Faces in comics

Tan, Ed S. 2001. The Telling Face in Comic Strip and Graphic Novel. In The Graphic Novel, edited by J. Baetens: Leuwen University Press.

This study looked at the knowledge of faces and facial expressions in comics assuming that facial expressions are universal and thus comics rely on these universal cues in representation. In the analysis of Tintin comics, consistent basic emotions are depicted, often with hyperbolic exaggeration. In comparison, the emotions in Maus are more downplayed and minimally focused upon. This is hypothesized as due to the “seriousness” of the comparative subject matter.

Ultimately it concludes (like in McCloud’s Making Comics), that comic drawing uses a small set of emotional primitives that are employed in combination for universal emotional expression. Curiously, though McCloud expresses they are universal in his book, his recent blog post on the topic implies that he thinks facial expressions are also a learned behavior.

On the whole, I’m curious what this would do with data from countries like Japan that vary from findings of universal facial expressions. Would Japanese manga also reflect the different interpretations of expressions held by their culture? Does this mean that the facial expressions manga might sometimes be misunderstood by non-Japanese reading them?

On the whole, this paper could have benefited from more systematic coding than the roughshot sampling of expressions in selected pages from a limited sample size. How many expressions were there? Of what kinds? How do people from those different populations interpret the expressions from differing countries? Etc.


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