Sunday, August 1, 2010

Order Out Of

Everybody knows about this little exercise, right?

Did you konw you’re a guiens? Jsut the fcat taht you can atllacuy raed tihs psot porves taht fcat. The huamn mnid is so pufowerl it can dcodee tihs txet eevn tguohh eervy sglnie wrod is slepled iocenrtclry. The one cavaet is taht the frist and lsat lertets are pervresed in erevy wrod. Cidrgbame Uitesirnvy cetoudncd a sduty and fnuod taht the biarn deos not raed eevry snlige lteetr, but wodrs as a wohle.

Olny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.
I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs psas it on!!

There’s a similar experience in comics - sometimes it can be unclear as to which direction you’re supposed to read a sentence. It might be because of lousy page design, it might be because of character placement, it might be because of a lack of arrows, but whatever the cause, you can wind up reading an intended sequence out of order. In some cases, this can be rather jarring, especially if you’ve been reading at a brisk pace, and all of a sudden, you realize you were supposed to read the balloon to the side (or below) and are forced to reread the entire page again. (This is an obvious reading hinderance in the otherwise excelent Girl Genius comic)

Usually, when reading American comics, the general rule is to go from top to bottom. However, it’s not always clear as to which direction you’re supposed to read next. From the middle balloon, are you supposed to go to the balloon below, or go across the upper right part of the page?

It’s only after reading this panel multiple times that I realize that going down, then up is the right route. However, later on the same page, that rule is broken.

Here, it looks like the conversation is:

Itto! you were told not to come! Oh no, he’ll come.
I could take him back -

But the correct way to read it is:

Itto! you were told not to come!
I could take him back -
Oh no, he’ll come.

Without Agatha’s balloon intruding on the other girl’s balloon, it looks like her conversation is a one-sided affair. It’s a constant balancing act, and it takes awhile before Foglio figures it out.

The most glaring example in misreading a comic would be in Kochalka’s Monkey Vs. Robot and the Crystal of Power. I read the whole book the normal way, from right to left, even though it started with the words “the end”. It wasn’t until I finished that I realized the entire book was the result of a printing error, and the story would’ve made more sense if I read it backwards.

Apart from this glaring instance, I’ve found a few actual funny mistakes.

An easy example is in Fox Trot, where Peter was dressing up as various Rock guitarists in order to get the right “feel” for his music style. His first foray was dressing up as Bruce Springsteen, which led to Jason responding off screen. Because I hardly saw the tiny arrow pointing in that direction, I read the last panel as:

Jason, tell our brother Paige who, unfortunately I am.

This puts Paige’s question of how tight Peter’s bandana was in a whole new light.

Another example is from an Archie comic, where Betty was telling a fairy tale about a sadistic King with Fletcher Hanks overtones. He was constantly doing more and more elaborate forms of intimidation over his subjects. Below is one of his tamer tortures.

Because of the horns, I read the panel as:
But the bulls
Half as vicious
Were not
As the king.

When the correct way to read the panel should’ve been:

But the bulls were not
Half as vicious as the king.

American comics aren't the only ones guilty of this - Manga tends to be one of the biggest offenders.

Manga is known for having very choppy sentences, usually used to pad out a scene, and oftentimes, they can be very immaterial. This is especially true when they’re talking in philosophical tones. The process is to make the reading experience as smooth as possible, even if you can't retain any of what's being said.

Here’s a general example from an early volume of Swan. Here, Aoi is talking about the frustrations about being unsuited for a role. The interesting thing is, even if you read it the wrong way, (from left to right) you can still get the general message:

I want to retain my unique personality!
Instead of being a blank slate, a generic soloist...
...Ballet has been about individuals.
Because since the very beginning...
We have to make our OWN opportunities.
At the next opportunity...
Enough is enough!
Always being offered second place.
From now on, I’m creating my own destiny!
I can’t wait any longer!
He really knows what he wants!
You and I...
...We both are good... just not right for these roles.
So don’t be disappointed.

You could rearrange the balloons in the last panel in any order, and it’d still make some kind of sense.

From now on, I’m creating my own destiny!
Enough is enough!
I can’t wait any longer!
Always being offered second place.

I can’t wait any longer!
From now on, I’m creating my own destiny!
Always being offered second place.
Enough is enough!

Enough is enough!
I can’t wait any longer!
Always being offered second place.
From now on, I’m creating my own destiny!

Go ahead and mix up the balloons in your favorite Manga collection. See if you notice any difference.

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