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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

I’m a comics scholar, not a graphic designer, but I’m not the first to notice the overlap. Canadian cartoonist Seth made it explicit: “comics = poetry + graphic design.”

The following info meme is definitely not poetry. It’s also not a work in the comics medium. But it does reveal a lot about visual design and how comics analysis and composition might be useful tools.

So first consider in what order you view the following words and images. Notice how your eyes move around the surface as you glean the information.

If you’re like me, you wandered a bit. I’m not sure what a graphic designer would call that, but in The Comics Form, I term that a variable viewing path. I use Thierry Smolderen’s analysis of a William Hogarth engraving as a primary example: it invites “the reader to a ‘winding walk’ from one detail, one clue, to another,” creating “a slow read, one that invites the eye to lose itself in the details and to return to them.”

The early vote meme is not in the comics medium, but it is in the comics form (because it includes more than one image, including a mailbox, a voter depositing a ballot, pages from a calendar, and a card ID). For works in the comics form or the comics medium, a viewing path is either variable, allowing a range of “winding walks,” or directed, prescribing a single path. Whether called a comic or not, the meme is presenting content that a viewer has to absorb in some order. Scott McCloud calls that “flow,” how “the arrangement of panels on a page or screen, and the arrangement of elements within a panel” guide “readers between and within panels” by “directing the eye through reader expectations and content.”

I think the voter guide has a flow problem.

According to McCloud, such navigating should be “a simple, intuitive process,” one that will “be transparent to the reader” so that “the reading flow can continue uninterrupted.” He therefore warns prospective artists to avoid “inherently confusing arrangements,” because they produce “just enough split-second confusion to yank readers out of the world of the story.” Joseph Witek expresses the same aesthetic preference, because “readers who are trying to figure out the proper way to read the page are readers who are not immersed in the story.”

As far as a general aesthetic principles, I disagree with McCloud’s and Witek’s assumption. I think sometimes an artist has good reason not to privilege effortless flow. But in this case, “the story” is voter information, and the artist (presumably someone working for Virginia’s Democratic Party) distracted me with a variable viewing path that served no purpose.

Tools of comics analysis can help with that, first by mapping the meme’s layout, and then by suggesting a less interruptive arrangement.

If you’re like me, you first tried to find a directed path, and so started in the top left corner where paths typically begin. My eyes started wandering only after the visual structure didn’t move them in any clear direction. Those top left words (“There are two ways to vote early in Virginia”) are clear enough, but the words underneath them (“by mail or in person”) and the image to the right are oddly distant (even though their meanings overlap). Whichever you view first requires an unintuitive leap to view the second.

So for starters, I would move the image to the left:

That image-and-text proximity is better, but it doesn’t get at the overall flow challenges. So consider the units of information in the entire meme. I count seven:

I’m not sure about that second row (is “Same day registration begins Oct. 1” part of the “Important Dates” list?), and though the six questions/answers could be subdivided, together they are the “FAQ” content. Many comics pages have seven or more units too, but in this case my eye is unsure how to move through them:

When you look at the top right image, its proximity to the next cluster of words (“Same day registration begins Oct. 1”) could lead your eye downward. Or you may attempt to maintain a Z-path (left-to-right, top-to-bottom) and move instead to “Important Dates.” Continuing on that path leads you to the registration information — though why is that date not rendered in the image of a calendar like the first four? And since the image conveys the idea of dates visually, why include the redundant subtitle at all?

Moving to what might seem like the next row is more confusing, since the arrow-like tails of the two speech bubbles that contain “FAQ” point downward to the ID image, implying a column path, and yet the actual FAQs are clustered to the right. One references IDs and so its content would send you back to the left, and another references registration and so conceptually would link you back up to the important date a row higher.

Analyzing the meme as a comics page may help. Except for the bottom banner, there are no drawn frames, but the others are implied:

That cluster of six mini-panels could be drawn as a regular grid, but I think the lack of frames creates a less rigid effect. More “split-second confusion” occurs in at least two places: moving from panel 4 to two possible panels 5, and then once in the cluster of six smaller panels, moving from panel 5 to two possible panels 6:

If I ever teach a class on visual design (which I strongly suspect I never will), I might assign students to redesign the voter guide to flow as a “simple, intuitive process.”

Feel free to grade my own attempt:

It contains all of the same information (minus the superfluous “Important Dates” and “FAQ” image) in roughly the same space (though my version turned out a little more square than rectangular). Since the original top words aren’t the title, which instead appears at the very bottom (“2022 Early Vote Guide”), I moved that too.

Here’s how I think the flow works:

Instead of a Z-path, it begins as an N-path, but then after the first column on the left, the second column merges Z- and N- viewing — though hopefully the back-and-forth produces no split-second confusions but an intuitive sense of intended variability.

Or at least that’s what my comics-immersed brain perceives. If I ever get tired of writing comics theory, maybe I can volunteer to design voter memes for the VaDems.

Meanwhile, have you voted yet?

Early voting started in Virginia last Friday, but neither of our Senators, Warner or Kaine, are facing the end of a term.

Of the 100 seats in the Senate, 35 of them are up for election this cycle.

Of those 35, 21 are currently held by Republicans and 14 by Democrats.

Despite that seemingly Democratic advantage, Republicans and Democrats have about the same number of competitive seats. According to the latest Cook Political Report ratings, Republicans are defending three seats in the “lean R” category, one in the “toss-ups,” and one in the “lean D”, while Democrats are defending three “lean D” and two “toss-ups.”

So if you look only at toss-ups, Republicans would seem to have a two-to-one advantage. But since Democrats have to win only one of those three, the advantage is reversed (because Vice-President Harris is the tie-breaker if the Senate splits equally, as it is right now).

The three toss-ups are: Nevada, Georgia, and Wisconsin. Until last week, Cook considered Arizona one too, but they changed its status to “Lean D” last week. According to 270toWin, there’s also a fifth: Pennsylvania.

And some consider Ohio, North Carolina, and New Hampshire to be in play too. (Occasionally, even Florida and Colorado are mentioned, but that seems a bit far-fetched to me.)

Of those 8 races, to win control of the Senate, Republicans need to win 5.

To keep control of the Senate, Democrats need to win 4.

