Mila Francisca Bongco: On the Language of Comics and the Reading Process

IntroductionText-Image Conflict in Comics
The simultaneous presence of two mediums — words and images — neither started with comics nor is unique to them. But the existence of both codes can be a contentious issue in studying comics. On the one hand, an „iconic archaeology“, rather than a textual one, seems to be instinctively assigned to comics. In studies about the origin and development of the medium, for example, a graphic history is always provided. On the other hand, some studies focus on the medium solely as narrative art. Comics are compared to fiction and, using methods of literary analysis, factors such as character, theme, and plot are evaluated.

In analyzing comics, however, it is necessary to develop a new kind of understanding that goes beyond comparing and assessing verbal and visual structures separately. Both pictures and texts are the fundamental basis of almost all comics, and to seek to understand one without the other is to misinterpret the substance of this hybrid genre. The key to understanding comics does not lie in the words or pictures themselves but in the interaction and relationships between the two. The crucial point is how effectively the linguistic and pictorial signs’ interact – how absorbingly and dynamically a story is related in both pictures and texts. The interaction is all-important. It is a defining characteristic of comics, and the efficacy of the genre rests on the interdependence of the two mediums. Comics cannot help but demand of their readers the ability to decipher and „read“ a new language – a récit dessinée or an iconographie narrative — comprised of both written and illustrated codes. …