A different kind of cultural frame: An analysis of panels in American comics and Japanese manga
Abstract: The growing interest and influence of Japanese manga (“comics”) in America has inspired comparisons between the properties of the two cultures’ graphic systems. Various theories have hinted to the existence of structural variation between these cultures’ books, yet little quantitative data has served to support these claims. This study seeks to provide empirical evidence for these cross-cultural theories by examining 300 panels in each of twelve American and twelve Japanese comic books. It examines 1) how they highlight amounts of information, 2) their depiction of subjective viewpoints, and 3) the angle of view taken by their representations.
Keywords: visual language / comics / drawing / graphic representation / Japan Introduction
The growing popularity and influence of Japanese manga (“comics”) in America over the past 30 years has inspired great interest among readers, artists, and scholars alike. Concomitant with these trends is a curiosity for how these graphic narratives differ from American comics in their methods and structures. While several accounts have made theoretical comparisons (McCloud 1993, 1996; Rommens 2000), few works have attempted a quantitative analysis by coding the properties of these populations. This work attempts a foray into analyses of this type, testing previously made claims by comparing panels from Japanese manga and American comics. It examines 1) how they highlight amounts of information, 2) their depiction of subjective viewpoints, and 3) the angle of view taken by their representations.
Image & Narrative, Vol 12, No1 (2011)
In one of the only quantitative analyses comparing comics and manga, comic author and theorist Scott McCloud (1993) noticed differences in their use of “panel transitions”—characterized relationships between the content of comic panels. American books dominated in Action-to-action transitions (≤ 60%), which shift between panels showing the representation of an action, followed by Subject-to-subject (~20%) transitions showing shifts between characters in the scene, and finally Scene-to-scene transitions (~15%) shifting between two locations. Manga also dominated in Action-toaction transitions (~50%), and also had several Subject-to-subject transitions. McCloud found that manga used an additional type of transition as well though: Aspect-to-aspect transitions (~15%) characterized by the “wandering eye” that they cast on different aspects of the scene. McCloud attributed these differences to two different “artistic” mentalities, with “Western Art” being fairly “goal-oriented” in contrast to the Japanese focus on “being there over getting there” (McCloud 1993). McCloud also claimed that Japanese manga use more of a “subjective” view in their narratives than American comics (McCloud 1993, 1996), though he did not use any quantitative coding to back up this hypothesis. He argues that American representations favor lines bound to a moving object as if a static viewer was watching its path of motion —an “objective” view. When the viewer moves at the same rate of the object, it appears still, while the background elements are blurred or depict motions lines. McCloud argues that this latter use is more prevalent in Japanese manga (or at least it was until the 1990s, when it began to appear in American books, possibly through influence of manga). Another difference regarding manga and comics comes indirectly, through their influence on children’s drawings. Children have been shown to imitate drawings from comics both in America (Wilson and Wilson 1977; Smith 1985) and Japan (Wilson 1988, 1999). Comparing these groups, Masami Toku (2001, 2002) has observed that Japanese children’s drawings departed in structural characteristics from those of American children. While some aspects are similar, Japanese children use aerial and...
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