Analyzing comics from a discursive approach — Visual representation of transitivity in comics

  • The presence of at least two participants: since no process transfer at all can occur unless at least two participants are involved.
  • Kinesis: with transferable actions being considered more transitive than non-transferrable states.
  • Aspect: finished actions are more effectively transferred than those still in course
  • Punctuality: actions carried out with no obvious transitional phase between inception and completion will be more transitive than those which are inherently on-going; think, for instance, of the duration associated to a process sneezing and compare it to the duration of one like sleeping.
  • Volitionality: willingly initiated actions will be more transitive than unwillingly initiated ones.
  • Affirmation: affirmative utterances will be more transitive than negative ones since the latter ones represent actions that, discursively, do not occur.
  • Mode: refers to the distinction between events being encoded in “realis” or “irrealis” (conditional) modes, with the former being more transitive due to the fact that it represents events that occur at a given point within a time continuum.
  • Agency: related to the ability a participant has to transfer an action into a recipient. With sentences like John kicked the box being more transitive than I was startled by the wind.
Sam and Max: Surfin’ the Highway by Steve Purcell (2012).
Sam and Max: Surfin’ the Highway by Steve Purcell (2012).
Disney comics by Walt Disney (1933).
Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton (2006–). The interpretation of this comic depends on the fact that it is possible to infer that processes occur within an established timeline where the same entity is affected by a sequence of actions (in this case, the hunting of the baby seal needs to temporarily -and logically- precede the woman wearing the fur in order for this comic to make sense). These observations make it possible to assume that if one were to alter the order in which the author has organized these panels, it could have resulted in the temporary and logical organization of them -and thus the interpretation of the entire comic- also being altered.
Catboy by Benji Nate (2016-). This page presents a short sequence that could be described as two characters getting “breakfast burritos” and then proceeding to eat them. One of the characters, Henry (the cat), is portrayed as not enjoying this meal, which in turn causes him to hunt down a bird and eat it. Despite the burrito being less of an animated object than the bird, it is clear both entities are affected by Henry’s actions, which are portrayed as highly kinetic, telic, and (due to the lack of any kind of indication of the opposite) volitive.

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Words on comics, music, video games, narrative systems, and more. Icon by Benji Nate @ vice

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Words on comics, music, video games, narrative systems, and more. Icon by Benji Nate @ vice

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