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Peanuts used as model for visual language pattern study

Neil Cohn is a psychology student at Tufts University researching about visual language patterns and grammar. His current project is studying comics and as he says, “hopefully, by summer I should be testing peoples intutions on the grammar of these strips, and eventually looking at their brainwaves while processing them (fun!).” [sic].

Part of his research includes studying a history of wordless (or minimum text) strips from Peanuts. He’s already made a few interesting discoveries:

One of the things that has jumped out at me is how so many of the strips use systematic patterns that I haven’t noticed before. Previously, I’ve talked about the visual grammatical pattern of the ‘Set up – Beat – Punchline’ construction (as coined by Neal VonFlue). This is the pattern that sets up the joke with dialogue, then has a pause panel, then ends with the punchline. Well, Schultz seems to use a few other patterns a lot as well.

The most intruiging to me is one that is almost exactly like the SBP pattern, only the “beat/pause” panel isn’t actually a pause: it’s an “action” panel (SAP?). Instead of a passive type “rest,” the space is filled by some wordless action that sets up the payoff with the final panel punchline. I’ve only looked at the oldest of the collections (the 1950s) and have only seen a few actual SBP constructions. I’m curious whether or not this SAP pattern preceded/led to the SBP one.

He goes on to identify more patterns as well. Very interesting stuff. I’ll be following his work and report anything else of interest.

Hat tip to Dirk Deppey over at Journalista

Community Comments

#1 Rich
March/29/2007
@ 8:58 pm

It does sound interesting and it’s edifying to find patterns, etc. However, most attempts to define humor, or find a *formula*, suck the life out of it. My hunch is that this will sort of end up the same way.

If you really want to go with minimal words … check out single panel cartoons. To save research time, here’s the formula – *P*

Yeah … I said P. Anyway, I wish him well. Sound more interesting than my psych classes!

#2 Steve H.
March/30/2007
@ 10:53 am

It’s hard to take a study of Schulz seriously when the writer doesn’t know how to spell Schulz.

#3 Rich
March/30/2007
@ 11:35 am

LOL! Yes, but is his language and grammar correct? Perhaps he hated his father and it is now manifested in his spelling? I wonder how this makes him feel?

Joke is probably once again on us … he’s getting paid (or at least funded) to read classic peanuts cartoons. Academia strikes again!

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