LINGUIST List 32.779

Wed Mar 03 2021

Calls: Philosophy of Language, Psycholinguistics / Punctum (Jrnl)

Editor for this issue: Sarah Robinson <>

Date: 27-Feb-2021
From: Evangelos Kourdis <>
Subject: Philosophy of Language, Psycholinguistics / Punctum (Jrnl)
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Full Title: Punctum

Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language; Psycholinguistics

Call Deadline: 30-Apr-2021

The Social, Political and Ideological Semiotics of Comics and Cartoons

Special issue of Punctum. International Journal of Semiotics

Editors: Stephan Packard and Lukas R.A. Wilde

What more can semiotics do for comics? As early as the 1960s and through to the first decades of the 21st century, comics studies have attracted a large and perhaps disproportionate amount of attention from analytical semiotic approaches that foreground description and theory building: Their combination of pictures and text offering a challenge to any attempt towards a systematic theory of signs, and their experimental treatment of their semiotic inventory as well as the genres, imageries, and conventions of other media and art forms inviting descriptive scrutiny as well as playful engagement. Scott McCloud’s famous Understanding Comics (1993), both praised and criticized for its essentially semiotic approach, provided the foundation for the rise of sequential comics studies. Even the relatively more practice-based earlier work of Will Eisner (Comics & Sequential Art, 1985), on which McCloud built his own, focuses on a description of formal semiotic and semantic relationships. Thierry Groensteen’s Système de la bande dessinée (1999), on the other hand, elaborated a semiological approach to the comics images’ ’iconic solidarity.’ For semantics rather than syntax, Umberto Eco’s treatment of Superman (1962) had already extended a semiological perspective to examining plot and character.

The influence of these authors might wrongly cloud the plethora of early international contributions to a semiotic study of comics, including Ullrich Krafft’s Comics lesen (1978), Ursula Oomen’s Wort – Bild – Nachricht (1975), Daniele Barbieri’s Il linguaggio del fumetto (1990), and Anne Magnussen’s Peircean approach in Comics & Culture (2000, with Hans-Christian Christiansen), among many others. Natsume Fusanosuke’s and Takekuma Kentarō’s collection Manga no yomikata (漫画の読み方 1995, roughly: How to Read Manga) inspired a similar Japanese wave of formal-aesthetic and semiotic reflections of writing, images, and abstract line-art in the manga tradition, although this has hardly been noticed internationally due to a lack of translations. More recently, the multimodality approach of Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) has given rise to new methods, such as Janina Wildfeuer’s empirical discourse analysis of comics (2018ff.), Paul Fisher Davis’ multimodal systemic-functional linguistics (2019), or large-scale formal corpus analytics (cf. Alexander Dunst, Quantitative Analysis of Comics, 2018). Simultaneously, the combination of semiotics and cognitive linguistics has opened new venues, such as Neil Cohn’s description of distinct visual languages of comics (Cohn 2013).

And yet, many of these approaches have been accused of treating their subjects with arbitrary abstraction and an overload of theory, neglecting political and material conditions of comics production, contents, distribution, and fandom, and reproducing distinctions of class, race, and gender by elevating the body depictions of a popular genre to the metaphysical dignity of seemingly ahistorical semiotic principles (cf. Horrocks 2001; Frahm 2006). In the face of this criticism, we contend that a semiotic approach to comics studies always has and can continue to engender a thorough and critical engagement with comic books’ social, political, and ideological dimensions.

The naturalization of 'improper,' comical, and deformed shapes in comics can be exposed at the very heart of its ideological tendencies and implicit traditions. Carefully examining the cartoonish depiction of bodies and stereotypes against the political history of caricature offers insight into the reproduction processes that structure these comical signs.

Page Updated: 03-Mar-2021