Sunday, November 21, 2010

Part I, Chapter 1: Fundamentals, Section 1.4

§ 1.4) Elements as Atomic Propositions

So far our discussion has built up several of the necessary truths
of sequential art that have heretofore been taken for granted, or
left undefined. However, a necessary concept - that of the "element"-
has not yet been defined. This is because ASPM treats all sequential
art layouts as being comprised of these fundamental entities, whose
nature cannot be further defined. They are, therefore, "atomic".

1.4.1) Sequential Art As Logic:

Russell and Whitehead write in Principia Mathematica:

"Atomic propositions may be defined negatively as propositions containing no parts that are propositions, and not containing the notions 'all' or 'some'. Thus 'this is red', 'this is earlier than that,' are atomic propositions." [1]
We apply this definition in our treatment of sequential art. Just as in statements of logic there are fundamental propositions which cannot be split up into smaller propositions, there are objects in sequential art that cannot be split up into further objects. For example, the image of a man, as a symbol, is a single element. If one imagines a stick figure standing in an empty white box, the stick figure would be an element, and one could imagine equating the figure in the language of sequential art, with an equally valid statement in writing: "There is a figure".

Given the Panel Sequence Theorem (§1.2), if we draw two panels, we have set up a sequence. And this is the same as saying "If A (panel 1) then B (panel 2)". The act of demarcating some arbitrary number of elements in sequence equates to creating a linear chain of inference.

Hence, an element is defined as any object depicted in a layout that cannot be broken down into further qualifications. In practice, of course, it may be difficult or impossible to precisely point to every single element in a layout, but since the object of our task is to achieve a perfectly idealized mathematical model that can serve as a Platonic ideal for all sequential art works, for our purposes we shall treat elements as discrete objects.

1.4.2) Sequential Art As Language:

As McCloud writes in Making Comics:

"Comics is a secret language all its own, and mastering it poses challenges unlike any faced by prose writers, illustrators or any other creative professionals." [2]
This statement is true. As mentioned in the introduction, sequential art is a framework built upon writing and art, and exists at the unification of the two disciplines. From this union, and from the special demands imposed on art and writing by the demands of presentation of a visual story on the page, comes a unique grammatical structure built to convey meaning effectively. To that end, insofar as it is, in fact, an orderly system of meaning, sequential art yields useful insights when subjected to analysis by reductionistic logic.

This is to say, in general, that, as a language unto itself, sequential art is by definition an ordered system. One can imagine that, just as the statements of formal language are ordered by the structure of grammar, so too are the statements of sequential art are ordered by a unique form "grammar". Whereas in language, statements such as "If given X, P(x) implies Y; X is true, therefore Y" exist and can be written down, so too does the language of sequential art possess a similar if-then structure, conveyed visually by elements on the page. The fact that there are elements, and that they are encoded by a formal logic, implies a sequentiality similar to that possessed by elements of a language. One can imagine a set of elements in a given layout is in many ways "meant" to be ordered in a given sequence - otherwise, insofar as it as a work of sequential art, the layout would be meaningless. Similarly, a sentence in written language without the structure of grammar, is also meaningless.

Thus, by definition, sequential art, in order to be considered sequential art at all, must needs possess an underlying orderliness. It is from orderly, sequential placement of the elements, structured by the grammatical logic of sequential art, that it derives meaning.

1.4.3) Logic and Language Imply Atomic Truths

Given 1.41 and 1.42, we come to the conclusion that, to gain meaning as a language, sequential art employs elements that are fundamental, and place them in sequence. Therefore, it is meaningful to write statements such as e1 e2 ... em-1. ⊢ em, or molecular propositions em ~em+1 because the elements can be treated as ordered sets of atomic propositions. Since sequential art possesses a unique grammar and structure, many aspects are therefore amenable to the same forms of mathematical treatment as logic. Concepts such as design, emotional affect, aesthetics, symbolism, metaphor and so on, are, however, philosophical in nature, and not within the scope of logical sequential art as treated by ASPM. ▮

1.4.4) References:

  • [1] Whitehead, A. N. & Russell, B., Principia Mathematica to *56, Second Edition, Cambridge at the University Press, 1964, p. xv
  • [2] McCloud, S., Making Comics, Harper-Collins, 2006, p. 2


  1. Who'd a-thunk that comics could be argued into place as a profound representation of the logic inherent to reality, and right down to a molecular level? Very nice!

    (I linked to your blog from Latigo Flint's)

  2. Oh wow, that thing? It's been forever! Thanks!