I neglected posting this ealier in the week, but John Morris has a parody/homage to Wally Wood’s 22 Panels that always work over at Comixpedia entitled 16 Panels That I Don’t Think Work All That Well. There are a couple things I find theoretically interesting about it.
First off, it is a great compilation of conventionalized patterns used in many comics. Just like WW’s 22 Panels and the Peanuts patterns I’ve been finding recently, this list excellently shows how there are systematic and conventionalized patterns in the visual language used in comics. This is in contrast to the view that graphic creation is unrestrained because it mimics perception, and thereby lacks an experss system of mentally stored patterns. Astute observations like these 16 panels excellently show that there is systematic and patterned visual vocabulary used by “visual language speakers” (and I wish more people would do work like this!).
The second thing this list shows is a preference for the use of some representations over others (WW’s 22 Panels does this too, though positively as opposed to negatively). Linguistics has often been in perpetual debate with journalists/English teachers/etc. that believe there is a right or wrong way to use language. We are often told “not to end a sentence with a preposition,” or “not to split infinitives” — though these are not in any way real rules of English grammar. (They were prescribed by grammar book writers in the 18th century who were enamored with Latin — so they advocated Latin’s rules for English, not at all being sensitive to the fact that, y’know, they’re totally different languages!!).
This list’s intent is prescriptive in the same way. Despite these being consistent conventional trends used in this visual language, they are gauged by their value in usage. An additional aspect to this is the Art perspective most invoked in the comments below the article. Most people object to these panels simply because they are conventional! They’re “overused,” which means they aren’t new and innovative/original — which makes them undesirable to the Art viewpoint.
However, none of this mitigates the fact that these panel types are conventional. The linguist would say “they’re all part of language, let’s observe how people use them” while the prescriptivist says “they’re part of language, but they really shouldn’t be, and those who use them are less sophisticated speakers.”
It’s interesting to note also that no matter how loudly prescriptivism might object to such “bad” usage, it never has an effect on shaping language usage. It’s not like split infinitives have gone away because people advocate against them! Nor do I suspect these 16 panels to go away either.
In some ways both aspects of a list like this shows some good headway in recognition of this visual language as a language on the whole. Not only are people recognizing the patterns, they’re also judging them prescriptively, just like any other language!