Looking at the polls, odds look good for Democrats. According to the conglomerate averages at FiveThirtyEight on September 21:

  • in Pennsylvania, Fetterman is up by 9.5 points.
  • in Arizona, Kelly is up by 8.7 points.
  • in New Hampshire, Hassan is up by 6.6 points.
  • in Nevada, Cortez Masto is up by 2.9 points.
  • in Georgia, Warnock is up 2.1 points.
  • in Wisconsin, Barnes is even.
  • in Ohio, Ryan is down by .2 points.
  • in North Carolina, Beasley is down by .3 points.

Using to the Cook spreadsheet, the polls predict these winners:

So if the election had been held on September 21, the Senate would have gone either 51/49 or 52/48, with Democrats gaining one or two seats (definitely Pennsylvania and possibly Wisconsin). Though given the closeness of North Carolina and Ohio (both are essentially even with differences of only .2 and .3), either of those could have tipped Democratic too, for as much as an unlikely but possible 54/46 majority:

But are the polls right?

I keep reading anxiety-driven articles (“Are the Polls Wrong Again?” “Will the Polls Overestimate Democrats Again?” “Pollsters fear they’re blowing it again in 2022“) insisting that there is no Democratic polling bias—just the relentless fear of one.

Is there a way to counter that fear?

According to Politico’s Stephen Clermont: “When voters dislike both parties, they will vote Republican unless Democrats compel them otherwise.” So he recommends looking not at the polling difference between candidates, but at just the Democrat. Based on the 18 Senate and presidential races from 2014-2020, if the Democrat polled:

  • 49% or higher, the Democrat won.
  • 48%, the Democrat won almost two out of three (63%).
  • 45-47%, the Democrat won about one out of five (19%).
  • 44% or lower, the Democrat never won.

I see at least two problems with this approach. First, merging three percentages (45, 46, 47) allows for a lot of wiggle room for one of the most critical questions (when are the odds 50/50?), and, second, are 18 races really enough of a data set to draw meaningful conclusions? Also, I’m not sure Clermont’s claim (“When voters dislike both parties, they will vote Republican unless Democrats compel them otherwise”) is true generally, and “dislike” may not capture attitudes toward some of this year’s MAGA extremists. As McConnell said, the GOP is suffering from “candidate quality.”

Still, this seems like a useful exercise. According to the conglomerate polling averages at FiveThirtyEight on September 21:

  • in Pennsylvania, Fetterman: 50.9%
  • in New Hampshire, Hassan: 49%
  • in Arizona, Kelly: 48.8%
  • in Georgia, Warnock: 47.9%
  • in Wisconsin, Barnes 47.6%
  • in North Carolina, Beasley: 45%
  • in Ohio, Ryan: 44.5%
  • in Nevada, Cortez Masto: 44.2%

The top two are clear Democratic winners, and since 48.8% is pretty close to 49%, I’d call that three. Democrats need just one more. Since both 47.9% and 47.6% round up to 48%, both should have close to two-to-one odds, with either one likely to produce the Democrats’ necessary fourth win. If they do win both, that tilts the Senate 51/49, with the remaining three seats likely going Republican.

Back on the Cook spreadsheet:

And that’s the most pessimistic prediction. Even though Cortez Masto’s 44.2% is at the bottom of the list, she’s leading in polls by about 3 points, and FiveThirtyEight gives her 54% odds of winning, the same as Warnock who, according to Clermont, should win.

According to FiveThirtyEight predictions, Democrats should gain one seat for a 51/49 majority:

Though 54% odds on either of the two tightest races are only slightly better than a coin toss, for Republicans to take control of the Senate, they need to with BOTH coin tosses. That’s possible, but not likely.

And, again, that’s not according to the polls. If you look at just those numbers (now updated as of Sunday September 25th), the Democrats would win four additional seats for a 54/46 majority:

That’s the kind of too-good-to-be-true prediction that has Democrats so paradoxically terrified that all positive predictions must be false. Since two of those predictions are close to even odds (51 and 53), and two are only slightly better (55 and 56), I wouldn’t assume anything about those outcomes. But even if Democrats lost all four, they would still keep control of the evenly divided Senate (because of Warnock, who is predicted to win with two-to-one odds).

Last January, I wrote this blog entry: “Which Party Will Win the Senate in November 2022?

Because Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia all lean Republican, the key question then was:

“Can Democratic Senators Kelly, Warnock, and Cortez Mastro hold their seats in unfavorable territory? If any two lose, the Republicans control the Senate. If only one of those Democratic senators loses, control of the senate then hinges on Pennsylvania. Because Pennsylvania’s Republican senator is retiring, the seat is wide open, with over a dozen candidates competing in both party primaries. Personally, I’m betting the current lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, wins both the Democratic primary and the general election.”

Nine months later, Kelly and Fetterman both look like safe bets. And while Warnock and Cortez Mastro remain unknowns, they are joined by Wisconsin’s Republican incumbent Johnson.

Republicans have to win all three tossups, plus two additional battleground states, Ohio and North Carolina, in order to win the Senate.

Democrats have to win only one of those five.

As I said last January: “The answer is of course unknowable. It will probably remain unknowable right up to the election. All we can know right now are the factors that will shape the outcome.”

While that remains true, the factors look very good for Democrats.

I recently came across an online publication that embodies a range of comics qualities while also challenging formal assumptions about comics. That is exactly the sort of thought puzzle that comics theory is built for.

So, first question, is this set of images in the comics form?

In terms of layout, it’s a regular 3×3 grid with uniform pairs of horizontal and vertical gutters.

In terms of image content, it’s nine photographs featuring one or two individuals, none repeating.

The lack of recurring elements likely means the nine images don’t produce a viewing order. Your eye moves through the set in any direction. Technically that means they’re not sequenced and so not in the comics form if the comics form is defined as sequenced images–though I’ve found that in comics scholarship “sequenced” is sometimes used to mean simply juxtaposed, so there may be wiggle room (I split those hairs in Chapter 6 of The Comics Form).

So tentatively I would say, yes, the grid of nine photos is in the comics form. It is not, however, in the comics medium, which is defined by publishing context. The grid is the background for an article in the New York Times.

If the article (Maya Salam’s “The Faces That Look Back at Us When We Come Out, Again and Again“) were in the comics medium, I’d call that a splash page. It’s not, so I won’t. But I think comics theory still offers the best set of tools for analyzing the online article’s structure.

