I picked this up from the library. The organization of the book is a bit scattershot and there are some odd claims in it. And large portions of the book don’t interest me, like the explanations of how the business of an ad agency works. And oddly for a book about visual communication, there is no mention of comics at all. There is discussion of film, literature, billboards, web sites, tv commercials, but nothing about comics. All that being said, there are some interesting and insightful ideas presented in the book. Some of them I had heard before in other places, but they were presented here with nice specific examples.
Anyway, I made some notes of things that interested me as I read, so I thought I’d share them here. I left out things about Gestault principles and axis of action, not because I wasn’t interested, but because the book didn’t introduce any new insights about them (for me). The following is simply an undigested bullet list. Also it probably goes without saying, but in the following notes I was thinking specifically about the relation to comics.
• image/text red herring. The text can create an expectation that the image subverts. Or vice versa.
• image/text difference. Image shows what happens. Text describes how/why it happens (more on this in another post).
• metonymy. Often employed to illustrate an abstract concept: picture of Wall Street to stand in for idea of stock market. Or a cup with one toothbrush next shown with two toothbrushes to show that a new relationship has begun.
• synecdoche. Part stands in for whole. A seagull is shown to stand in for a whole seaside setting. This reminds me of three jagged lines in Peanuts standing in for an entire lawn.
• metaphor. Often used in advertising. The image is the metaphor; the text acts as the referent. Example: the image is of an arrow, the text states the make of a car. The viewer understands that the car is fast.
• context. The textual context can change the meaning of an image. If an image of two couples embracing is accompanied by the word yes, then the image takes on a romantic meaning. If the same image is accompanied by the word no, then the image is about a nonconsensual pairing.
•frame/panel. Horizontal and vertical frames have inherent movement. Square frames are static. Though a diagonal composition in a square frame can give it some dynamism.
• rule of thirds. Split a frame into thirds horizontally and vertically. Place important elements on the intersections.
• L > R movement. Left to right movement is the standard U.S. reading direction and images that move that direction seem to being going somewhere. Figures that move from right to left seem to be coming home.
• shadows = volume. Figures without shadows look two-dimensional. Shadows give figures weight and volume.
• head in frame. If a person’s head is low in a frame, then it seems like the person is sinking.
• Roland Barthes: studium and punctum. Studium is an image that is informative, presents a general observation. Many news photos fall into this category. Puctum is an image that contains a question or something wrong with it that makes the viewer have to interpret. A photo of a group of people looking at something out of the frame would fit this category.
• Roland Barthes: positive and negative space. This is different than the graphic design meanings of the terms. The positive space is what the viewer sees in the image. The negative space is what the viewer intuits to be outside the image. This relates to studium and punctum.
• Roland Barthes: anchorage and relay. These are categories for relationships between text and image. Anchorage is when the text and image are anchored in each other, when they say the same thing. Scott McCloud labels this as duo-specific. Relay is when the text and image carry different pieces of information, or say different things but come together to create a greater meaning. McCloud labels this interdependent.
• denotation and connotation. As with words, images have denotative meaning, what they literally mean, and connotative meaning, what they imply. Connotation refers the to associated ideas or emotions around an image. A picture of a casket connotes death.
• image/text reception. An image is more immediate, processed by the right brain. It is more emotional. Text is decoded, processed by the left brain. It is more intellectual.
• equality vs. contrast. Equality is static. A frame divided equally in half has no movement. Contrast is dynamic. A frame divided so that the top portion is larger has a weight to it. The top portion presses down on the lower portion.