

First, VLFI scores also correlate with people's habits for reading books, watching movies, and watching cartoons. So, more proficient comic readers also consume other types of media in greater quantities (shocking, I know!). 

The average age for people to start reading comics was 8.4, with the average age of drawing comics at 9.8. These numbers are a little after when children start being able to comprehend sequential images (roughly 5 years old), so these make sense given the developmental literature.

The VLFI scores correlated with the age of participants, suggesting that people read more comics, and become more proficient at understanding them, as they age. However, an additional correlation suggested that higher VLFI scores occur for people who start reading comics at younger ages. So, proficiency benefits from starting earlier in life. These findings also echo the developmental literature

I'm sure there are additional things we can suss out of this data, especially when incorporating the things we actually measured in these experiments. These seem to be some interesting findings to start though.