First, note that the arrangement (including the bottom portions of the lower images and the span of the middle words) varies based on the individual screen it appears on. Also, the whole grid is never fully shown (I had to cut and paste the version at the top of the page). That’s because the visual conceit is that a series of opaque white rectangular panels inscribed with words (AKA, “caption boxes”) obscure parts of the middle column as if the caption boxes were on a separate plane three-dimensionally “in front of” the photos. The caption boxes appear to move up as a viewer clicks the down arrow key:

Of course the caption boxes don’t actually “move,” and the photographs are never actually “under” them. The illusion of depth is common in works in the comics medium that are printed on paper. It’s as if panels sit on the surface of the page, sometimes partially overlapping. Of course there is nothing “under” anything else. It’s all just ink on paper. For the Times article, it’s all just pixels. But both create the illusion of a formal structure, which is why I call it “pseudo-form” when analyzing the effect in The Comics Form.

The illusion of movement adds a wrinkle. It’s not exactly animation. Or at least not what we might call passive animation. The viewer controls the movement: you have to click the arrow key or nothing happens. That seems akin to turning the physical page of a paper comic. Roy Cook considers that element of control to be an essential for something to be a comic: “The audience is able to control the pace at which they look at each of the parts.”

My definition of the comics form is simply “sequenced images,” though, based on the history of how comics scholars have used the word “image,” I derived the further stipulation that a comics image is “any flat, static, visual image juxtaposed with another.” The adjective “static” may exclude the Times article from the comics form. Unless a viewer’s control of pace means each image is static — until a viewer does something (turns a page, clicks a key). To that degree, the illusion of words moving up the middle column may be little different from the pages of an actual paper comic turning in a viewer’s hands.

But that’s not the weird thing about the article’s structure.

The last click of the arrow key triggers an animated sequence in which the still images seem to rearrange themselves into a new set.

The new arrangement changes the grid to six rectangles, one four times larger because it combines the previous space of four. That’s common in the comics medium. Watchmen does something like that on nearly every page:

But now the larger image isn’t static (in any sense). It’s a streaming film clip:

That means the new layout juxtaposes four still images, one caption box, and one moving image. Is the combination in the comics form? If all of the images were moving, I would say definitely not. Split screens are fairly common in film and TV. The first one I ever saw was in the 1979 film More American Graffiti, but the techniques is probably better known from the TV show 24. Neither is in the comics form.

But here more than half of the combined image is not moving and so would be in the comics form. Does juxtaposing them with a moving image take them out of the form?

I’m not sure.

But while I’m contemplating that complexity, the movement of the viewer-controlled caption boxes is still keyed to arrow clicks:

And the independently animated clip keeps playing in the background and even repeats if you don’t advance the words. After two single, full-layout images, the grid scrambles again, creating a new arrangement, which the words continue to advance over, one click at a time, until triggering another new arrangement:

I won’t toggle through the whole article (which you should read anyway, for its content, not my analysis of its form), but those are the essential features. It’s clearly a hybrid structure, one that can exist only online. If you want to dismiss it as “not a comic,” first consider this next sequence:

Unlike the thematically linked set of nine non-sequenced images that opens the article, these three stills are sequenced narratively and even follow the N-path of a conventional comics layout:

Even if the larger article is something else, those three images are in the comics form. The next image relationship (which occurs after the arrow key triggers another new arrangement) is instead simultaneous.

Even a viewer not familiar with characters from The Office could understand the two faces in the bottom left image to be reacting to the content of the larger image to its right. Because it is larger, a viewer likely apprehends the near kiss first, before noticing the smaller reaction image to its left — breaking a standard z-path order arrangement. And the unrelated cartoon image at the top left (yes, that’s from BoJack Horseman) might be scanned last, even though top left is the standard starting point for a work in the comics medium.

I don’t know what to call the article’s form, but I’m already contemplating adding a chapter to future editions of The Comics Form.

One of my favorite things about Scott McCloud’s 1993 Understanding Comics is how often it’s wrong. That sounds like a left-handed compliment, or probably just an insult, but I mean it sincerely. McCloud’s pioneering mistakes made so much possible. They remind me of early maps, how wonderfully wrong they appear in retrospect, in part because they provided a baseline for the next cartographer to correct. Correcting is easy. Terror is the blank page, the “here be dragons” at the shifting margins. McCloud slew a lot of those dragons.

As I started writing The Comics Form I was in debt to other early cartographers too. I remember when Joseph Witek published his first book, Comic Books as History: The Narrative of Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar, in 1989. I was a year out of college and had never imagined a work of academic scholarship could focus on comics.

Pulling my thirty-something-old copy from my shelf now, I’m not finding an author’s bio, but I suspect that Witek (who, I’ve since learned, goes by Rusty) can’t be all that much older than me. I wrote him a letter back then. A small group of my recently graduated friends and I wanted to start a hybrid literary journal, and I asked if he would be willing to submit something. He didn’t respond, which was both appropriate and just as well. (I really I hope that letter no longer exists.)

I didn’t come across the name Witek again for two decades. I had just entered the field of comics studies and was using Smith and Duncan’s then-new Critical Approaches to Comics. (I’ve since gotten to know Matt Smith, who lives about an hour and a half down Rt. 81.) My favorite chapter remains Witek’s “Comics Modes: Caricature and Illustration in the Crumb Family’s Dirty Laundry.” (I just placed it on my first-year writing seminar syllabus again this semester.) It provides what I’ve found to be one of the most useful tools for the analysis of visual style:

  • Cartoon Mode: “In gen­eral, stories in the cartoon mode often as­sume a funda­mentally unstable and infinitely mutable phys­ical reality, where characters and even objects can move and be transformed according to an associative or emotive logic rather than the laws of physics. Bodies can change suddenly and temporarily in shape and proportion to depict emotional states or nar­rat­ive circumstances, as when the body of an outraged character swells to many times its normal size, or appears to levitate several feet off the ground in a cloud of dust.”
  • Naturalistic Mode: “In its fully de­veloped form, the nat­uralistic mode is often called “realism.” In this mode, the rendering of figures and objects adheres to (or at least points toward) the artistic conventions for creating the illusion of phys­ical forms existing in three-­ dimensional space. A signific­ant effort is made to create that plaus­ible phys­ical world using shading, consistent lighting sources, texture, and linear per­spect­ive. Backgrounds are rendered in detail, espe­cially in estab­lishing shots, and that background tends to be depicted rel­at­ively fully from panel to panel.”

Witek includes two drawings of Bob Hope to illustrate the difference.

And here’s where my own cartographic corrections begin.

Why are there only two modes? The two Bob Hopes drawings differ because the first consists of more exaggerated lines, but aren’t the number of lines in each roughly the same? Witek identifies simplification and exaggeration as the cartoon mode’s primary qualities, which means that not only should the naturalistic mode be unsimplified and unexaggerated, but there should be two partial categories too.

So I found more drawings of Bob Hope:

The top right image by Al Hirschfeld is clearly in Witek’s cartoon mode, and the bottom left is clearly in his naturalistic mode (despite being drawn by Norman Rockwell). The bottom right image is made of roughly the same number of lines as Hirschfeld’s, but is less exaggerated, while the top left is very exaggerated but also detailed in a way that contradicts Witek’s cartoon mode.

I address that in The Comics Mode:

“Instead of Witek’s two modes, the combinations of simplification and exaggeration produce four. Cartoons remain clearly opposed to the detailed, optically accurate style of naturalism, but two additional modes emerge from the crisscrossing spectrums. Some caricatures are exaggerated but not simplified. This combination has no term, but it may be referred to descriptively as ‘detailed exaggeration.’ Images that are simplified but not exaggerated are similarly unnamed. Where detailed caricatures often align with cartoons, viewers may regard unexaggerated simplifications as a form of naturalism. Graphic novelist gg works in this mode, and reviewers for The Globe and Mail and Sequential State describe her 2017 I’m Not Here as “photorealist” and “photorealistic” (Rogers, Hoffman).  The claim is peculiar considering that gg’s images are composed of opaque shapes lacking any interior detail. They are highly simplified, but their contours appear realistic, suggesting photographic source material. This mode also has no name, but may be referred to descriptively as ‘unexaggerated simplification.’”

Instead of dissecting Bob Hope, I dissect my own head for an illustration:

In addition to offering an expansion of Witek’s analysis, The Comics Form also corrects my own 2017 Superhero Comics. In the chapter “The Visual Superhero,” I created two spectrums, simplified-detailed and exaggerated-unexaggerated, and subdivided each into a five-point scale, and then combined them to create a chart consisting of twenty-five distinct styles.

It’s not that the resulting “Abstract Grid” is necessarily wrong (though I suspect some of its claims are overstated), it’s more that it just isn’t necessary. The implications of identifying just four modes opens up a range of further questions, some of which I address in The Comics Mode, and some I leave open. But they’re all possible because of my debt to Joseph (Rusty?) Witek.

Last month I posted an analysis of political cartoons and their relationship to the comics form. I figured that would be a one-off, but the exercise apparently sharpened my eye because now I can’t glance at the Politico cartoon page without brainstorming impromptu lectures.

Cartoons may be especially apt material because they are designed to communicate messages instantly and so with zero analysis (because if you have to analyze whether a joke is funny, it’s not). That also means analyzing them can be pleasantly perverse, revealing the unexpected formal complexities under a deceptively simple surface.

So first, a quick recap: political cartoons are in the comics medium (because that’s defined just by publishing context), but they’re only in the comics form (AKA, sequenced images) if each includes more than one image (which I’m finding happens more often than I’d expected).

In the comics medium, the presence of two (or more) panels creates the learned expectation that the panels are sequenced in time, and that the content in a panel on the right will happen chronologically after the content in a panel on the left.

Multi-image political cartoons obey that rule:

Except when they don’t:

In the above example, the two images instead are understood to happen simultaneously. That’s possible in part because technically there are three images. The centered talk balloon is drawn as though it’s three-dimensionally “on top of” of the two panels as well as the gutter between them. Comics theory tends to consider talk balloons (and thought bubbles and caption boxes) as parts of panel content, but I think this shows pretty clearly that they exist as though on a separate plane. So it’s not that the talk balloon breaks the panel frames. Talk balloons are never bound by other frames because they are their own kind of frame, one that frames a specific kind of image: words.

Dividing talk balloons from other image content reveals that their are two kinds of representations or story-worlds (AKA, diegeses) occurring simultaneously. There’s the subject matter of the image content, and then there’s the arrangement of that content (through things like panel framing, spacing, sizing, etc.). The secondary diegesis is usually called layout, but I think it’s useful to recognize it as its own kind of representational object too (and so not “form,” which is why I call it “pseudo-form” when I discuss it in The Comics Form).

This parody of Biden (drawn before his recent legislative successes and 5-point rise in the polls) is of course a riff on Warhol-style “pop art.” I often show my student one of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn silkscreens and ask if it’s a comic (which is a trick question because it’s in the comics form but not the comics medium). The question tends to reveal the above expectation (that image content moves chronologically forward in time in a left-to-right, top-to-bottom “reading” pattern) which Warhol violates, but also the expectation that the image progression will tell some kind of “story” (which opens a whole other Campbell’s soup can of worms).

Again, I think it helps to divide the primary diegesis from the secondary diegesis. Though the rendered images of Biden and Monroe change, those changes don’t reflect changes happening in the story world (where Biden and Monroe are not changing colors and other qualities). They are happening in the world of the rendered image, which for Marilyn is the surface of the actual silkscreen. More weirdly for Biden, it is some imaginary world where Warhol created a multi-image painting of Biden, and the cartoon is a reproduction of that non-existent object, presumably hanging on a wall somewhere.

That two-level diegetic analysis also helps to explain the visual play in my favorite political cartoon this month:

Here the primary and secondary diegeses merge. The image is simultaneously a reproduction of a partially redacted FBI affidavit regarding the search of Trump’s residence, and a cartoon representation of Trump himself. The affidavit is highly realistic (it’s taken from and so looks exactly like a page of the FBI document), but the Trump figure is intentionally unrealistic, creating two literally overlapping kinds of images.

Yet the images more than just overlap because the black horizontal lines are simultaneously parts of both, with vacillating meanings depending on how they are perceived in relation to the other image parts. They are redaction lines when viewed as part of the FBI document, and they are stripes in Trump’s prison uniform (and/or a kind of prison bars) when viewed as part of the Trump figure. They are simultaneously both, toggling back and forth according to viewer perception.

My runner-up favorite also creates the illusion of a paper document:

Here the image consists (almost) entirely of words, but their meaning is altered by how they are rendered. I discuss this sort of image-text relationship in The Comics Form and briefly in a recent post. By taking Sen. Lindsay Graham’s exact words (spoken aloud on Fox News about the possibility of Trump facing prosecution) and rendering them in the style of a ransom note (individual letters cut-out from magazines and glued to Senate stationery), the cartoonist gives them a new meaning that critiques Graham by implicitly comparing him to a kidnapper making violent threats.

