The visual narratives of comics involve complex multimodal interactions between written language and the visual language of images, where one or the other may guide the meaning and/or narrative structure. We investigated this interaction in a corpus analysis across eight decades of American superhero comics (1940–2010s). No change across publication date was found for multimodal interactions that weighted meaning towards text or across both text and images, where narrative structures were present across images. However, we found an increase over time of narrative sequences with meaning weighted to the visuals, and an increase of sequences without text at all. These changes coincided with an overall reduction in the number of words per panel, a shift towards panel framing with single characters and close-ups rather than whole scenes, and an increase in shifts between temporal states between panels. These findings suggest that storytelling has shifted towards investing more information in the images, along with an increasing complexity and maturity of the visual narrative structures. This has shifted American comics from being textual stories with illustrations to being visual narratives that use text.
Gerardo Soto-Becerra is thanked for additional assistance in data gathering.
Appendix. Works analyzed
Our corpus analysis used the following books, listed chronologically by publication date.
Berold, B. and Eisner, W. (1940). The Flame. 3: 1–20. Fox Comics.
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Cole, J. and Woolfolk, B. (1956). Plastic Man. 64: 1–31. Comic Magazines.
Plastino, A. and Bernstein, R. (1959). Action Comics. 252: 1–27. DC Comics.
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Ditko, S. and Gill, J. (1965). Captain Atom. 78: 1–20. Charlton Comics.
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