Defining units of analysis for the systematic analysis of comics: A discourse-based approach | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 5, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2040-3232
  • E-ISSN: 2040-3240



Although regularly contested and rejected, the idea of a ‘grammar of comics’ continues to be applied to the analysis of comics in many disciplines and frameworks. The motivation for this is the evident regularity and systematicity exhibited by the comics medium as a form of expressive communication. Less commonly realized is that nowadays there are powerful descriptive mechanisms developed in approaches to verbal texts and linguistics that do not require the assumption of ‘grammar’ to explain productive structural regularity. This is important for the future study of comics because the notion of ‘grammar’ is in many respects deeply problematic when applied outside of its home area of natural language. In this article we demonstrate how more recent accounts of dynamic discourse provide a more appropriate set of mechanisms for talking about visual media such as comics. These mechanisms allow us to naturally relate panel, page and multiframe compositions as well as their combinations. By critical discussion of examples addressed in the literature, we show how these constructs also entail treatments of panel transitions that move beyond overly tight linking of panels and panel transitions to time and space and offer a methodologically sound way of identifying units of analysis in comics in general.


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