Reactions to “Why Pause?: The fine line between reading and contemplation” By Paul Atkinson

18 10 2012

As a result of attending the Comics Rock conference in Bournemouth I was very kindly sent a copy of Studies in comics Volume 3 Number 1. An academic comics journal which I strongly suggest anyone with an interest in comics theory take a look at. You can get hold of a copy or subscribe at

Having received this Journal I have decided to write a blog post about my initial responses, reactions and thoughts on one of the papers included in it. This paper is titled “Why Pause?: The fine line between reading and contemplation” By Paul Atkinson and is focused on the use of gallery artwork in comics and graphic novels. In particular our concentration time in comics compared to in galleries.

The paper concerns itself with a number of key aspects of my own research (as well as things that aren’t) including the ideas associated with time and reading paths in comics. It looks at this from a different angle to my research however and focuses on “the relationship between comic books and painting and how the viewer ‘stands before’ the image” to describe and analyse the movement of the eye and the temporal aspects of reading a comic.

To give you an idea of the content of the paper here is the abstract for the piece:

“There has long been an interest in the formal properties of comic books and bandes dessinées, in particular, how the structure of the page as a succession of panels constitutes a form of reading, hence the use of expressions such as ‘sequential narrative’ to describe the medium. There is no question that this aspect of the comic book is important and that many of the medium’s conventions have developed to facilitate the telling of a story, however, this article focuses on the visual rhythms that inform the reading movement but are not reducible to narrative events. Of particular interest are the surface properties of line and colour that exceed any representational function and have the capacity to speed up, or indeed, slow down the reading process.
To address this issue, the article will investigate the relationship between comic books and painting and the difference in how the viewer ‘stands before’ the image. Painting is often assumed to arrest the movement of the eye, to hold the attention of the viewer, whereas comic books are said to guide the viewer from one image to the next. This leads to the implication that painting invokes aesthetic contemplation and comic books do not.
The article will address these issues through a reworking of the aesthetic theories of Jean-François Lyotard, Norman Bryson and James Elkins, in particular their speculations on the time involved in viewing a painting. Examples will be drawn from Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s Moving Pictures and Bernar Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carrière’s The Sky over the Louvre; two graphic novels that investigate aesthetic contemplation and incorporate famous artworks into the narrative.”

One of the key ideas I took from Atkinson’s paper is that the plastic (that is, the pictorial form of the panel; the visuals) nature of the comic panel is of lesser importance to the medium than the rhythm (or pacing) of the reading itself. This is a key notion for me to take forward into my own research which focuses on the paths and portrayal of time in comics but has yet to consider how the plastic nature of the content of panels affects this in any meaningful way. Atkinson also suggests that the aesthetic contemplation of a panel slows down or ‘pauses’ the rhythm of the reading and that certain compositional techniques (of the panel and page) can be used to slow down our reading and encourage contemplation of the images we are seeing. He notes that the images we see in the comic book form are always influenced by the fact we relate them to the panels previously seen and those yet to be seen; a concept which is supported by the influential work of Thierry Groensteen. These topics all relate very closely to my work on reading processes and reading paths that I have focused on in my own work.

Atkinson’s paper not only discusses the layout of comics and how it affects our reading path but directly relates this discussion to the temporal elements of comics (which are my current research focus) to compare spatial and temporal elements directly related to reading. Interestingly he suggests that the time spent looking at the panel does not necessarily relate directly to the time spent considering the content e.g. a large panel does not necessarily require more concentration time than a smaller panel. It would seem that this idea could make for an interesting comparison with the work of Scott McCloud who suggests that the space (and size) of a panel is equal to the time of that panel. Another important point made by Atkinson in relation to time is that there is a ‘double temporality’ to comics that relates time both to viewing the panel as a picture and viewing it as a story (or part of one). It leads me think there may be a larger number of temporalities to comics than just these two (having personally defined at least 2 different time frames portrayed in comics in my own work) which is worthy of further investigation.

Still related but worthy of independent note is Atkinson’s reference to the reading of a comic as a rhythm and the suggestion that the reader must ‘perform the text’ in a rhythmical way and, importantly, that this rhythm dictates the duration of concentration time, reading time and in-panel time. It is this idea of the rhythm of the text or the rhythm of the reading, how it affects the portrayal of time in comics and is affected by the reading path (raster) of the comic that is of particular interest to me and my research.

