Essay origins

So far I’ve been very pleased at the response to my latest essay, “Navigating Comics”, on how people navigate through page layouts (pdf). As several responses have been rolling in via email and elsewhere, I intend to do a post soon addressing concerns in that feedback. However, I think it’d be informative to first talk about the origins of this paper.

Back in 2003 when I was drawing our political book We the People, every now and then my editors would tell me they had trouble knowing exactly where to go in the sequence. Often this happened in consistent situations (like what I call “blockage” in the paper).

Most of the times I’d either simplify the layouts or make some graphic fix (like a trail) to indicate a clearer path. However, it got me thinking… My editors were quite a bit older than I was, and weren’t all that experienced comic readers, so I wondered if this lack of experience mattered in their reading habits? (or if I was just needlessly making things difficult)

So, I designed this study to test that. I had a booth at ComicCon 2004 that year to promote the book and my other works, so I designed a simple pamphlet people could make responses in and tested people throughout the convention.

I could tell immediately that the results would be interesting, I just had to wait another three years to learn the statistics necessary to show them (d’oh!). The theory with the tree structures predated the experiment by at least a year, but it didn’t really say much without knowing about people’s actual preferences. It’s exciting to see that my suspicions for creating the experiment were borne out in data.

Every now and then I get a response to my work along the lines of “Why do theory? Why not do something related to praxis?” While theory can be interesting, enlightening, and much of science is simply about discovery without practical applications in mind (ex: penicillin), another reason is that theory can sometimes wrap back around on praxis. I like to believe that this is one of those cases, especially given that it came from those origins.


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