Comics and Information Design

What with the chaos of getting ready to move, I’m going to skip updates on Meditations until I get settled into Boston in a week and a half. In the meantime…

John Soellner alerts me to his site comparing qualities of “comics” with information design. He has a nice set of links down at the bottom, though his writings seem fairly limited so far. I was a bit surprised by this, since I think there’s quite a lot of overlap that can be discussed. Perhaps we can hope for more to come?

Robert Horn has made some to do about some of those connections, and Soellner seems to pick up on some of that at least (I do appreciate his using the term “information design” as opposed to Horn’s meaning of “visual language” which is vastly different from mine).

Perusing some of the links there, I will vent that one of the things that bugs me about most discussions of “comics” from information design perspectives (though, thankfully, not here) is the sheer lack of treating the visual language as any sort of language. Since ID is mainly concerned with demonstrating data or information graphically, the intuituve aspects of the visual sequence seem wholly ignored for the properties of spatial juxtaposition (as if that’s all there was to it).

My sense is that most of the people talking about these sort of things come from computer interface design or information design backgrounds, yet don’t have much productive fluency in this visual language of “comics.” In some ways, I feel like McCloud oversold the universality of creating “comics” to the point where people feel empowered to talk about it, even when they might lack the intuitions and expertise of graphic fluency. Perhaps this can be added to the list of illusions cast by that “veil of iconicity“?

Interestingly, his last post has a quote from Dennis O’Neil amounting to saying “images plus words in comics = a language.” This “images + words = language” is roughly the same as the way Horn means it too. I have never understood this sort of reasoning… why should words, already a language, plus anything-else equate to some larger language (which, ahem, doesn’t seem to have real intrinsic properties like a natural language)? Though perhaps less poetic, I far prefer to be accurate by saying that the visuals might become a language that then meets up with the written to become two languages working together in a broader multimodal communicative act.

This same trend has gone through gesture research too, with some people saying that “language + gesture = language”. …. “1+1=1”? Huh? Why isn’t it that “language + gesture = multimodalism beyond language”? This is yet another of those papers lying half written in my computer. Someday, I swear!


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