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.