I’ve posted every now and again about a convention in comics that I’ve called “action stars”, where a whole panel is replaced by a star shaped “flash” that essentially represents “event happens here!” but doesn’t show that event. I’ve likened this to being like a pronoun in the visual grammar, since it can replace the Peak events of the sequence, just like a pronoun can replace a noun (or noun phrase).
Over the past year I’ve run some successful experiments using action stars, and am planning a few more of them. But, I’ve also had the lingering question whether there are any more of these “visual pronouns” out there…
And I think I’ve found one.
Another common piece of visual morphology is the “smoke-veiled fight” (alternative names welcomed), where a big puff of smoke is shown with arms and legs sticking out, to stand for a fight occurring, which can also take up a whole panel:
Some interesting contrasts can be made between the smoke-veiled fight (SVF) and action stars. First off, SVF panels are much more restricted; they can only appear for fights, whereas action stars can go on almost any Peak panel. We might write this out this difference in meaning formally as:
Action Stars: [Event: X]
SVF: [Event: FIGHT(A,B,…n)]
This basically says that an action star carries the unspecified meaning that an Event “X” occurs, but SVF panels show an Event of “Fighting”, consisting of at least characters A and B up to “n”.
Also of interest is that while both depict “events”, the nature of those events is intrinsically different. Action stars show a single event, while SVF panels show a duration. Notice, you can’t glean the sense of duration from an action star, nor can you interpret the SVF as a single event. But, the difference is there — even though in neither one can you actually see what events are “actually” happening!
I've been calling them "fight clouds" though usually in the context of animation rather than comics. In animation the duration of the fight is shown more literally.
The fight cloud kind of represents the act of fighting without the need to specify the details. If you drew two characters punching each other, that would confine the scale of the fight to the literally depicted actions, while turning it into a cloud gives it a more innumerable feel.
In animation, I think it's often also favoured for being much easier to draw than a real fight.
I remember in a comic I drew in college I drew not a "fight cloud" but an "orgy cloud," which did not look all that different. (Well, different body parts were sticking out of it….) I'm sure I was not the first one to do so.
Interesting stuff! Have you studied Japanese manga? I would be interested of your opinions on this
Thanks for the comments. Nick, I've detailed the structure of manga in my downloadable essay JapaneseVisual Language.