But sometimes simple really is pretty simple.

My last political cartoons are less about Democrats vs. GOP than about Marvel vs. DC. Two allusions to Marvel’s Incredible Hulk cropped up, the first praising Biden, the second lampooning Florida’s Gov. DeSantis:

But DC ties with two allusions to Superman.

Placed in sequence, those last two create a kind of authorially unintended story (Super-Biden explodes from his grave and fights threats). The two cartoonists were working independently of each other, but because they both happened to draw Biden as Superman, and because I placed the grave scene first and viewers have a learned expectation that the content of later images occur chronologically after the content of earlier images, the perception of a story happens whether intended or not. (That’s another difference between the comics form and the comics medium.)

We’ll see what the cartooning universe offers next month.

In his 2011 “Black & White to Color and Back: What Does It Mean (not) to Use Color?” Jan Baetens observes: “a global theory of color in the comics field is still missing” (111), resulting in “color-blind” scholarship where “color is either neglected or seen as a less essential feature” (112).

Patrick Johnston in his 2016 dissertation, Working with Comics: Labour, Neoliberalism and Alternative Cartooning, observers similarly that comics studies “currently offers little in the way of analysis of comics’ use of colour” (113), but that “a full integration of colour is necessary” to understand “the specific nature of individual comics” (153).

When Leigh Ann Beavers and I published Creating Comics in 2021, we left out all discussion of color and included only black and white images in the anthology section. That was mainly for practical reasons: color is more expensive (a point Johnston explores in depth about the comics medium). I just published The Comics Form, and though my analysis of transparent and non-transparent images applies to color, I don’t discuss color directly.

I’m in the early stages of a new book now, The Color of Paper: Representing Race in the Comics Medium, and so I’m starting to address Baeten’s “color-blindness.”

Working toward the integration of color into comics theory, Johnston asserts that black and white images are inherently more “abstract,” meaning they convey less verisimilitude than do color images. For corroboration, Johnston cites Lindsay Smith who describes black and white photography as an “incomplete, or intermediate stage of representation which can but suggest mimesis even with its glaring lack of coloration” (149). Also citing Scott McCloud’s claim that “colour will always look more ‘real’” (141), Johnson concludes that “Black and white comics are, of course, an abstraction” too (142).

Smith, however, is analyzing photography, where the level of verisimilitude-producing detail is the highest possible, including for color. A black and white photograph is more “abstract” in contrast to a color photograph because its lack of color is the most non-realistic quality of either image.

The same is not necessarily true of drawings. A color drawing and a black and white drawing may share a range of non-realistic qualities, many much more “abstract” than lack of color. If the black and white image is rendered in a photorealistic style and the color image is a cartoon, viewers will likely perceive the black and white image as significantly more “real.” Color is not determining.

Bill Sienkiewicz’s and Steve Ditko’s renderings of Kingpin are a clear example:

The challenge stems partly from the ambiguity of the term “color,” which encompasses a range of techniques and, more importantly, effects, some significantly more verisimilitude-producing than others. If a black and white photograph were colorized with discrete shapes of solid colors within the limited palette range of the four-color separation process that dominated twentieth-century comics, the effect may instead be an increase in abstraction due to the non-realistic colors contrasting with the other realistic details. Andy Warhol spent much of his career exploring that contrast. His Marilyn, Prince, and other photo-based series feature blocks of vibrantly incongruent colors added to black and white images for non-realistic effects.

At minimum, McCloud’s claim that “color comics will always seem more real” needs to be divided into kinds of “color comics” (192). While it’s obviously true that we “live in a world of color, not just black and white,” it is also true that we do not live in a world of “flat-color,” where “bright, primary colors” are “held by bold, simple outlines” (189, 187). Baetens describes the “‘clear line’ aesthetics” of many bandes dessinées similarly, noting that “color never blurs the black contour line, which remains always perfectly visible” and “is always monochromatic inside the surface delineated by a contour line” (2011: 117). Baetens, however, does not assess the relative verisimilitude of color hues in relation to their resemblance to the hues of the subjects they represent. What Baetens describes as “monochromatic” and McCloud as “flat” applies not to hues but to how hues are applied, or what we might term the color units.

Though acetate color printing is a mechanical form of pointillism, because variously colored dots are identically spaced in combination with the surface color of the paper to a create a single uniform color within each discrete area, those areas rather than the internal dots within them are experienced as the units of color composition. When a comic originally printed with acetate color is reprinted with digital color, those some areas are uniformly colored without the pointillistic combination of the original dot process.

When Milestone Comics produced its first comics in 1993, color artist Noelle Giddings used colored pencils and watercolors, and so the color units were pencil marks and brush strokes. Though the units combined for unified effects, the colored areas within black contour lines contained gradations independent of the area-delineating black lines.

Milestone’s printing process produced more realistic effects compared to traditional acetate printing because, to paraphrase McCloud, we live in a world of gradations, not just monochromes.

If a color image has small units of gradations, its overall effect may be realistic—provided its hues are also realistic. If a color image features small units of gradations, its overall effect may be realistic—provided its hues are also realistic. Terminology is problematic. The adjective “realistic” (like its synonyms “verisimiltudonous,” “mimetic,” “literal,” “transparent,” or its antonyms “abstract,” stylized,” “impressionistic”) describes a representational image’s resemblance to what it represents without indicating the basis of the assessment. Rather than providing evidence for a claim of realism, stating that an image is realistic because it has realistic qualities (such as realistic color) is a circular restatement. Though the terms are not more precise, for consistency I suggest “naturalistic” and “non-naturalistic” for assessing the qualities of representational color.

Color needs to be assessed along at least two spectrums. One spectrum refers to hues; the other to the amount of differentiated detail. Combining spectrums creates four combinations, ranging from most realistic (naturalistic hues in small gradating units) to least (non-naturalistic hues in large monochromatic units), with two opposite mid-points (non-naturalistic hues in small gradating units, and naturalistic hues in large monochromatic units).

The four can be represented by a 2×2 grid:

And that grid can be filled-in with examples from outside the comics medium:

The bottom left combination describes color photography, such as Lynn Goldsmith’s 1981 photograph of Prince).