The Previously Mentioned Conference Pecha-Kucha

6 08 2012

Those who pay attention may have noticed that I posted earlier in the year about the acceptance of my proposal for a Pecha-Kucha(pronounced peh-chach-ka and meaning “chit-chat”) at The Third International Comics Conference: Comics Rock. (Here) Well that did happen and I did present my research there on Friday 29th June with great response. The whole day of presentations and academic chin-wagging was really great to be a part of and was well worth going to. I had meant to post whole Pecha-Kucha here since with a little bit about the questions I was asked and what I learnt from the experience. Me being me however that didn’t happen as soon after the event as I had planned because I got into other projects.


So this is it; the Pecha-Kucha I gave at The Third International Comics Conference: Comics Rock. Enjoy, and ask questions in the comments.

<– Presentation here –> (at some point in the future when I have managed to record it)

If you would prefer to read through at your leisure you can see a .PDF of the slides and notes here –> Pages and Screens Pecha kucha – Jayms Clifford Nichols


Due to somebody dropping out of the session there was a good deal of time available for questions about my research after the pecha kucha had been given. This was a really fruitful experience and really allowed me to explain more clearly certain aspects of the work. It also gave me a lot of food for thought about both the research itself and how I present it.

In the following section I am going to address certain questions that people had and clear up a few points.

Firstly, my use of certain words was questioned and showed that I need to more clearly define them. Here is a little glossary of terms to help clear up some words which may appear to have an ambiguous meaning.

  • Raster – The culturally defined path which you follow with our eyes across a page.
  • Redundant – I do not use redundant to mean unimportant, unnecessary or unneeded as it is used in common speech but instead borrow the term from interactive media theory and cybernetics where it means an action or event that is highly predictable or expected as part of an established convention. e.g. the convention when reaching the end of a page is to turn to the next page.
  • Naviscroll – The action of swiping or tapping the tablet screen to progress from page to page.
  • Immediacy –  Used here, refers to something that is done without thinking and is borrowed from Bolter and Grusin. It is something that does not remind the reader of the form of the reading.
  • Hypermediacy – Another word borrowed from Bolter and Grusin which is the opposite of immediacy(above) and refers to something that reminds the user/reader of the format which the narrative takes. (Click here for a more detailed glossary of Bolter and Grusin’s terms)

As my research touches on a number of different subject areas, from comics to interactive media to reading theory I have appropriated a number of specialist words from these areas and applied them to one another. This caused some confusion to those without an interactive media background and it is clear that in future I need to have clearer definitions of my terms as part of my presented research.

The other questions tended to focus around whether tablet displays benefited the comics medium or not and whether they offered restriction from an artistic point of view. Also whether I thought they would eventually replace the print based comic as we know it now. I won’t go into these questions here but if you want me to answer these or any other questions please leave a comment below.

The Picture of Dorian Gray – In review

19 06 2012

I thought I’d do another book review. This time I’m going to make sure it isn’t so long-winded. So without any further ado:

A review of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I had been meaning to read this book for a number of years but I never got around to doing so. It was actually during a chat after watching the film “The Hunger Games” that I thought to download it on my Kindle. I forget exactly how it came up but the girl I had seen the film with and myself were talking rather excitedly about reading The Hunger Games and I said I would download it. In this conversation she informed me that not only was The Picture of Dorian Gray a fantastic book but that it was also free to download. And so I did and I cannot explain how much I urge you all to do the same if you haven’t read it. It is brilliant.

The story, as many of you probably know, is of a young man(Dorian Gray) living in London who has a portrait painted of himself; this portrait then takes on all the scares of aging and corruption which Dorian should experience as he goes through life. In essence the picture ages whilst he stays forever young. But really this is only a premise for the story to sit behind. The real story is of corruption and influence.

At the beginning of the book Dorian Gray is a creature of pure aesthetic; he exists only as a thing of beauty in others eyes without an original thought in his head. He himself is unaware of his own beauty and it is this that our other main character (Lord Henry) uses as a catalyst that begins the corruption of Dorian Gray. Lord Henry, whilst not sharing the title of the book, is an equally important character and it is he that drives Dorian Gray through the book. He begins by filling Dorian’s head with ideas and this leads him to live a life where the ultimate goal is the beauty and pleasure of experience, no matter how corrupting it may be. It is this idea that runs through the book and is the primary focus of the story; and it is done astonishingly well. The characters and the writing had me entirely hooked whilst reading and although there are areas of dialog from a single characters that are over a page in length I never found myself bored or uninterested in what was being said.

So, a result…

“Brilliant”Well written, engaging and enjoyable throughout. And FREE. Read it immediately.

An impromptu book review

8 05 2012

A review of Tetrarch: Volume Tow of The Well of Echoes by Ian Irvine

I finished this book and instantly felt the need to tell the world about it; not necessarily because it’s a brilliant book, nor because it’s awful. (In fact it may well have something to do with my Kindle asking me to Tweet about it when I finished) However it’s very interesting and I really just feel like writing a review.

