Fun with Text

While preparing the Peanut strips for my next project, I came across a fantastic integration of text subtly hidden in this panel:

If you look carefully, at the center of the starry smack mark where the ball hit the bat, there is text reading “.315”, which I assume is a reference to Pig-Pen’s batting average (pretty good). This is particularly interesting to me since it’s a descriptive use of text as opposed to a sound effect.

xkcd has a similar usage where instead of sound effects, the text reads the name of the action being done. However, the result in xkcd is that it describes the actions straight-out.

These two types of usage give complementary aspects of the way languages structure actions and manner of motion. Compare:

a. The ball flew into the glove.
b. The ball spiraled into the glove.

In sentence (a) you are given the action that the ball does, but little about the characteristics of that action. Sentence (b) gives you the manner of the motion, from which you derive the action implicitly.

Sound effects often give you information about manner of motion. For instance, a golf ball falling into a hole goes “Klunk” or “zoom” to describe a speeding car. These elaborate on the action itself. The use of text in xkcd eschews this to just focus on the action, without any manner of motion. What is intriguing about the Peanuts example is that “.315” is neither manner nor action — it is purely descriptive in an additive sense.

Playing with this one step further, we can create some panel pairs that replace the action for the sound effect. One characteristic of these types of “action text” is that they can stand in for the actions themselves (discussed a bit in Interfaces and Interactions). Note that both replacing for an action or manner of motion works fine:

However, substituting “.315” is a little weird — even with the expectation of the event — since it doesn’t stand in for the action itself. It only gives you additional information about the action:

Looking through all these Peanuts strips, Schulz was more of a formalist than he’s thought of I think.


  • Are you familiar with The Fairly OddParents? I’m not sure if your interests extend to animated cartoons, but this Nickelodeon show frequently plays with “onomatopoeia” in the manner you’re discussing. For example, the characters run off screen, and a cloud of dust with the word “LEAVE!” appears in the air. They also play with the conventions of comic book form (both narrative and visual) in their “Crimson Chin” sequences.

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