The top right describes many works by Andy Warhol, such as his 1984 Orange Prince, in which the background and the singer’s face are uniformly colored an inhuman shade of orange. (I wrote about this series last year here, and the Supreme Court will be hearing an appeal this fall to determine whether Warhol infringed on Goldsmith’s copyright.)

The top left describes works in the comics medium that feature acetate color separation. Warhol’s 1962 Orange Marilyn is another example. Unlike Orange Prince, the Marilyn silkscreen has only an orange background, but the interior of the face is uniformly colored a light pink that roughly suggests the color of the actress’s actual face, and the area of the hair is uniformly covered gold that roughly suggests blonde hair. The hues fall on the naturalistic side of the spectrum, but their monochromatic application falls on the non-naturalistic side.

The bottom right combination of non-naturalistic hues applied in naturalistic gradations is less common in art, but is commonly achieved by photoshopping photographs. Since grays are colors, black and white photographs belong in this category too, including the one taken by Eugene Korman for the 1953 film Niagara that Warhol used for his Marilyn series.

Since these are spectrums and not binaries, many images fall between poles.

Shepard Fairey’s 2008 HOPE digitally adapts a photograph of Barack Obama (taken by Mannie Garcia for the Associated Press who later sued for copyright infringement before settling out of court). Fairey explains his use of non-naturalistic hues: “I wanted it to be a portrait that was political in nature and that would de-racialize Mr. Obama by using a red, white, and blue colour palette that was patriotic.” Fairey also reduced the photography’s facial gradations to four monochrome areas (red, blue, beige, and beige/blue) plus black contour lines and shapes outlining and punctuating the interior area. Traditional comics acetate coloring, like Warhol’s Orange Marilyn and Orange Prince, often feature only one interior skin color.

HOPE, while clearly using non-naturalistic hues, may fall between naturalistic and non-naturalistic units:

If naturalistic hues are all that matter when assessing color, then viewers would describe Orange Marilyn as more realistic than HOPE. If they instead describe the image of Obama as more realistic than the image of Monroe, then perceptions of realism must rely more heavily on naturalistic units than on naturalistic hues.

You tell me:

Or perhaps the contrasting hues and units cancel each other out to produce similar levels of overall realism?

Beetle Bailey artist Mort Walker coined “emanata,” presumably from the verb “emanate,” in his 1980 The Lexicon of Comicana. They are usually lines radiating from and so directing attention to an implied focal point. Cartoonists often draw emanata around a character’s face to “show emotion” and “reveal internal conditions” such as embarrassment or drunkenness, while emanata around nonhuman objects can suggest physical states including heat, odor, brightness, and “that something is spanking new” (Walker 1980: 28–9).

Since halos in religious iconography are a form of emanata, the practice dates to at least the Roman Empire with a circle and radiating spokes depicted behind Apollo’s head found in a second century floor tile:

Similar sunburst halos appear in Christian art, though later painters replaced flat opaque circles with three-dimensional rings floating above heads, as in Caravaggio’s 1605 Saint Jerome in Meditation:

Or with circular bursts of light emanating from behind heads, as in Francesco Podesti’s 1864 Apparition of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque:

For his 1851 painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze isolates Washington’s head against the brightening horizon for a radiant emanata effect that would not occur from other

Photographer Al Drago’s portrait of Donald Trump for the New York Times December 14, 2019 editorial “Impeach” arranges the president’s profile at the center of the presidential seal on the wall behind him, creating a circular halo intensified by the extreme blurriness of Trump’s head:

I briefly mention the above examples in The Comics Form, but because Bloomsbury could only allow me so many illustrations (I negotiated for higher than standard number, and then arranged multiple images within each numbered illustration to maximize visual examples), I’m providing them here for the first time. I’d also like to explore their representational norms further too.

Emanata aren’t part of the comics form (AKA, sequenced images) but they are a widely common convention of the comics medium. Halos are an even more widely common convention in single-image religious art. Emanata generally and halos specifically pose a question about representational transparency: is the visual element visible to characters in the depicted world?

Emanata in the comics medium tend to be invisible to characters, an odd paradox since each are composed of similar two-dimensional marks. Though Steve Ditko draws Spider-Man’s “spider senses” tingling, no one in the story world, including Spider-Man, can see the halo of emanata lines:

It’s less clear to me whether Apollo’s halo of emanata lines is diegetically transparent too, because it’s unclear whether the image overall is transparent. Do viewers understand not just the halo but all of the visual elements non-transparently, meaning non-literally, since any depiction of the god may be interpretive?

Drawing something that is non-physical as though it has physical qualities is of course paradoxical. But the rules for those paradoxes are themselves paradoxical. Herrad of Landsberg’s 1180 Hortus deliciarum includes an illustration of two haloed angels:

William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 1899 Madonna with Child includes two halos too:

Though both pairs of halos denote the same thing, holiness, they operate as if by a different set of physics in each depicted world. Herrad treats them as three-dimensional objects, placing the angels’ spears either behind or in front of them, depending on the physical action. Bouguereau’s halos suggest different physical properties, appearing only in the background and so not obscuring foregrounded subjects (such as the Madonna). And yet the halos still have a physical relationship relative to each other, with the Child’s halo obscuring the Madonna’s halo, duplicating the figures’ physical positions but in some other quasi-physical plane.

Herrad and Bouguereau are divided by about seven centuries, so an evolution in representational norms is hardly surprising. It’s stranger to see competing norms within the same image.

The figure on the left has a three-dimensional halo, one that changes shape according to the perspective of the implied viewer. It follows the same rules of physics as a dinner plate attached to the back of the head. The figure on the right instead has a two-dimensional halo, one that appears to be embedded into the surface of the background rather then existing as an object in the represented world. If the figure turned his head, there’s no sense that the halo would rotate with it. That’s because the halo doesn’t promote the illusion of existing in the spatiotemporal moment as the other visual elements. If the figure continued moving to his left, the artist would have to create a new image with a new halo. That of course is true of the first figure too, but by depicting the first halo as if it were three-dimensional, the artist encourages viewers to imagine it behaving like other objects in the depicted scene.

Since both halos are non-transparent (no one in the scene can see either of them), the dinner-plate halo is more paradoxical because it is rendered in the style of diegetically visible objects. It’s striking that both exist on the same canvas–the ceiling of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice:

My family and I visited earlier this summer (before I took an evening ferry to an adjacent island for the Invisible Lines comics convention). Construction of the church began around 1063, and the oldest mosaics are almost as old. Many were repaired after a fire in 1439, and many restored multiple times before and afterwards, so apparently only about a third of the mosaics resemble the original art.