So here goes. The Well of Echoes Volume Two: Tetrarch.  I’ll start by saying that I almost didn’t read this book after reading the first installment of the series (Geomancer). I found Geomancer very hit and miss and didn’t really have any want to read this second part on it’s conclusion. That said, I’m glad I did and, having finished reading part two, I am keen to get onto the next installment (Scrutator(Or Alchymist if you are, like me, in the UK)) to find out what happens next. The difference in my feelings at the conclusion of each book can be put down to one thing and it’s something that makes the books both engaging and dull all at the same time; they are very heavily reliant on the characters involved in the sequences.

In explanation; Tetrarch follows a number of different characters to an number of different places around the fictional world of Santhenar, each character(or group of characeters) with their own mission/reason/direction or whatnot. Some of these characters are intensely interesting and are a joy to follow (Ullii in particular was a favorite of mine and chapters focusing on her seemed to fly by) whilst others (Tiaan (who, unfortunately is our main protagonist throughout the first third of the book (and most of Geomancer))) are dull and uninteresting and sometimes the chapters focusing on them are a chore to read. This makes the pace of the book and the level of interest fluctuate wildly throughout the reading and it can really suffer from being too character dependent.

Character dependencies and multiple narrative strains are not something uncommon to fantasy novels such as this but where others often make the section featuring characters you may not connect with or care for interesting through the narrative sequences themselves Irvine seems to struggle. Making some sections of the book rather laborious to get through. He also suffers when the writing is not character-centric. For example, when describing locations or events, they don’t feel interesting, gripping or, sometimes, even important and several times I found myself having to re-read the description of an object or place because I had simply not taken anything in. To his credit these descriptions of places and things are usually pretty short (about a paragraph) and don’t last long so he seems aware that this is a shortcoming of his personal writing style. The problem is that it leaves everything so focused on characters that you are very reliant on your interest in who is being followed at the time.

This said, Irvine does an absolutely fantastic job creating an interesting and engrossing mythos surrounding the characters, worlds and species involved in the plot. I find myself wanting to know more about how the magical power (on which the story revolves) of the world(s) works, how each species uses it, how it affects the individuals involved and a host of other questions about the world and it’s workings which are vastly different from our own. The magic itself is not only used in the traditional wizardry way (where individuals can cast spells and the like) but also replaces such things as electricity or steam power used to run machines. To paraphrase Thor, it is magic and technology but also one and the same. The way this force (or field as it is called) is used is the primary focus of the book and sees three species fighting over it whilst also using it. It’s a story of technology and magic and nature and war all at once and it encompasses so many different elements in a way that is unique and engrossing. You also have a number of different species whose histories begin to trickle into the story as you read through. We, of course, follow a selection of human characters who in turn meet a number of characters from the other two species involved in the book and through them we learn more about the opposing army (the Lyrinx) from the void (effectively aliens from space) and the Aachim from another world. In this way not only do we learn about the nature of the world itself but also the histories and sensibilities of a number of unique species to form an expansive and remarkably complex mythos to surround our individual characters. It is this mythos that has made me want to read the next part of the series.

As this is a review I feel I should give Tetrarch a summary and some sort of score. I don’t really want to start giving marks so I’ll simply give you a sort or 5 tier structure of “Pretty bad”, “Not great”, “Fair to middling”, “Quite good” and “Brilliant” to gauge what I thought of it. So here goes, my first book review:

Tetrarch is a book flawed by it’s dependency individual characters and how much you relate to each of them but one that builds on part of an interesting, expansive, deep and remarkably complex mythos that will have you absorbed into a world quite different from our own. Going from a slow beginning which was laborious to get through then gaining pace and becoming more interesting and finishing with an exciting conclusion which has made me want to continue the series on to the next book.

Overall: “Fair to middling”Starts slow, gets better.

A Place at the Comics Rock Conference in Bournemouth

4 04 2012

On June 28th and 29th the The Third International Comics Conference: Comics Rock is being held at Bournemouth University. I submitted an abstract which has been accepted and I am now working on a Pecha Kucha (a presentation methodology in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (approx. 6′ 40″ in total)) for the event. The title of the Pecha Kucha is ” Pages and Screens; Reading changes and interactions – re adapting the double page spread” and falls under the “Comics and multiple media” heading.

The Abstract which I submitted is below so if you are interested please come along and see the presentation.

