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Expanding comics theory to account for interactivity: A preliminary study

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Comics are a medium distinct from and yet tied to other forms of storytelling. A rich body of theory exists on the nature of the medium, its narrative techniques and the visual language unique to it. In light of the increasing interest in digital interactive technologies, however, there is a need to examine how the current theoretical understanding of comics is complicated by interactivity, as has been studied for other media such as text-based stories and games. This article outlines an exploratory study that introduced interactions, reminiscent of the Quick-Time Events found in games, into a four-panel comic. The results of this study, based on exposure to experimental prototypes, followed by retrospective protocol analysis and qualitative interviews, begin to shed light on various theoretical implications of including interactivity. These include empirical support that the notion of comics as an interconnected multiframe remains valid in the context of interactivity; the relative hierarchy between the iconic image and interactive elements; functions of interactivity within the comic form; the role of challenge; and the role of fluency and learning. These findings highlight possible ways in which the inclusion of interactivity expands current theory regarding the comic form, serving as openings for future theory-building.
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Keywords: agency; challenge; comics theory; empirical study; interactive comics; reader fluency

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000121806431 National University of Singapore

Publication date: November 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work.

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