Are the juxtaposed halo emanata a result of juxtaposed time periods? Or did the original mosaicist use both styles? I have no idea. But either answer is intriguing.

The introduction of The Comics Form separates two often and easily conflated kinds of comics: things that are called “comics” because they are in the comics form and things that are called “comics” because they are in the comics medium. I try to give each a pretty straightforward definition:

  • Works in the comics form are sequenced images.
  • Works in the comics medium are works published and identified as a comic by an entity that identifies as a comics publisher.

I realize “entity” is an odd term, but it covers the range of possibilities: mainstream comic book publishers, literary journals that publish comics (like Shenandoah where I’m comics editor), mini-comics made on photocopiers, etc. (I ignore a fairly obvious technicality though: not everything published by a comics publisher is a comic. But since my focus is on the comics form, not the comics medium, I decided not to go down that and related rabbit holes.)

Dividing form and medium produces three subcategories:

  • Works in the comics form but not the comics medium, which include all sequenced images not traditionally identified as comics.
  • Works in the comics medium but not the comics form, which include single-image cartoons.
  • Works in both, which include the vast majority of works in the comics medium.

Single-image cartoons have been the most overt stumbling block for producing a general definition of comics because they aren’t in the form but they are still routinely called “comics.” They’re also called “cartoons,” but that’s (primarily) a description of their style: simplified and exaggerated.

It doesn’t help that some “cartoons” are also sequenced images:

That’s by Politico‘s Mark Wuerker, who also edits the online magazine’s weekly selection of political cartoons. Since it’s divided into four sequenced images, it’s in the comics form. I would also say it’s in the comics medium, though the claim reveals a shortcoming of my above definition. Politico‘s “Cartoon Carousel” begins:

“Every week political cartoonists throughout the country and across the political spectrum apply their ink-stained skills to capture the foibles, memes, hypocrisies and other head-slapping events in the world of politics. The fruits of these labors are hundreds of cartoons that entertain and enrage readers of all political stripes. Here’s an offering of the best of this week’s crop, picked fresh off the Toonosphere.”

Wuerker’s description doesn’t mention the word “comics,” making Politico a cartoon publisher but not necessarily a comics publisher. Since Politico only publishes political content (the vast majority not cartoons), its cartoons are more specifically political cartoons, a kind of art that traditionally appears in newspaper editorial sections but not newspaper comics sections (AKA, “the funnies”).

But whether technically in the comics medium, Wuerker’s four-panel political cartoon is in the comics form. So is the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s Mike Luckovich’s:

Or at least it’s in the comics form if you view it as consisting of more than one image. If you understand it instead as a single image of an elephant standing in front of two diegetically juxtaposed images–like a lecturing curator standing in front of two paintings in an art gallery–then it’s not in the comics form because it’s a single image.

I perceived it as three images because the two background panels are framed in a way that suggest a traditional comics layout, making the middle strip a gutter rather than, say, the white wall the images are hanging on. The rectangular panels are juxtaposed two-dimensionally, while the elephant (which of course is also juxtaposed two-dimensional since the entire cartoon is two-dimensional) appears to be juxtaposed three-dimensionally. Since there’s no diegetic space implied (Luckovich could have drawn the panel content instead as images on two TV screens, for example), I would call this an example of layout as a “secondary diegesis.” While all layouts are secondary diegeses, Luckovich makes that explicit by drawing the elephant as if “in front of” the two panels.

Brian Stelfreeze creates a similar effect in Black Panther #1 (June 2016):

I analyze that page at length in The Comics Form, but I think you can see the essential similarities, especially how the three background images are diegetically separate from the foreground, representing four scenes simultaneously.

Here’s another complication: single-image cartoons and sequenced images that are also in the comics medium often use many of the same conventions. Speech balloons, for example. Here’s Bill Bramhall from the New York Daily News:

There’s no sense Bramhall’s political cartoon is in the comics form because there’s no sense that it can be understood as more than one image. Either way, talk balloons are not part of the comics form. A work in the comics form can certainly include talk balloons, but having or not having talk balloons doesn’t determine anything. That’s true of works in the comics medium too. A wordless comic is still a comic (however you define “comic”). But speech balloons are a wildly common convention of the comics medium, including works that are in both the medium and the form (which is the majority of things we tend to call “comics”).

More interestingly, eating a talk balloons violates the impression that talk balloons are not part of the image’s diegetic world. Characters shouldn’t be able to see them, let alone touch and chew them. By pleasant coincidence, I’ve been corresponding with Rodolfo Dal Canto following the Invisible Lines conference in Venice earlier this summer, and he recently sent me a segment from an Italian comic that plays the same meta game as Bramhall. Bilotta, Righi and Ponchione’s “Gli uomini della settimana” is about “a superhero who can interact with the words in the comic book (balloons but also onomatopoeia) and use or modify them”:

I’ve also been corresponding with Lukas Wilde since we participated on a comics theory panel at NeMLA in Baltimore last spring, and he sent me a related cartoon too:

Talk balloons are like thought bubbles, caption boxes, special effects words, emanata, and frame edges–things that don’t (normally) exist in the diegetic world for characters to perceive. But viewers can perceive them as though they are kinds of physical objects (overlapping panels, for example), which is why I call layout a secondary diegesis. Characters manipulating speech bubbles is related because of the metafictional effect, but I’m still considering whether speech bubbles are (necessarily) elements of a secondary diegesis in the same way that an arrangement of panels is perceived as though it were a set of flat images placed on top of a page surface or on top of another image, as, for example, Sami Kivela does in Undone by Blood:

Luckovich employs a similar technique, but minus a rectangular frame edge for the elephant figure “on top of” the other panels, and with the addition of the elephant’s apparent metafictional awareness of the image arrangement as well as the implied viewer being addressed. Also, the speech bubble functions the same way as layered panels do, and so arguably simply is a kind of panel:

I think works in the comics form are more prone to metafiction because they must arrange their images in some manner, which then draws attention away from the image content (the primary diegesis) and toward the (often illusionary) effects of a resulting secondary diegesis.

And that applies to any work in the comics form, whether it’s also in the comics medium or, more specifically, in the genre of political cartoons.

A nice thing about publishing a new book is the chance to improve ideas from old books. While I do that more than once in The Comics Form: The Art of Sequenced Images, it’s also nice to revisit an old idea and find that I still agree with my old self.

