What is it about?

Understanding and enjoying stories crucially involves tracking the emotions experienced by these stories' protagonists. We do not merely want to know what is going on in the story-world; we want to know how what is going on in the story world affects characters we care for. In comics, facial expressions are important cues for assessing a character's emotion. Scott McCloud (1993) developed an ambitious schema in which he showed not only how Paul Ekman's six primary, supposedly universal emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise) can be depicted, but also how more complex emotions can be rendered by combining the depictions of these basic emotions. In a modest experiment, we tested McCloud's claims. Do subjects indeed correctly recognize emotions of comics characters from their facial expressions alone?

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Why is it important?

It matters whether facial expressions suffice on their own for the recognition of emotions or whether -- as our findings suggest -- comics readers actually need to combine this awareness with other types of information, such as body postures and "pictorial runes" (= emotion lines).


To the extent that McCloud would be right, one could say that the depiction of emotions via facial expressions in comics follows certain general rules, and therefore is "coded." Since coded information is more stable and context-independent than information that must be inferred, it is theoretically important to attest what kind of visuals are interpreted thanks to a "code."

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Facial expressions in comics: an empirical consideration of McCloud’s proposal, Visual Communication, July 2018, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/1470357218784075.
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