Friday, 22 March 2013

I Can Do That! Eddie Campbell('s) Rules!

Last month the always pleasingly forthright Eddie Campbell wrote an article for TheComicsJournal (see here) addressing the issue of why some people are unable to read comics.  If you're unaware that this is an issue (I assume that if you're on this blog then you're a regular reader of sequential art storytelling and therefore do not face the same problem) I can testify to having seen people in the shop look at a comic page and declare that they struggle to "read" it; they are unsure, it seems, where to specifically focus their attention.

Obviously there are certain laws to reading and making comics and if I haven't repeated it enough then Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is fine place to find them.  But, Campbell argues there are certain subtleties that may muddy the comprehension process.  The article is extremely interesting & contains examples but I thought that the most interesting points were:

- All the information necessary to understand the drama of a sequence must be contained in every panel of the sequence. He provides the following example by Bernard Krigstein:

- Speech balloons should follow a system that can be intuited and doesn’t need to be explained.  As he suggests is not the case in this example from Marvel's Fantastic Four (remember he is referring to the confusion it may cause to a novice reader):

In response to Campbell's points Neil Cohn from the San Diego Centre for Research in Language makes some excellent comments (see here) drawing attention to different styles of comics appropriate to European, American and Japanese traditions; the last of those, for example, include a higher percentage of single character close-ups in their comics.  Cohn also, in reference to the point about the order of word balloons, writes about studies that have taken place into the eye movements between experienced and inexperienced comic readers which concur with Campbell's thoughts.

As I've said, subtle factors and I certainly wouldn't suggest that they provide a distinction between "good comics" and "bad comics", but important to consider if one were engaged in a project with a primary focus to appeal to a wider audience.

D'ya follow? Campbell's From Hell


  1. I have a friend who is very much a fan of anime. I asked him if he ever read comics, and he said that he couldn't, and never could do because he found the layout of ALL comics to be 'claustrophobic'.

  2. Interesting. A cognitive-neuro science chum and I are planning to hook participants up to an eye tracker to see how they read a comic page. Pictures and language are processed in different bits of the brain. Yours, Tymbus


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