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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

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

The above image is a digitally altered photograph of me. The image below is also a digitally altered photograph me.

I’m curious about the relationship between the two, especially when they are juxtaposed:

According to some definitions, if two images are juxtaposed, they are a comic. Since what is and is not a comic is contestable (comics scholars routinely disagree), I prefer to define the comics form and then use that definition to identify works that are in it, calling each a “work in the comics form.” That phrase is clunkier than “comic,” but it is also clearer.

While the definition of the comics form is also contestable, the range of disagreement is smaller. I believe most scholars would accept “sequenced images” as a reasonable definition. Some might agree that “juxtaposed images” is acceptable too. I’ve vacillated. While I was drafting The Comics Form, my original working subtitle was “The Art of Juxtaposed Images.” At some point I revised that to “The Art of Sequenced Images.” Neither is necessarily correct. For images to be a sequence they need to be juxtaposed, but juxtaposed images are not necessarily sequenced and so do not need to be viewed in a specific order. The two images above are juxtaposed but not sequenced. A viewer may begin with either before moving to the other.

Whether they are in the comics form or not, the juxtaposition suggests a relationship between them. McCloud borrowed the term “closure” from Gestalt psychology to refer to the effects of juxtaposition. Following Neil Cohn, I prefer to call those effects “inferences,” and I identify a dozen in The Comics Form.

I may have just noticed a lucky thirteenth, which I’m tentatively calling “extrapolation.”

When I first published an article on juxtapositional inferences in 2018, I wrote: “The categories offered here also are not definitive – because all systems of categorisation are necessarily interpretive and therefore extrinsic rather than intrinsic to the images they analyse. Future analysis or future artistic productions might reveal juxtapositional effects not accounted for here.” Sadly, I don’t think I included that caveat in the chapter “Juxtapositional Inferences” in The Comics Form, but I hope it’s implicit.

I am now hypothesizing that viewers of the above juxtaposed images will attempt to infer a third, extrapolated image. “Extrapolation” is commonly defined as “the action of estimating or concluding something by assuming that existing trends will continue or a current method will remain applicable.” My suggested meaning is similar: viewers will infer something akin to the two images’ overlap or mean.

Viewers almost certainly will if I provide this fact: the two images were derived from the same photograph.

Knowing that the two images are distortions of me may be enough to prompt viewers to imagine what I might look like. Knowing the fact about the history of the creative process likely prompts viewers to attempt to imagine the specific source photograph.

I suspect each viewer will construct a unique mental image. Those mental images are not the original photograph. They are each an inference unique to each viewer. Since mental images are not actual images (our imaginations are surprisingly inexact and idea-based), it’s difficult to say much about how different inferred mental images may or may not relate. Do viewers infer something basically similar? Perhaps. Or perhaps differences between them are more significant.

Either way, if I provide the actual photograph, it will prevent any further inferencing. Here is a cropped version of a selfie I took in my closet mirror, juxtaposed with the first photo illustration I produced from it:

I made the second image in MS Paint, plus color saturation in Adobe Illustrator. Here is the same selfie with the second photo illustration created through slightly different variations of the same process:

By combining them, I can suggest the extrapolated inference I evoked above.

The middle image is likely not inferable, though perhaps elements of it are. I do not know whether someone who has never seen it (or me) before, would be able to infer a mental image that resembles me. But regardless of accuracy, viewers would infer an image of some kind. I am calling that mental image an extrapolated inference, expanding the kinds of inferences that juxtaposed images can produce in viewers.

It’s possible that “extrapolated” isn’t the right or best word, since all inferences made between juxtaposed images might be extrapolated and therefore are extrapolations. I’m also reminded of Neil Cohn’s term “Prolongation,” which in his narrative panel types is “a medial state of extension.” Since an inferred image can’t be a type of panel, Cohn’s term doesn’t apply, but perhaps many if not all juxtapositional inferences are medial states. Both McCloud and Cohn though emphasize spatiotemporal effects, which is not the case here. My inferred “middle” image is not the mid-point in a sequence of events. Documenting the events of the creative process, the photo is the starting point, and then it’s the starting point again, which would sequentially look like this:

If the two juxtaposed images are a sequence, they are a different sequence involving different inferences. Or possibly no inferences. If I had not stated that both images are distortions of me, there may be no inferable relationship between them. Viewers would not have tried to construct a mental image (of me), but simply experienced similarities and differences between the two images, without inferring a cause for them and so no medial image.

For a further demonstration, I will repeat the same process, minus all the annoying words.

And finally, no explanations or creative progressions, just two juxtaposed images. Do they trigger any inferences for you?

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