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Defining units of analysis for the systematic analysis of comics: A discourse-based approach

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Although regularly contested and rejected, the idea of a ‘grammar of comics’ continues to be applied to the analysis of comics in many disciplines and frameworks. The motivation for this is the evident regularity and systematicity exhibited by the comics medium as a form of expressive communication. Less commonly realized is that nowadays there are powerful descriptive mechanisms developed in approaches to verbal texts and linguistics that do not require the assumption of ‘grammar’ to explain productive structural regularity.┬áThis is important for the future study of comics because the notion of ‘grammar’ is in many respects deeply problematic when applied outside of its home area of natural language. In this article we demonstrate how more recent accounts of dynamic discourse provide a more appropriate set of mechanisms for talking about visual media such as comics. These mechanisms allow us to naturally relate panel, page and multiframe compositions as well as their combinations. By critical discussion of examples addressed in the literature, we show how these constructs also entail treatments of panel transitions that move beyond overly tight linking of panels and panel transitions to time and space and offer a methodologically sound way of identifying units of analysis in comics in general.
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Keywords: comics theory; discourse semantics; language; multimodality; research methods; semiotics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Bremen

Publication date: October 1, 2014

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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