Observing Rage Comics And Images Macros

It’s been a long time since a defense of comics as a medium of expression has been necessary. You might not like Zot, but Understanding Comics was the defense that the medium had long been waiting for.

I’d argue that it stands in the same place that a lot of scientific research does. It explains and concretely addresses the instinctive notions that many of us have about the world that we live in. They may not necessarily say anything new, but they allow those things that we already thought we knew to be said with some sense of objective truth backing them.

As in all disciplines, because of the constant shifting of paradigms, after a certain amount of time, readers may struggle to see how the seemingly antiquated thesis put forth by an author or researcher breaks any ground. Today’s comics world in the United States can be seen to have reached that point.   A 2011 reader of  Understanding Comics might see the work to be not much more than a well thought out statement of seemingly self-evident truths. Well of course, it’s over 20 years old! In my eyes, It’s a good thing that the universality of comics is genuinely seen to be a self-evident truth of comics.

How can I say this? What justifiable evidence do I have that isn’t tarnished with the bias of a publishers dirty money?

Well, simply look at Rage Comics and Image Macros.  They’re One panel gags and simple strips and  people love them. They use them, they make them, they share them, they change them, hell, when they’re good they even print them out!

For you folks that have been living under a rock lined with original pages of Gasoline Alley, here’s what we come the consensus that these two things are.

The Rage Comic

“Web comics with characters, sometimes referred to as “rage faces”, that are often created with simple drawing software such as MS Paint. The comics are typically used to tell stories about real life experiences, and end with a humorous punchline. It has become increasingly popular to create the comics using web applications often referred to as “rage comic generators” or “rage makers” (Know Your Meme)

I once saw John Porcellino in Pittsburgh give a talk about poetry and comics.

He spoke about the universal difficulty that we have as humans in making connections with others via our creations. Are we expressing things right? Will it matter to anyone? Will anyone read this? With a chuckle he went on and discussed how he had discovered a magnificent fact about humans.

When presented a poem, most people would opt to not read it. Draw them the poem and they all read it. All of ’em.

Besides being a core driving element of Porcellino’s work in minimal line poetry, it’s got a lot to do with the online explosion of rage comics. Honestly, how likely are you going to read about someone’s awkward encounter with a cashier at a bowling alley or insights gained while showering?

If someone draws, I promise you, you’ll be far more inclined to read it.

Here are some examples. I’ve included a couple of comics for those who don’t know much about these comics. If you’re already acquainted with them, feel free to scroll down

The Image Macro

On internet forums and imageboards, image macros are used to emphasize a certain phrase (often an Internet meme) by superimposing it over a related picture. Although they come in many forms, the most common type of image macro is a photograph with large text superimposed in Impact font, using all upper case letters and coloured white with a thin black outline. (Wikipedia)

Interestingly in a manner similar to gif responses, macros flesh out text with uniquely specific tones. Macros allow for intentional tone to come across clearly in communication online without folks having to have any metacommentary and to maintain an even level of discourse. While amibiguity is possible, it’s less likely.

An important element of these image macros and rage comics is that they also give the voice of joke and allow for multidimensional jokes to exist in few words. This ties in to the notion that in order for humor to be successful it needs to do three things. not be mundane (the less mundane the better), has to carry some kind of information that we are learning (the more aspects the better), and it has to be understood quickly (the quicker the better). In the case of image macros, the immediacy lent by the combination of text and image is superior to any text only set up. The multidimensionality can be seen when we see recontextualization and alteration of images.

One variant of these Macros would be the Advice Animals. Each animal has a personality that is created by the collective. Variations of one animal create subsequent animals which have differing personas. Here are some examples.

I feel quite confident in saying that what we’re dealing with here are comics free from cartooning. People are taking existing images and juxtaposing them, sequentially and creating narratives. While someone has to have photographed or illustrated the images used in both image macros and rage comics, as a whole creators are not creating the images that they are using.

I see the Rage Comics as a modern form of picture writing, where the writing utilizes the ability to copy and paste to its full potential. There’s no need to describe emotional reactions with words because they are captured by the embedded images.

Now, after all of that, this digital behavior might still seem infantile and unoriginal. The content of it, might end up unimportant in the long run, but the semiotic strategies that are being used are of because they relate to the thing that is essential about humans: communication. What better than to have one more way to reassure us that we are not alone in our experiences on this earth?

Comics-wise, it is important to take note of these developing picture writing trends because they further evidence the universality of picture writing and sequential narratives.  As it stands these two patterns of story telling and character creation are being built upon comic’s established framework. Quite literally, many of these comics depend heavily on traditional frames.  What’s special about these generalized faces and expressions is that by their repeated use and constant recontextualization, they are becoming the semantic units of a greater image language that can communicate in new ways!

4 thoughts on “Observing Rage Comics And Images Macros”

  1. Wow, this was an incredible post. A friend and I were discussing the pictograph-language nature of Rage Comics recently, and it was entertaining to see our conclusions borne out by an independent thinker (I should make a rage comic about it… ).

    One of the things that impressed us was how strong the sense of the ‘definition’ of a rage face could be. You only have to look at the replies to a rage comic that uses a face outside of its agreed-upon context to watch the descent of the Rage Comic Grammar Nazi swarm. Still, there have been some gradual redefinitions as definition entropy broadens a word then the popular conception recondenses it down onto a new definition. For example, take the ‘Me Gusta’ face. Originally, it was intended as a way of expressing liking something gross, or strange (I think the original was piss shivers or something?), but it’s mutated to a more generic but intense enjoyment of anything.

    Anyway, I’d love to see some more structured analysis and research into the topic. What are George Lakoff and Noam Chomsky doing these days?

    1. That’s a nice coincidence. Given the nature of these phenomena, it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that multiple people started observing the big picture trends. It’s nice that we’ve found each other!

      This notion of redefinition intrigues me. Not because it reveals anything significant about the way in which we encode language, but by the fact that we, as humans are currently witnessing the evolution of a language from pictographic to lexicographic. We don’t have to just go to archaeological findings for evidence of the processes that have been at the root of the evolution of human language. We watch the observable change of meaning. It’s pretty cool.

  2. I LOVE that somebody finally wrote about this! Though, i suppose it’s possible this has been touched on before and I just never saw it, but the point is that I’ve been actively pondering the relevance of Rage Comics and their evolution for about a year now and it’s very interesting to see somebody else tackle the ideas that have been jumbling around in my head.

    I find Rage Comics utterly fascinating. I love the idea that now ANYBODY can make comics, without any prior background in cartooning at all! The Rage Faces provide such a wide range of emotions for people to use, you can make pretty much whatever you desire. As a whole it’s probably all pretty inconsequential, but it doesn’t make it any less legitimate as a form of sequential art. Hundreds of thousands, probably MILLIONS of people are now technically comic authors thanks to the Rage Face family. In a way, it’s turning COMICS in to a new form of communication. I’ve had almost whole “conversations” with people, ONLY using Rage Faces.

    Comics have been used for instructional pamphlets, text books, and a variety of other NON-story telling functions, but I don’t think they’ve ever been seen as a form of communication before, at least not on this scale. It’s strange, the content created with the Rage Faces seems so inconsequential, yet the idea behind what they enable people to do is so HUGE…….and I don’t think anybody even really realizes how fantastic a tool it is as a creative outlet for those among us who are traditionally on the LESS creative side of things….

    I apologize if my response is a tad incoherent/all over the place….I’m pretty tired right now. I just really liked this post and had to respond :p

    1. Despite the boons that seem implicit from the seeming democratization of comics as a medium of communication, it’s certain that the world is going to be flooded with crappy comics. If anything, we should expect a flood of inane mundane stories to be equal to at least a 10 fold increase in the amount of pen and paper comics made in the early 2000s after everyone had finally caught on to Robert Crumb and his comics had become coffee table conversation.

      I like to think of it as the kind of communication that only the most sentient gorillas would engage in if presented with a computer terminal. Let’s send each other drawings of our faces. We could Skype a friend and tell the story, or we could record it on video and then post it online. That would achieve the closest approximation to a retelling of the story, but we don’t do it that way, do we? No we’d rather put some relatively crude images and words together to tell the story.

      This kind of online communication has already been around via emoticons, but emoticons did not gain as vast an audience that understood specific instances of faces uniformly across languages and cultures as the Rage Faces have.

      Again, the medium of comics prevails as a solution because of how it economizes both the energies of the writer and the reader. Bringing in some fancy pants linguistics literature would reveal that this scenario could be right in line with Grice’s Maxim. We want to say as much as possible in as little as possible. It’s more efficient.

      Emoticons simply did not exist within a formal syntax that was structured any differently than existing languages. Emoticons would function simply as punctuation and everyone knows that it’s pretty damn hard to tell a story simply using exclamation marks, colons, commas and apostrophe’s.

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