Comics as a Binary Language

The paper “The Comic as a Binary Language” by J. Laraudogoitia examines the structure of comics by converting the contents of panels into binary code. Coding a broad number of Eurpoean comics, a panel holding the protagonist of a story (“lead character”) is given a “+” while a panel without is given a “-“. The author then uses a series of computations to examine the regularity of sequences where the protagonist does or does not appear, or if there is constancy to the amount that they appear througout a book.

The results show that there is a quasi-regularity to sequences that feature the protagonist or don’t feature the protagonist. That is, there are “runs” of sequences with protagonists, then runs without.

While interesting for coming up with a positive result — and very creative for applying computational methods to comics (somehting I don’t think has otherwise been done), I find numerous problems with this paper.

First, why should we assume that Protagonist vs. Non-protagonist is a meaningful binary juxtaposition? In some ways it reflects of my distinction between Active and Inactive (or Passive) entities in a panel (originally based on Natsume’s distinction of “positive” vs. “negative” entities). However, my breakdown is superficially “things that move across panels” to “things that don’t.” Protagonists could fall into either one of those categories given the appropriate sequence.

But… what if there is more than one protagonist? What if a scene shift happens where a new character becomes the lead character — this would just be coded as a consistent “-“?

Mostly though, I am unsure of what is interesting about these results. The visual language in comics features consistent “runs” of protagonist or non-protagonist panels: so what?

The analysis throughout focuses only on linear sequences based largely on Markovian chains, but I think my work has strived to show that sequences of images cannot simply be considered linear sequences. They have hierarchic structures guiding them — which such a binary analysis of the surface elements would be unable to show.

This study is an interesting first attempt at using computational methods to analyze visual language structure — and I love that the research has now begun permeating such extents. Hopefully further studies will bring more interesting results.

ResearchBlogging.orgLaraudogoitia, J. (2008). The comic as a binary language. An hypothesis on comic structure* Journal of Quantitative Linguistics, 15 (2), 111-135 DOI: 10.1080/09296170801961785

[Originally posted 6/2/08]


  • Mark,

    I am interested to know if there is actually copy of the article upon which you comment. Personally, I am less interested in the application to comics as I am in the description the author uses for binary.

    I cannot locate it via ERIC or EBSCO or any of the hundred journal engines that school has; however, I’m in Australia and it is possible you guys have access to things we do not. If you have a pdf I could read, I’d appreciate it.

    Plese advise. Ta.(Australian for thanks)


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