In the last chapter, “Sequenced Image-Texts,” I try to identity all of the possible relationships between words and images. Step one is figuring out the range of how two things can relate, and after going back to what I told prospective comics artists in Leigh Ann Beavers’ and my Creating Comics: A Writer’s and Artist’s Guide and Anthology in 2021, I stuck with the same four interactions:

  • Duplicate: the two sets primarily overlap each other, neither contributing uniquely to the whole.
  • Complement: the two sets primarily correspond, one or both providing additional but congruent qualities to the whole.
  • Contrast: the two sets primarily contradict, each providing incongruent qualities to the whole.
  • Diverge: the two sets appear primarily unrelated, neither contributing to a whole.

This time though I added what I hope is a clarifying illustration. Duplicating features (mostly) overlap. Complementing and contrasting features partially overlap. Diverging features don’t overlap at all (and so suggest no basis for comparison or contrast).

Scott McCloud identified seven word/picture combinations in Understanding Comics, but I think these four are sufficient and, hopefully, clearer. Umberto Eco introduced three in 1965, missing the fourth because the comic he was analyzing, Milton Caniff’s 1947 Steven Canyon, unsurprisingly didn’t include an example. John Bateman, the go-to expert on all things image-texts, noticed of McCloud: “As usual there are some patterns which continue to recur” (2014: 99). He said similarly of an earlier analysis of children’s picture books: “It is in fact striking just how often similar lists are suggested in different areas without, apparently, very much interaction between the distinct inquiries” (2014: 73). Which means I’m happily joining a list of fellow wheel-reinventers.

Bateman also distinguishes between what he calls “internal” relationships, “where the text ‘is’ the image,” and “external” relationships, “where the text … relates to other images” (2014: 27). Building on that idea, I see two kinds of internal relationships:

  • First, if you’re looking at a word in isolation, the relationship is between what a word means and how it is drawn.

I was only allowed to included so many illustrations in The Comics Form, and this one I only mentioned, so I’ll include the actual images here. Bob Wiacek and Todd McFarlane’s The Incredible Hulk #340 (February 1988) title design complements. The meaning of the word “HULK” and the stylistic rendering of the letters as blocks of stone communicate similar but not identical ideas:

If instead of “THE INCREDIBLE HULK” the words were “STONE BLOCKS,” the meaning and style would duplicate. René Magritte’s 1950 painting The Art of Conversation employs a similar stylistic approach but for opposite effect. Painting the French word for dream, “RÈVE,” as blocks of stone contrasts the meaning of the word:

  • Second, if you’re looking at a wordless image, the relationship is between what the image represents and how it is drawn.

That’s probably clearest when you’re looking at two drawings of the same subject. Though Norman Rockwell and Al Hirschfeld are both drawing Bob Hope, their stylistic approaches are remarkably different:

Things get more complicated when you combine a word and an image, but most image-text analysis looks primarily at one relationship: between what the word means and what the image represents.

I particularly enjoy when that relationship contrasts. Last Christmas I got Lesley a tarot deck drawn by Michelle Tea, which includes this bonus card:

The words contrast the swords piercing the figure’s body–though I suppose they also complement the figure’s implied attitude as as she indifferently reads her phone.

Here’s another. The ice cream shop in my town has displayed this sign for years:

The meaning of “CASH” in the phrase “CASH ONLY” is paper money (which is reinforced by the small print: “CHECKS ACCEPTED / ATM AVAILABLE”). But combined with a contrasting image of the singer Johnny Cash, “CASH” gains a double referent. If the ice cream shop owner were slightly braver, he might instead display this sign:

The image then would trigger the words “Johnny Cash,” which would then trigger the homonym “cash,” producing the operative meaning. Since the shop owner likely does not want any confusion (plenty of folks probably wouldn’t recognize the singer), the image is a kind of repetition with a playfully superfluous additional meaning.

Complementing relationships are fun too. I snapped this photo while on a walk with Lesley last summer. The branches nearly obscure the words, yet they convey a similar idea:

There are three more relationships:

  • between what the word means and how the image is drawn
  • between how the word is drawn and what the image represents
  • between how the word is drawn and how the image is drawn

That’s a total of six relationships present in every image-text consisting of at least one word and one image. If an image’s subject is its meaning, maybe the easiest way to categorize them is:

  • word meaning and word style
  • image meaning and image style
  • word meaning and image meaning
  • word meaning and image style
  • word style and image meaning
  • word style and image style

Often there are more than one word and more than one image part, creating even more relationships. Keeping all of those webs of potential meanings straight is complicated, and usually not necessary. What matters is tracking the possibilities, and pausing when one yields an interesting result.

Consider the poster for the 2008 film I Can’t See Straight:

Looking first at just the word “Straight,” how it is drawn (curving font) contrasts its meaning (or one of them).

Its style also contrasts the style of the first three words, accenting “straight” by using a different font, a different color, and a lower placement.

The word’s more relevant meaning emerges in relationship to the image. The words in isolation would probably produce something like: “I can’t think clearly.” That meaning remains, but the image relationship extends it to include an explanatory pun through another contrasting relationship. What the words mean changes as a result of what the image represents.

The black font also duplicates the black of the foregrounded figure’s dress. The white of the first three words, “I Can’t Think,” duplicates the foregrounded figure’s earrings and second figure’s necklace, further linking the words to the characters.

The style of the image is sexualized, suggesting not just the general meaning of (the implied word) gay, but probably the imminent possibility of sex.

The book cover design for the novel uses the same words, as well as images of the same two actresses portraying the same two characters, but it produces different effects through different word-image relationships:

This time all four words use the same font. Though that font is relatively straight, without a contrasting curved font, that meaning of “straight” is largely absent. Instead of emphasizing “straight,” the use of a contrasting color for “think” emphasizes it instead. “Think”, however, doesn’t gain an additional meaning as a result. “Straight” still requires the image to refer to sexuality, but because the style of the image is less overtly sexualized (when compared to the movie poster), the effect is perhaps more romantic than sexual. The inclusion of the words “romantic” and “heart-warming” in the blurb reinforces that.

Personally, I would have combined the word styles from the movie poster with the image from the book design, but once again, no one asked me. With one exception, the above examples are outside the comics medium. The illustrations in Chapter 7’s “Embedded Relationships” section are all from image-text comics, so it’s fun to branch out.

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