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 www.intellectbooks.co.uk.

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.

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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. http://comics.bujournalism.info/





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.