John Miers

Can You Read It This Way? Tracing and expanding the limits of comic-strip storytelling through practice

Central Saint Martins

My central aim is to expand the language of comic strips by creating new visual communication systems.

The traditional semiotic distinction between icon and symbol soon runs into difficulty when applied to a medium in which interdependence of text and image is a defining feature. Nelson Goodman’s outline of a general theory of symbols provides a more flexible approach through which comics may be analysed as an intersecting set of denotative symbol systems. These include content-containers such as panels, word balloons and pages; the content thereof including text and more or less schematised pictorial representations; and the arrangements of these elements in order to guide the reader’s eye, described by Joseph Witek as 'reading protocols'. The historical development of the ways in which these systems interact in comics amounts to a history of the formal properties of the medium, an account of which will provide a metric for assessing the novelty or originality of the practical work I create.

The history of comics is littered with discarded reading protocols: those that have become redundant as the audience has become more comics-literate, and those that never caught on because they did not aid engagement with comics' texts. In Norman Bryson’s formulation, some combinations of signs, when recirculated into society, have been rejected. Just as the scholarly content of any research project must be accepted as worthwhile by an academic audience, it is important that the practical content is accepted by audiences as an example of the medium in which the researcher is working. Comic readers will therefore be interviewed regarding the comprehensibility and validity of my practical experiments, and my practice modified in light of these results.

This research degree project is funded by a part-time fees-only bursary awarded by Central Saint Martins.


Professor Roger Sabin (Director of Studies)

Dr Alison Green