Comics have long existed
in the realm of the ideologically suspect, from the lurid sequential picture
stories published for working-class amusement in 19th century Britain
to Frederick Werthams 1958 book, Seduction of the Innocent, which
charged comics with warping the minds of children and allowing them to
evade real reading (qtd. In Schmitt 157). At best, comics
were seen as childrens material only, and at worst, a lesser form
of reading that children needed to be trained out of as soon as possible.
However, as argued by Scott McLeod, comics merge word and image together
in ways that are unprecedented by any other media thus far; he further
states that comics have revolutionary potential for understanding pictorial
and textual narratives (3). In a world where multimedia and the Internet
are major forces in communication as well as entertainment, the skills
required to fully comprehend comics will be fundamental in understanding
the way in which information is conveyed through new technologies.
The idea of visual intelligence is pivotal to a fuller comprehension of
the skills needed to negotiate text-image relationships. Barry states
that visual intelligence is a "holistic integration of skilled verbal
and visual reasoning;" visual literacy is the ability to think, learn
and express oneself in terms of images (6). Our contemporary modes of
communication are increasingly reliant on the integration of the verbal
and the visual, with the standards of television, film, and now the Internet.
Further, through the Internet, we are being offered models of text-image
integration that have not been used as comprehensively until this time.
Visual literacy and visual intelligence are now necessary competencies.
As the Internet continues to develop, we will not only gain a greater
understanding of the methods of learning and practicing visual intelligence,
but we will also recognize the importance of continued exposure to diverse
textual-visual media in order to maximize this understanding. Rather than
assuming that one graduates from images to text-only in order to demonstrate
their sophistication in comprehension, we will hopefully encourage strength
in a great variety of literacies with which to navigate our world.
This essay will examine issues of time and space as they pertain to reading comics.
Time and space are major themes in many of the individual elements of
reading comic books, not only in a metaphoric sense but in a very physical
sense as well. For example, spatial issues with reading are not just the
placement and sizes of panels on the page or the extent to which the images
cover the page, but the size of the comic (both in thickness and in height
and width). Time includes how long is spent reading the comic, but also
how long the reader has followed the series or the artists work. These are just
a few examples of how space and time become important elements of the
readers relationship with the comic. Rather than examine how these
elements function in the construction of the comic story (which has been
well covered in Scott McClouds work, amongst others), my perspectives
on time and space will connect more closely to relationships of the reader
to the comic. While I will cover other themes, including reader repertoire
and the actual process of reading text and image in a comic, time and
space are recurring themes that will serve to anchor this exploration.
Rather than discuss all comics genres as a whole, I will focus specifically
on alternative, or small press, non-mainstream comics. This is in part
due to my own interest in and familiarity with these forms; in addition,
alternative comics cater to a very particular subculture of readers, which
I am interested in examining as part of some concerns with reader repertoire.
Alternative comics audiences span a variety of worlds and
perform a particular search for legitimacy that can make for some interesting
analysis of how readers find and experience these works. Garrett-Petts
and Lawrence suggest that in order to successfully understand multiple
and vernacular literacies, it is important to consider not only the ways
in which the literacies are constructed, but also what is at stake culturally,
historically, and personally for the reader when these literacies develop
(21). At a later point in this paper, I will outline some of the characteristics
of non-mainstream comics in the larger arena of the comics format. Further,
I will discuss some of the observations made by "Luke," an alternative
comics fan whom I interviewed. While Luke is a single reader and obviously
not representative of non-mainstream comics readers, he has made a number
of statements that provide insight into the areas that I am exploring.