Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Lexicon of Comicana" is Textbook of Comic Strip Visual Language

A 1980 book by Mort Walker, a comic strip cartoonist most famous for "Beetle Bailey" and "Hi and Lois", codified comics' visual language that has grown up over the years to be ingrained in our cerebral cortexes.  To this day, the "Lexicon of Comicana" is studied in art schools as the last word in how comic strips express such abstract concepts as heat, movement, energy, smells, obscenity and anger without a word. 

But the words Walker coined to describe these phenomena are as evocative as the comics themselves: "quimp", "plewd", "grawlix", "emanata", "squean" and "spurl" are just a few of the names of visual flourishes that immediately communicate the comic creator's intentions to us, the readers.

Hunter Communications Original News Source
Fast Co. Design

Link to article:
Excerpt: "If you asked Walker, he’d probably say there was nothing special about him being so precocious at such a young age. 'Every child is a cartoonist,' he writes in The Lexicon. 'We all begin by drawing crude symbols of people and houses and trees. No one ever starts out as a Rembrandt. But Rembrandt started out as a cartoonist.'Walker might joke that what made him so wonderfully suited to being a career cartoonist is the fact that he never grew up. Even today, at 89, Walker makes his living by 'drawing crude symbols' of people, and houses, and things. Not a lot of people would claim that Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois are sophisticated examples of the cartooning art. But they are, and after reading The Lexicon, it’s almost impossible not to have an almost idolatrous appreciation for Walker’s comic strips, when before they might have seemed clich├ęd and woefully behind the times.

As a reader, The Lexicon of Comicana's principal charm is that it lays out a series of cartooning phenomena that you’ve probably never thought too hard about, gives them funny, onomatopoeic names, and then lays out examples of how your favorite comic strip might use them...

For example, there’s the emanata. Emanata, The Lexicon explains, are symbols that emanate outwards from cartoon characters to show their internal state. Many emanata are unclassified by Walker (for example, hearts bubbling out of a character’s head to show that he’s fallen in love), but of the varieties identified by The Lexicon, there are some real winners.

If you’ve ever read Cathy or a Japanese manga, you’ll already be familiar with plewds, the drops of sweat that spray outwards from a cartoon character under emotional distress. The more plewds a character has, the more upset he or she is: There’s a big difference between the two plewds a comic strip character might show if he ripped the backside off his trousers and the eight he might have if he was skydived naked into the middle of a conference of clergymen.

If you like to tie one on, The Lexicon can afford you a useful grammar of cartoon drunkenness. If Leroy Lockhorn stumbles home with just a couple of tiny squeans above his head in the comics, he’s unlikely to get walloped: he’s just a little bit tipsy. If that squean is accompanied by a spurl, though, he’s loaded, and Loretta’s likely to bring a rolling pin down on his head. (As a personal note, after reading The Lexicon for the first time, I adopted the words 'squeanish' and 'spurlish' to describe my own relative state of inebriation. They’re very useful.)"

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