I’m very happy to announce that I have a new essay online: Navigating Comics: Reading Strategies of Page Layouts (pdf). This paper reports the findings of an experiment I conducted looking at how people navigate through comic pages. The big finding: people don’t just mimic text going left-to-right and down.
The full abstract:
The spatial domain is often considered to be non-linear, given the analog nature of visual information. However, the visual language of comics defies this by siphoning images into a deliberate reading sequence. Most often this sequence is assumed to be read in an order that mimics text: left-to-right and down, a “z-path.” However, several scenarios can violate this order, such as Gestalt groupings of panels that deny a z-path of reading. To investigate these concerns, an experiment asked 145 participants to number empty page layouts in the order they would read them, and showed that readers use an alternate strategy extending beyond both the traditional “z-path” and Gestalt groupings to navigate through comic page layouts.
I should also say that this paper took a very long time to complete. The study was run in 2004 and I know I’ve been talking about releasing the results all the way since last summer. Thanks to all who participated in the study and to all for being patient as I finished it up!