Neff, William Albert. 1977. The Pictorial and Linguistic Features of Comic Book Formulas. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Denver, Denver, CO.
Neff compares the patterns of formal properties for comics in different narrative genres of Adventure, Romance, Mystery, and Alien Beings or States. He analyzes the fields of panel shape (vertical, horizontal, square, circle), angle of view (lateral, high, low), and type of shot (close, wide) in comic panels. He also looks at pragmatic sentence types and parts of speech of stressed words from the text of comics.
His results show distinctions in the “formulas” of different genres, showing that different genres do use differing patterns for their distributions of these fields, and he then describes his interpretations for what those forumlas indicate about the genre (and vice versa).
While I don’t doubt that such patterns for genres exist, this study had numerous problems. The categories for analysis were a little broad (only wide and close shots?) and often washed over in coding (diagonal panels were grouped as either horizontal or vertical). The interpretations of the genres’ formulas also seemed a little like just so stories.
However, I take this entire study with a grain of salt because the sample size of his analysis is so small. For each genre, he uses only two comic books (pamphlets). While he does get statistically significant results using chi-squares, he pools frequencies across books, which eliminates any variation across books with no way to analyze it. Shouldn’t he be using averages for this?
Two books per genre, and limited categories in the fields of analysis, are far too little to really get a sense of the patterns of an entire genre. His total number of panels in all was only about 530. In comparison, I consider my study comparing 300 panels in each of 12 Japanese and 12 American paperbacks (Cross-Cultural Space) to have been small in scope, and have just initiated a study of at least 200 books of varying genres and countries.
While I greatly appreciate the attempt at doing such corpus analyses (and am actively doing more), and especially like seeing it as a “hidden treasure” in the history of this type of study, this one unfortunately lacks the scope to be taken seriously.