“Emergent interactive technologies (e.g. tablet computers and smart-phones) and consumer demand for media forms to be available digitally at any time via the internet has lead to a series of transformative changes in the ways in which we read and interact with comics. With these changes come a series of difficulties and challenges in the way comics are displayed on screen. It is these challenges in our reading of, and interaction with, digital comics that this study addresses through a critical evaluation of the required differences in presentation of the printed page and the on-screen display.
A comic printed in the form of the codex book has a different set of constrains to that of the digital screen and in turn the type and size of screen offers a different set of constraints again. The repurposing of comics from paper pages to on-screen “pages” must therefore reflect these changes in constraints by adapting to them; something which currently is only done to a limited degree. Through a study of super hero comics displayed on tablets with the more popular applications I suggest that simply transferring traditional comic book pages onto the screen is not enough and some other changes need to be made so as not to interrupt the reading process. A consumer’s reading process can be interrupted by the presence of interactive elements that require breaking from the flow of the story (rotating the device, zooming in or out, etc.). These elements require adaptation of specific pages to allow them to be viewed in a more immersive manner. The focus of this paper is on the use of double page spreads and how they can be adapted to the screen for an easier and less intrusive presentation of panels and their sequence.”

And here is a link to the Comics Rock event website; so go have a look.

Alas My Mouse – A Multi-linear narrative path

30 01 2012

One of my projects during my masters was the creation of an interactive narrative based on a fairy tale. The fairy tale was chosen at random from a book collecting a number of translated Spanish Fairy tales and is called ‘The Mouse with the Long Tail’. You can see that original story in the images below:


From this story I began to pick out the key plot points which could be used as nodes for my interactive story graph. Nodes are different sections of story that are all linked together. In this case each node ends with a choice for the reader/user which progresses the story along a path specific to that choice. In some stories the nodes and their paths may branch of any number of different times. In some cases this may just be one choice or variation that results in the story ending in a different way. Others (like the story I created) may branch of again and again and again to form what is known as a narrative tree. The original story (above) is a linear story meaning that it has one path through it; this path became the first path in my multi-linear narrative (a multi-linear narrative being a story with several linear paths) and from each node in the story I gave the reader the option to move the story in an alternate direction. Doing this created the narrative tree you can see below. As you can see, I created the tree using post-it notes to represent the nodes of the story and masking tape arrows to show the connections and the direction of the story. The yellow nodes represent the path of the original story whilst the blue and pink nodes represent story elements which I created as alternates springing off of the original path.

Having completed the story graph I then set about creating the story as an interactive piece; this first meant typing up each node and it’s relation to the other nodes in a way that could be understood and put into Flash. I did this with a sort of numbering/lettering system which allowed me to create a kind of transcript of all the story options and paths. This was then translated into the final interactive piece which, whilst not visually evocative, demonstrates the reader experience produced by a story graph of this type. You can view the interactive piece (Which I re-named the story “Alas My Mouse”) by following the link below.

Alas My Mouse – By Jayms C Nichols

Comics Man and Science Guy in A Game of Chess

10 01 2012

Comics Man and Science Guy are a couple of characters I created a little while back as a joke between a friend and I (on whom the two characters are loosely based) Comics Man is me (doing a PhD in Comics) and Science guy is him (doing a PhD in Astrophysics). The original story was a little short thing based on an actual scientific discovery which reminded me of a comic book story. This comic can be found here (and later an updated version will appear on my website proper). To read the comic just mouse over the greyed out areas on each side of the panel to move forward or back along the narrative.

Comic Man and Science Guy Play Chess

I have recently had an idea for a comic which is navigated based on chess moves and as such I decided to use Comics Man and Science Guy as the subject of the story. The idea itself is to navigate a comic which is made up of 64 uniform, square panels in 8 rows of 8 (the number and layout of the squares on a chess board) by using chess moves. The navigation would be operated by clicking on the symbol of a chess piece in the navigation bar of the comic.  For example you might click on a bishop and move diagonally a random number of squares from the panel you are on or on a rook to move in a vertical or horizontal line a random number of squares. Or even a knight to move in a random 3-2 or 2-3 movement. The content of the panels would be similar to the example given above and show the two characters sitting at a chess board playing chess.   Each panel will be differentiated from the others by an element of change; this may be something happening in the back ground or a statement/conversation between the characters. Other ideas I’ve had which i may implement are things like a character leaving the frame to go to the toilet or receiving/answering a txt message. Possibly having other characters come into frame or a cat jumping onto the board.

As I progress through the creation process certain considerations will need to be made in order for the comic to work. These will be addressed as they become apparent but at current I must consider how each panel works independently of the others (due to the multi-linear narrative caused by the navigation method) and also how the comic will end (currently I am considering having “stop” panels which when reached conclude the comic).

I shall add more posts and tests to this blog as I go.