As a multimodally complex medium, graphic narratives have long been approached from a semiotic perspective, though the latter’s focus on general decoding mechanisms for reading meaning out of signs has increasingly come under criticism. Only recently has the applicability of inference to the analysis of visual narratives begun to attract attention, mostly with regard to bridging hypotheses between panels on the level of narrative structure. This article, in contrast, addresses the general question of meaning construction at the level of narrative panels and even smaller units in comics, focusing on their general semantics. It argues that the intersemiotic interplay of the various resources and the evolving meaning construction is one of the most challenging aspects of comic analysis today and that recipients need to construct complex representations of what is shown (and told) in the interplay of images, text, and other visual resources to be able to follow the comic’s narrative. How this interpretation can be described with the help of a multimodal discourse analytic approach is the central question this article addresses. It shows how recent developments in applied semiotics together with basic concepts of abduction and defeasible reasoning help capture the fine-grained mechanics of meaning construction in comics as an approach to their basic semantics.
The Inferential Semantics of Comics: Panels and Their Meanings
Janina Wildfeuer is a postdoctoral researcher in the areas of multimodal linguistics and media studies and discourse analysis and semiotics at the University of Bremen, Germany. She teaches classes in multimodal, interdisciplinary, and applied linguistics and analyses films, comics, and other multimodal documents in several projects exploring the notion of multimodal discourse. Her publications include the monograph Film Discourse Interpretation (2014) and the textbook Multimodality: Foundations, Research, and Analysis: A Problem-Oriented Introduction, with John Bateman and Tuomo Hiippala (2017); several edited collections, most recently Film Text Analysis (2017) and Empirical Comics Research (2018); and contributions and articles on the analysis of multimodal artifacts, mostly focusing on interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities and beyond.
Janina Wildfeuer; The Inferential Semantics of Comics: Panels and Their Meanings. Poetics Today 1 June 2019; 40 (2): 215–234. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7298522
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