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.

A review of the 1st International Graphic Novels Conference in Oxford

20 09 2012

I must say that going into this conference I had rather mixed feelings on what it was going to be like. I produced my abstract and submitted it not really expecting to be successful. When I was, and was sent the requirements for the paper and presentation, I became even more dubious about it. Some of the criteria for producing the paper seemed bizarre and the apparent aversion to all things digital was mind-boggling. Given those initial feelings the conference was surprisingly good. The location in Oxford was splendid and whilst the lack of proper tea was a tad disappointing we were well provided for and given a cooked breakfast and lunch each day. The venue itself was perfectly adequate for our needs (it was a good sized room with reasonable acoustics) although the digital projector which was begrudgingly supplied was poor quality. The timetabling of the panels throughout each day was good and left a decent amount of time for the panels themselves and questions afterwards (although there are always more questions than there is time at these events).

It was certainly different to other conferences I have been too in a number of rather obvious ways. Firstly that there was nobody there that wasn’t presenting a paper; if your paper was not accepted into the conference you were not allowed to attend. There was also the outright ban on Powerpoint presentations and a keen disapproval of visual presentations in general which, whilst largely ignored by the participants (some unashamedly using powerpoint, others presenting visual content in other forms of digital presentation), encouraged purely verbal communication and the use of handouts for illustrative images. Printed handouts worked find although it must be said, no better than the projected imagery of a slide show, but when books were handed around they became distractions from the presentations. In some cases these books took longer than 20 minutes to get round the fairly sizable group of people, interrupting the presentations of others that followed the one to which they directly applied.

Fortunately most of the people presenting disregarded the fear of technological faults which preoccupied the organisers and produced informative and visually interesting slideshow presentations which lead to what seemed to me to be a very successful conference. It was this key element that made the conference the success that it was; the presentations and the people involved in presenting themselves. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference lead to a huge variety in the personal backgrounds and content of work presented over the 3 days. Ranging from medicine to law to cultural adaptations to practical methodology to digital concepts the scope was wide and varied and gave a huge amount of insight into comics from a huge range of perspectives. These perspectives and the backgrounds of the contributors allowed for a deep academic discussion that offered discussion and challenges of the work each of us is currently engaged in and allowed for questions birthed from the full range of fields from which the participants came.

As such the conference was successful on a number of levels and seemed to fit together very nicely. I may seems slightly harsh on the organisers when I refer to them as technophobes but to give credit where credit is due the conference was a good experience and was run very well; things that would not have been possible had it not been for the organisers from So thanks to them. Overall though I think what made it a worthwhile and enjoyable experience was all the people that attended the conference and presented their research. A lovely location for a highly enjoyable weekend of education in comics.

You can see photos from the conference here and keep an eye out for the papers when they are published in the e-book (I will post a an update to this blog when that happens).

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.

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.

My PhD: As it is and what I do

9 12 2011

The  field of study for my PhD is based in comics as my MA was and combines interactive theory and panel-sequence reading  to develop understanding of, and practice in, comics and other panel-sequence story in the digital environment. On a basic level the study is about how we read comics on digital media displays and how the practices and process of digital media effects our reading processes and by extension the forms that panel-sequence story can take in the digital environment.

So that’s a really quick statement about what I study. What follows is a sort-of abridged version of my actual PhD that covers it in slightly more detail. So if you think you are interested in learning about comics in the digital environment then read on and (hopefully) enjoy.

The PhD has to start with something, and what better place to start than the title. So here goes:

Reading Acts and Acts of Reading in Digital Comics: A Study of panel-sequence reading processes in an age of interactive display technologies.

The title is pretty self explanatory and, perhaps, tells you what I’m doing better than the little intro to this post. It’s all about reading. Reading comics in the digital environment.

That’s the topic but what of the research itself? The research starts with a research question that sets out the goals and bands of study for the project:

How is/are the processes and acts of reading the panel-sequence story re-worked by the use of interactive display devices rather than printed paper page? – This is the overriding question that governs the direction of research, this is then broken down into 5 parts or research areas (most of which, you will notice, overlap in some way) which are as follows.

i. How has and how can the processes and acts of reading panel-sequence story be understood, described and discussed?  – Generally boils down to the idea “how do we understand panel-sequence story and how do we talk about it?”

ii. How has and how can the processes and acts of interactive media concerned with story be understood, described and discussed? – The same as the above really. Only replacing “panel-sequence story” with the other important element of the research; interactive media.

iii. How can (i) and (ii) be brought together to develop methods and models of understanding, analysis and discussion that address emergent forms of panel sequence story? – This is basically taking the understanding from both of the above areas and combining them to develop an understanding of the newer form on digital panel-sequence story.

iv. How has and how can our understanding of paper based reading inform our understanding and analysis of interactive media based panel-sequence story? – This section is all about the form the panel-sequence story takes. Simplified it asks “how have paper based comics influenced our understanding of screen comic?”

v. How has and how can our understanding of digital display hardware and software technologies, and their history and processes of interaction inform our reading, development analysis and consumption of digital panel-sequence stories? – All about the technology, how we use it and what it means for digital comics. There is a pretty strong focus on how we read and produce digital panel sequence story for tablets and other portable devices here.

So that’s the basics of it. There is a little more to it that that but that about sums up the underlying principles of what I am looking at and doing. More will become clear as I talk about specific areas of research in future posts on this blog.

Blogging 3.2: The Return of the Blog

8 12 2011

It’s been a while but I’ve finally got my act together and sorted out getting this blog back up and running. Quite a lot has happened since last I posted (a year and a half ago almost) so there’s a bit to catch up on.

Firstly, I finished the MA and achieved a Commendation grade so whoop to that one. It’s a shame I didn’t get the final piece totally polished in time for the hand in but what I did do was demonstrate all the understanding and theory I had hoped to alongside the visual style I used for my interactive comic.

Once the MA was done with I moved on to start my PhD and that is what I have been doing over this period of inactivity that the blog has gone through.

The first year or so of the PhD is really all about gathering as much information as you can in your field of study, creating a reading list of all the important works already completed and preparing a full proposal and plan for the course of study you intend to take outlining all the topics and aims of the project. All this information is then collected to form the registration document which must be passed as worthy of PhD research in order to continue. This is the last stage of progression I reached and I’m now continuing with research and writing to create my thesis.

This blog with now be used as a kind of note book for all my research and writing as I progress through the PhD. Enjoy and ask any questions you can think of.