Skip to content
Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 29, 2019

Which Donald is this? Which tyche is this? A semiotic approach to nomadic cartoonish characters

Stephan Packard


Dealing with a de- or recontextualized cartoon affords media users a number of challenges and opportunities. The approach proposed here traces these effects not merely as consequences of universalized converging media, storyworlds, and transfictional or transdiegetic character models, but complements that view by reversing the question and asking which semiotic feats media users are invited to accomplish as they engage with a cartoon and gradually build consequences around that encounter. From a deduction of general properties applied to a specific instance, I move to abductions that generalize by departing from said instance. I propose distinguishing three different aspects of the phenomenon alongside three different questions that one might ask of a given cartoonish depiction of some character. By categorical deduction, one might first ask, “Who is this cartoon?” In a pragmaticist reversal that takes its cue from the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce, one might then ask, “What shall I do with this cartoon?” And finally, from a point of view that conceives of the transmedial aspects of the challenge by foregrounding the uncertainties that establish the decontextualized encounter in the first place, one might adapt a concept from Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis and ask, “Which tyche is this?”


Althusser, Louis. 2011. Sur la reproduction. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.Search in Google Scholar

Ardhi, Yulian. 2012. Duck knight rises. Deviant art 20 May. (accessed 5 May 2019). Search in Google Scholar

Bentley. Eric. 1966. The life of the drama. London: Methuen.Search in Google Scholar

Currie, Gregory. 2010. Narratives and narrators: A philosophy of stories. Oxford: University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Frahm, Ole. 2010. Die Sprache des Comics. Hamburg: Philo Fine Arts. Search in Google Scholar

Freitag, Wolfgang. 2019. Reference. In Monika Fludernik and Marie-Laure Ryan (eds.), Handbook of factual narration. Berlin: De Gruyter. [Forthcoming.]Search in Google Scholar

Hailey. 2018. Donald Duck. Comic vine 2 September. (accessed 5 May 2019). Search in Google Scholar

Higgins, Dick & Hannah Higgins. 2001. Intermedia. Leonardo 34(1). 49–54.Search in Google Scholar

Kapitan, Tomis. 1990. In what way is abductive inference creative? Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce society 26(4). 499–512.Search in Google Scholar

Kripke, Saul. 1979. Speaker reference and semantic reference. In Peter A. French at al. (eds.), Contemporary perspectives in the philosophy of language, 6–27. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Search in Google Scholar

Lacan, Jacques. 1966. Le séminaire sur La lettre volée. Écrits, 11–61. Paris: Le Seuil. Search in Google Scholar

Lacan, Jacques. 1973. Le séminaire XI : Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse. Paris: Le Seuil. Search in Google Scholar

Marcus, Stephanie. Hello Kitty is not a cat because nothing makes sense anymore. Huffington Post 27 August. (accessed 5 May 2019).Search in Google Scholar

McCloud, Scott. 1994. Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York: Harper Perennial. Search in Google Scholar

Moore, Alan. 1993. The unexplored medium: Interview with William A. Christensen and Mark Seifert. Wizard 27. 42–45.Search in Google Scholar

Packard, Stephan. 2006. Reflections of the cartoon. International journal of comic art IJoCA 8(2): 113–125.Search in Google Scholar

Packard, Stephan. 2011. Was sind intermediale Einheiten? Zu wandernden Cartoons und Colerdiges Allegorie. In Achim Hölter (ed.), Comparative arts, 255–265. Heidelberg: Synchron. Search in Google Scholar

Packard. Stephan. 2013. Coleridge, Heartfield, Higgins: Finding transmediality amongst intermedia. In Alfonso de Toro (ed.), Tranlsatio: Transmédialité et transculturalité en littérature, peinture, photographie et au cinéma, 279–302. Paris: L’Harmmattan. Search in Google Scholar

Peirce, Charles S. 1998. Short logic. In The essential Peirce: Selected philosophical writings. Vol. 2. Edited by The Peirce edition project, 11–26. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Rajewsky, Irina. 2002. Intermedialität. Tübingen: Francke. Search in Google Scholar

Russell, Bertrand. 1905. On denoting. Mind 14. 479–493.Search in Google Scholar

Strawson, Peter F. 1950. On referring. Mind 59. 320–344.Search in Google Scholar

Thon, Jan-Noël. 2016. Transmedial narratology and contemporary media culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Search in Google Scholar

Thon, Jan-Noël. 2019. Transmedia characters: Theory and analysis. Frontiers of narrative studies 5(2). 176–199.Search in Google Scholar

de Toro, Alfonso. 2002. Jenseits von Postmoderne und Postkolonialität: Materialien zu einem Modell der Hybridität und des Körpers als transrelationalem, transversalem und transmedialem Wissenschaftskonzept. In Christof Hamann & Cornelia Sieber (eds.), Räume der Hybridität, 15–44. Holdesheim: Olms. Search in Google Scholar

Wilde, Lukas R.A. 2018. Im Reich der Figuren: Meta-narrative Kommunikationsfiguren und die ‘Mangaisierung’ des japanischen Alltags. Cologne: Herbert von Halem.Search in Google Scholar

Wilde, Lukas R.A. 2019 a. Recontextualizing characters: Media convergence and pre-/meta-narrative character circulation. IMAGE: Journal of interdisciplinary image science 29 (special issue). 3–21.Search in Google Scholar

Wilde, Lukas R.A. 2019 b. Kyara revisited: The pre-narrative character-state of Japanese character theory. Frontiers of narrative studies 5(2). 219–246.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2019-11-29
Published in Print: 2019-11-28

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston