The biggest thing that I’ve been up to here in the ivory tower is work related to developing a way to quantifiably analyze how people read comics.
Here’s a peek at the eye tracker that I’m trying build. I’ll be changing the code so that eye movement paths are recorded for later analysis.
The hypothesis that I’m moving forward with is based upon the recent work of Frank Santoro regarding page layouts. Do the natural harmonics of the comics page determine how the reading experience flows? It would seem like they intuitively do, but it doesn’t seem that we know how. If one deviates from respecting the harmonics of the page, what does the reader’s eye do? Is there back tracking? Are sections read over multiple times? It is my belief that with this quantitative data you can begin to have a way to explain why some comics read better than others.There are many directions that this work can go in.
Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, I can’t seem to find a way to capture how comics are read on paper and will have to settle with having test subjects read off of screens or projections. I know that Frank would probably argue that the reading of comics project by light on a screen is a wholly different one from reading print comics, but for now it’s going to have to do. This is an exploration after all.(Here’s a device that could possibly handle eye tracking of print comics:the EyeSeeCam.)
On a side note, while I’m focusing this particular work on analyzing the relationship between semantic units on the page, page layout and effectiveness of storytelling related to comics, this kind of work is applicable to any kinds of visual documents. Does a poster read well? Why does that infographic blow?
If you have any recommendations of comics pages that I should have people read, let me know in the comments. (One page stories would seem to be best in that they contain complete ideas that don’t need further context. That is to say, Big Tex by Chris Ware would be good, as would most of Ivan Brunetti’s work.)