Comics use several sign-languages at the same time in their images that are also accompanied by words. These signs can only get decoded without larger variations in meaning (connotations) if they are established with precisely one denoted meaning. As images they make possible the description of states and stages in a view images, while one would need many words to describe these. But the associations possible are extremely wide with images, so it is never guaranteed that images are decoded like intended by the encoder. The use of pictograms in various contexts shows the lack of limitations to the use of images as signs: While the meaning of words is defined in dictionaries, it is impossible to fix the meaning of images like that, as not only the elements of each image but also its borders, the perspective chosen etc. are transporting possible meanings. "Possible" is essential here, all these factors do not have to carry meaning in each individual case. The difference between a narration in written texts and in image/text-combinations is a fixture in storytelling.
In comics, the images not only work individually but also in combination: Each new page is a new experience of the images in combination and individually alike: the whole page works as a meta-panel (or meta-image) that consists of all its individual images and combination of their designs (in accordance with definitions in film, one can call this effect "mise-en-page" ). Decisions about the number of images and their placing and style are crucial for the storytelling style of each comic, as the designs of pages and images in reference to each other's dominating graphic elements gives the author control over the design of each full page, for example, sometimes, large signs dominate the entire page - and are composed from elements in individual images and only assemble to the large sign in synchronicity. The options and necessities of page-turning can be simulated on-screen, but the experience of reading is different. Whether a fitting way to narrate with a specific form of plot-development will get established for this medium remains to be seen.
The difference between information-comics and other can be summarised like this: Comics are in our general understanding not produced and distributed to explain a technical artefact or how to assemble or service it. They usually narrate independently of attached artefacts. But when looking at more and more manuals or mounting instructions we find sequential graphic narrations, not very thrilling plots, but stringent and with a narrative purpose. Also, there are comics that try to teach in a non-fictional way e.g. public health issues or the Geneve Convention.
Into which literary field we place documentary, journalistic and other non-fictional comics or comics that tell of natural science or other scientific or other knowledge is not settled, yet. These genres are fluid and some even blend fictional and non-fictional strands of narration. It remains to be seen, how comics theory deals with these, in practice they are developing a splendid width and depth of options.
Comics analysis, as the title translates quite un-originally, develops a systematic for the analysis of all kinds of comics and other forms of picture stories, traditional european comics as well as Asian manga or mounting instructions and maintenance manuals.
All picture stories use the same fundus of visual material, in principle, no matter whether they are highly complex or rather simple, stemming from Western or Eastern traditions, no matter if they are drawn in classic ligne claire-style or in high graphic hybridity. The book offers a systematic view onto comics and its elements. The author isolates, describes, and analyses the individual elements from which comics are constructed to be able to understand the interrelations between these different elements and levels of comics story construction. By this, the basic way in which picture stories and comics are working is getting explained, as well as the huge bandwidth of possible variation available for individual comics, picture books etc.
Jakob F. Dittmar: Comic-Analyse.
Konstanz: UVK 2008, 210 pages.
2., rev. edition: Konstanz: UVK 2011, 220 pages.
Now available at Herbert von Halem-Verlag, Cologne.
Link to publisher's homepage
Literature on comics (by me):
"Negotiating Documentation in Comics" (by Ofer Ashkenazi and me). In: International Journal of Comic Art, Vol. 20:1, Spring/Summer 2018; 587-597.
"Abstraction and non-sequitur." In: Aarnoud Rommens, Pablo Turnes, Erwin Dejasse, Björn-Olav Dozo (Eds.): Abstraction and Comics. (forthcoming)
(2015) "Experiments in Comics Storytelling" in: Studies in Comics 6.1, 2015: Proceedings of the fifth annual International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference; 157-165.
"Sequential Images, the Page, and Narrative Structures" in: International Journal of Comic Art, Vol. 17:2, Autumn 2015; 561-571.
(2015) "Experiments in Digital Comics: Somewhere between comics and multimedia storytelling" in: Ian Hague (ed.): Comics Forum. March 13, 2015.
(2014) "Spirou – över 70 år av figurdesign" (in Swedish) in bild & bubbla nr. 201/2014; 98-101.
(2014) "Comics for the Blind and for the Seeing" in: International Journal of Comic Art, Vol. 16:1, Spring 2014; 477-86.
(2014) "Comics" (in German) in Jens Schröter (Hg.): Handbuch Medienwissenschaft. Stuttgart: J.B.Metzler; 258-261.
(2013) "Die Vermittlung von Zusammenhängen und Handlungsfolgen mit Hilfe beweglicher Elemente" (in German) in Urs Hangartner, Felix Keller und Dorothea Oechslin (Hrsg): Wissen durch Bilder. Sachcomics als Medien von Bildung und Information. Bielefeld: Transcript; 311-326.
(2013) "Comics and History: Myth-making in Nazi-references" in: International Journal of Comic Art, Vol. 15:1, Spring 2013; 270–286.
(2012) "Digital Comics" in: Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art (SJoCA), Winter 2012; 82–91.
(2011): "Grenzüberschreitungen: Technikdokumentation und drei-dimensionale Bilder in fiktionalen Comics" (in German) in: Thomas Becker (Hg.): Comic: Intermedialität und Legitimität eines popkulturellen Mediums. Bochum: Bachmann Verlag; 147-158.
(2011): "Comic und Geschichtsbewußtsein - Mythisierung im Gegensatz zur Historisierung" (in German) in: Klaus Farin, Ralf Palandt (Hrsg.): Rechtsextremismus, Rassismus und Antisemitismus in Comics. Berlin: Archiv der Jugendkulturen; 419-427.
ders. (2011): Research paper "Comic" (in German) in: Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik (HWRh). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer; 169-185.
(2010): "Jaki bodzie komiks cyfrewy?" ("Digital Comics" in Polish, translated by Michal Blazejczyk)
in: Zeszyty Komiksowe Nr. 10, pazdziernik.
(2010): "Comics and History: Myth-making versus Historisation" (in Hebrew, translated by Ofer Ashkenazi) in: Slil: On-Line Journal for History, Film and Television Winter-Issue 2010.
(2008/2011): Comic-Analyse. (book in German)