What is it about?

Static visuals can not depict movement -- only suggest it. One way a comics artist can do this is by adding little lines behind characters or vehicles that move. Similar lines or flourishes often appear above or around characters' faces to help make clear (together with, for instance, facial expressions and body postures) that these characters are emotionally affected. Such lines are known by various labels -- pictorial runes, emanata, movement lines, upfixes among them. In this paper, I have (1) made an inventory of the different types of pictorial runes that appear in a single Tintin album; and (2) analysed what kind of meaning they (can) express.

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Why is it important?

Pictorial runes are for various reasons interesting. For one thing, they consist of a (very) limited set; for another, their meaning is not necessarily self-evident. This means that pictorial runes have language-like properties (unlike many other visual elements in comics): the meaning of a pictorial rune has to be learned, because it is coded. Pictorial runes are (along with for instance text balloons) key comics-specific visual means for triggering narrative meaning, and therefore constitute an attractive tool to analyse comics from theoretical and historical perspectives.


I find it fascinating that one subtype of rune, the "twirl" (which looks like a corkscrew flourish) can be used both to indicate movement (when it is depicted horizontally behind a moving character or vehicle) AND emotion (when it is used vertically above a character that is drunk, dizzy, or confused). Is this "double" visual meaning an echo of the fact that Latin "movere" is at the root of both the English words "motion" and "emotion"?

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Pictorial runes in Tintin and the Picaros, Journal of Pragmatics, February 2011, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.07.014.
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