ImageText Vol. 3

The latest issue of the online journal ImageText just came out with a couple articles of note (to my tastes):

The first one examines the role of comics in education, a subject dear to my heart (and the topic of one of my Comic-Con panels this year). The experiment is interesting, though I would have liked to see actual reporting of the statistics that were run, which seems like it’d be important in a piece like this.

Also, the background research seems blissfully ignorant of most of the research out there pertaining to this sort of work. Perusing the references, the books about comics are largely historical or literary treatments, and the books about psychology/education are mostly 20 to 30 years old—none of which are about comics or related research in text-image relations in educational contexts. Given a section is called ‘Comics and Cognition,’ it has next to no research about comics and cognition, much less the directly pertinent work that has been done in educational contexts (despite the clear overlaps in methods).

I also found it quite odd that while testing students’ background experiences with images versus text, there was no question about how often they read comics. This seems like a major oversight in design, since it could correlate levels of expertise into the statistics.

The other articles of note are Jesse Cohn’s (no relation) translation of a chapter of Benoît Peeters’ Case, Planche, et Recit pertaining to comic page layouts, as well as his commentary about the chapter.

Peeters proposes a taxonomy for different types of page layouts, serving decorative versus rhetorical functions (among others). I find it a bit difficult to review these theories, simply because of the very apparent paradigmatic differences between this approach and my own. We are asking very different questions to generate our different answers.

French works like Peeters or Groensteen seem to be concerned with how things function in the contexts of the “work of art.” In contrast, proposals like McCloud’s (and mine) do not care what the work is about, but hypothesize structural principles at work in the medium and (hopefully) cognition. To invoke an analogy: I’m interested in identifying how “nouns and verbs work.” They’re interested in how people “use nouns and verbs in writing.”

Along these lines, I’m currently analyzing data from an experiment I did looking at page layouts (I hope to have it readable by the end of summer… this is what my other ComicCon talk will be on). Immediately apparent is the difference in the intents: I don’t care what the “design” of the layout “conveys”; I want to know about the strategies people use to navigate the layout irregardless of the content. As much as people might hypothesize what order people read panels in, or how the “layout is read as a whole,” no data has yet shown what people actually do. Hopefully I can show some of that.


  • re: Irregardless


    Usage Note: Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.

  • Thank you for the anonymous snark. My linguistics background engenders me to use your rudeness for some good educational value:

    The counter-point to this is that “correct usage” and the notions of “improper language” are fallacious lies bandied about by those who don’t know anything about the way language works, and certainly not for a word that is clearly a part of the lexicon to the point that it has an entry in the dictionary. “Unregardless” or “Irregard” are clearly ungrammatical, “irregardless” is not.

  • “Meaning” comes in many forms. One level is cognitive understanding (what I care about), another is “artistic interpretation” layered on top of the cognitive understanding — which is what Groensteen and Peeters care about.

    Regarding layout: you can talk all you want about how “decorative” a layout is, or how it functions to evoke a certain “feeling” — but that never will tell you how people navigate through layouts.

    These are two concerns of entirely different paradigms.

    … and who says this has anything to do with “art”?

  • Given how much research has been done on semantic priming and the time it takes to access words, it would be a surprise to not have any similar effect of, say, panel content on the meaning and understanding of panels. One isn’t likely to find a complete separation of form and content in the art of comics.

    Charles R.

  • Hi Charles,

    I think you’re right that we’d see a processing effect in understanding panels. I think you’re misunderstanding what I would separate as form and content. I’m drawing a split between cognitive type processing/understanding, and literary types of interpretation.

    Of course, here I’m not even talking about “understanding” at all, I’m talking about layout. That’s not to say that layouts don’t use information from content, but notions of “decorative” or “rhetorical” types of layouts does nothing toward contributing to figuring out how people navigate through layouts — no matter what “literary” function they serve.
    And I don’t believe in “bad English” that’s not actually ungrammatical. “Irregardless” is lexicalized and (I would imagine) at least partly non-decompositional in meaning.

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