Elemental Puzzle Pieces: Narrative description of the cartoon puzzle

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Elemental Puzzle Pieces: Narrative description of the cartoon puzzle
Anderson, Anne ( Author )
Place of Publication:
University of South Florida
Physical Description:
1 online resource (3 pages)


Subjects / Keywords:
Education -- Research ( lcsh )
Semiotics ( lcsh )


Cartoons tell a story through explicit words and images that, implicitly, evoke other modalities. Cro-MENDA provides a way to collect the elemental puzzle pieces without losing sight of the overall narrative.

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Source Institution:
University of South Florida
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
I19-00003 ( USFLDC DOI )
i19.3 ( USFLDC Handle )

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Interpreting Editorial Cartoons

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Anne W. Anderson, 2016 / Cro MENDA PuzzleIcon 1 Elemental Puzzle Pieces: Narrative description of the cartoon puzzle Cartoons tell a story through explicit words and images that, implicitly, evoke other modalities. Cro MENDA provides a way to collect the elemental puzzle pieces without losing sight of the overall narrative. I used Cross Modal Ethnographic Narrative Document Analysis ( Cro MENDA ) to study editorial cartoons a type of cross modal, multi contextual, non linear text by describing the narrative in terms of the literary, arti stic, and humorous elements incorporated by the cartoonist. Chicken/Eggs, Forest/Trees Zoom In/ Out Simple study aids (protocols) developed for K 12 students to use when studying editorial cartoons asked viewers to list what they saw in the cartoon (people, objects, symbols), what they read in t he cartoon (speech bubbles, labels), and what issues the cartoon addressed (Library of Congress 2013; National Arc hives, 2006). But these protocols assumed the viewer understood the narrative joke or story; they zoomed in on a few of the elemental "trees" and missed the forest. Or they presumed the narrative "chicken" was implicit in the elemental "eggs." Rose (2012), in a discussion of film and almost as an afterthought, said, "[D]escribing its narrative structure can also be an important way of interpret ing a film" (p. 71), and Bal (2009/1985) suggested narrative description narratology, as a means of not privileging one element over another. Narrative description and collecting elemental puzzle pieces Tsakona (2009) note d that "the visual code and its interaction with the verbal one result in the non linearity of cartoon messages affecting thus the cognitive processing of cartoons" (p. 1171). Combining the non linearity of the cartoon message with the ethnographic stance of the researcher (both as researcher and as observer of a community) meant Cro MENDA needed to allow for multiple entry points into the cartoons. Narrative description met th is need. Altheide and Schneider's (2012) method of coding field notes which, ironically, was not part of their protocol for collecting data on their broadcast news segments suggested a means of collecting information about the literary, artistic, and humo rous elements that, pieced together, made up the narrative cartoon (See Figure 2). This method also accounts for the implicit modalities of sound, gestures, and symbols in addition to those of written language and images as they work in concert with each o ther. Puzzle Icon Figure 1 "Marching on to Washington, by SAV, published in the Appeal to Reason February 12, 1910, p. 1 tells a story using verbal and visual elements that evoke other modalities.


Anne W. Anderson, 2016 / Cro MENDA PuzzleIcon 2 A smorgasbord of elements Puzzle pieces can be large or small depending on the level of analysis the researcher determines is appropriate for a particular study. For example, while Table 1 lists basic literary, artistic, and design elements, it does not include sources discussing how we perceive facial expressions, sounds, or gestures. Contextual considerations also are missing from this part of the data collection [ See WebIcon for a discussion of contexts .] Theoretically, it is possible to zoom in or out at an infinite level resulting in infinite interpretations of the same cartoon [ See MapIcon for a discussion of underlying theories .] Table 1. Some sources listing and discussing verbal, visual, and humorous narrative elements Source Elements Kiefer's (2010) children's literature textbook Narrative elements: plot, setting (time/plac e), characters/characterization, style, tone, theme Visual style elements: line and shape, use of color, value (light/dark), space, point of view/perspective, overall composition, and media (woodcut, pen and ink, or other) Cuddon's (1999) dictionary of literary terms and theories Literary elements and devices: Including, but not limited to, analogy, foreshadowing, irony, metaphor, and other narrative devices ; some of these include humorous devices, as well Heller (2002) Design elements: typography, spee ch bubbles, and other design choices Figure 2. Because stories can be told from varying perspectives, narrative description begins at whatever point the researcher chooses and can be as detailed as the researcher determines is sufficient for his/her purposes to produce an informed interpretation of the cartoon.


Anne W. Anderson, 2016 / Cro MENDA PuzzleIcon 3 Cross modal ethnographic narrative document analysis (CroMENDA) provides a structured approach to identifying, selecting, and analyzing documents, defined by Altheide and Schneider (2012) as "any symbolic representation that can be recorded or retrieved for analysis" (p. 5), including such symbolic representations as "footpaths worn in grass, dog eared pages in books, and other unobtrusive indicators" (p. 7). Grounded in Iser's (2006) explanation of soft th eory and based on Altheide and Schneider's (2012) ethnographic content analysis, which they used to analyze television news footage, on Rodriguez and Dimitrova's levels of visual framing, and on Mead's theories of symbolic interaction (Blumer, 1996), I dev eloped CroMENDA to understand editorial cartoons from two early 20 th century newspapers. I first wandered through the individual cartoons, following paths suggested by the elements within the cartoon, by the cultural context in which it was created, and by my own unique mental faculties and predispositions. I made field notes of my wanderings, coded narratives describing the cross modal stylistic choices made by cartoonist, the cultural/historical context in which the cartoon was set, and my own supposition s as I placed myself in the position of the actor/cartoonist and/or of the role/character. I then pieced together the narratives to detect topics and to discern themes and to determine frames through which the topics and themes were presented. From this fi eld note mapping and piecing together of narratives, I discussed ideological stances and discourses found in the collection References Altheide, D. L., & Schneider, C. J. (2012). Qualitative media analysis (2 nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Bal, M. (2009/1985). Narratology: Introduction to the theory of narrative (3 rd ed.). Toronto, CAN: University of Toronto Press. Cudden, J.A. (1999) The Penguin dictionary of literary terms & literary theory (4th ed). Rev. C. E. Preston (Ed.). London, UK: Penguin. Heller, S. (2002). The graphic design reader. New York, NY: Allworth Press. Kiefer, B.Z. (2010). Charlotte Huck's children's literature (10 th Ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill. National Archives and Re cords Administration. (2006). Cartoon analysis worksheet. Retrieved from Rodriguez, L., & Dimitrova, D. (2011). The levels of visual framing. Journal of Visual Literacy, 30 (1), 48 65. Roesky H. W., & Kennepohl, D. (2008). Drawing attention with chemistry cartoons. Journal of Chemical Education, 85 (10), 1355 1360. Rose, G. (2012). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials (3 rd ed.). London, UK: Sage. Tsakona, V. (2009). Language and image interaction in cartoons: Toward a multimodal theory of humor. Journal of Pragmatics, 41 1171 1188.