Navigating meaning in the spatial layouts of comics: A cross-cultural corpus analysis



In visual narratives like comics, not only do comprehenders need to track shifts in characters, space, and time, but they do so across a spatial layout. While many scholars and comic artists have speculated about connections between meaning and layout in comics, few empirical studies have examined this relationship. We investigated whether situational changes between time, characters, or space interacted with page layouts, by looking at across-page, across-constituent, and within-constituent transitions in a corpus of 134 annotated comics from North America, Europe, and Asia. Panels shifting within constituents (e.g., while moving within a row) changed the situation the least, while those across pages and across constituents (like in a row break) had more situational changes. The boundary of a page especially aligned with changes in spatial location of the scene. In addition, discontinuous changes primarily aligned with across-page transitions. Cross-cultural analyses indicated that Asian comics convey meaning across panels in ways that are relatively less constrained by layouts, while American and European comics use the page as a unit to group and segment spatial information. Such results indicate a partial correspondence between layout and meaning, but with different cultural constraints.
Date made available4 Apr 2023

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