Games Comics Play: Interpersonal Interaction in Graphic Narrative

  • Paul Fisher Davies
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels book series (PSCGN)


This chapter outlines an approach to interpersonal engagement and the intrusion of the self into the comics text which follows the structures outlined by Halliday in his systemic functional accounts of language. This is presented as a form of interactive ‘play’, borrowing some of the approaches to terminology, though not all of the commitments, used by Eric Berne (1967) in describing human interaction. The core interactions of language are presented conceptualised as a set of ‘games’ in which comics texts propose to engage the reader, as a vivid way of describing the array of possible core interactions as mapped to Halliday’s account of language functions. Comics offer information, but may also expect the reader to work for this, playing games of spot-the-difference, Where’s Wally? and Rebus, each requiring different ways of attending to what is conveyed. Comics may demand information from the reader, requiring them to complete the image, at least in principle, and whether they actually do so or not: from the possibility of questionnaires, often in concert with linguistic forms, through Spot-the-Ball interpretations of the dynamics of the image, to Join-the-Dots connections of incomplete line and Colouring-In of black-and-white images. They may also demand action of readers: whether this is done by the eye or mind, following paths as in Maze or sequences as in Follow-the-Numbers, or connecting elements to form a larger whole, as in Jigsaw; or by potential action on the material of the book, from physical dismantling of the page in Cut-Out-and-Make, or more frequently manipulations such as Turn-the-Page, or Fold. The final possibility, the offer of goods-and-services, is represented in the totality of affordances of the graphic narrative text: it adopts the other forms and presents itself as good and as service.


  1. Bakhtin, M. M. 1982. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Edited by Michael Holquist. Translated by Caryl Emerson. New edition. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  2. Barry, Lynda. 2014. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Montréal: Drawn and Quarterly.Google Scholar
  3. Berne, Eric. 1967. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, Penelope, and Stephen C. Levinson. 1987. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cohn, Neil. 2013. ‘Navigating Comics: An Empirical and Theoretical Approach to Strategies of Reading Comic Page Layouts’. Cognitive Science 4: 186.
  6. Crumb, Robert, and Peter Poplaski. 2005. The R. Crumb Handbook. London: Spruce.Google Scholar
  7. Dennett, Daniel C. 1992. Consciousness Explained. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  8. Eisner, Will. 2008. Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. 1st ed. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 2011. PS Magazine. 1st ed. New York: Abrams Comic Arts.Google Scholar
  10. El Refaie, Elisabeth. 2010. ‘Visual Modality Versus Authenticity: The Example of Autobiographical Comics’. Visual Studies 25 (2): 162–74. Scholar
  11. Fish, Stanley Eugene. 1976. Interpreting the Variorum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gaudreault, André. 1987. ‘Narration and Monstration in the Cinema’. Journal of Film and Video 39 (2): 29–36.Google Scholar
  13. Goodbrey, Daniel. 2013. ‘From Comic to Hypercomic’. Cultural Excavation and Formal Expression in the Graphic Novel, 291–302.Google Scholar
  14. Green, Katie. 2013. Lighter Than My Shadow. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  15. Grice, Paul. 1975. ‘Logic and Conversation’. In Syntax and Semantics, edited by Peter Cole and Jerry Morgan, vol. 3, 41–58. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  16. Groensteen, Thierry. 2010. ‘The Monstrator, the Recitant and the Shadow of the Narrator’. European Comic Art 3 (1): 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. ———. 2013. Comics and Narration. Translated by Ann Miller. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.Google Scholar
  18. Halliday, M. A. K. 2005. On Grammar, Volume 1. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  19. Halliday, M. A. K., and Christian Matthiessen. 2004. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 3rd ed. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Handford, Martin. 1987. Where’s Wally? Illustrated edition. London: Walker Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  21. Hernandez, Jaime. 1988. The Lost Women. Westlake Village, CA: Fantagraphics Books.Google Scholar
  22. Iser, Wolfgang. 1978. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Jaffee, Al. 2011. The MAD Fold-In Collection: 1964–2010. Slp edition. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.Google Scholar
  24. Kress, Gunther, and Theo van Leeuwen. 2006. Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Kunzle, David, ed. 2007. Rodolphe Töpffer: The Complete Comic Strips. Reprint. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.Google Scholar
  26. Masereel, Frans. 2008. Passionate Journey: A Vision in Woodcuts. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  27. McCay, Winsor. 2016. Little Nemo in Slumberland: 302+1 Full-Page Weekly Comic Strips (October 15, 1905–July 23, 1911): Volume 1. 1st ed. Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.Google Scholar
  28. McCloud, Scott. 1993. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  29. Moore, Alan, and Dave Gibbons. 1986. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics.Google Scholar
  30. O’Malley, Bryan Lee. 2010. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life: Volume 1. London: Fourth Estate.Google Scholar
  31. ———. 2012. Scott Pilgrim Color Hardcover Volume 1: Precious Little Life. 1st ed. Portland, OR: Oni Press.Google Scholar
  32. O’Toole, Michael. 2010. The Language of Displayed Art. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Persoff, Ethan. n.d. ‘COMICS WITH PROBLEMS #25—Treat Your Rifle Like a Lady’. Ethan Persoff. Accessed 29 October 2015.
  34. ‘Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Questionnaire—Pain_questionnaire.Pdf’. n.d. Accessed 25 July 2016.
  35. Picault, Aude. 2009. Transat. Paris: Delcourt.Google Scholar
  36. Porcellino, John. 2009. Map of My Heart: The Best of King-Cat Comics & Stories 1996–2002. Montréal: Drawn and Quarterly.Google Scholar
  37. Postema, Barbara. 2010. ‘Mind the Gap: Absence as Signifying Function in Comics’. PhD thesis, Michigan State University.Google Scholar
  38. Rémi, Cornelia. 2011. ‘7. Reading as Playing: The Cognitive Challenge of the Wimmelbook’. In Studies in Written Language and Literacy, edited by Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, vol. 13, 115–40. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. Scholar
  39. Sacco, Joe. 2013. The Great War. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  40. Sacks, Harvey, Emanuel A. Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson. 1974. ‘A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation’. Language 50 (4): 696. Scholar
  41. Saraceni, Mario. 2003. The Language of Comics. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Smith, Jeff. 2004. Bone: One Volume Edition: 1. Revised edition. Columbus, OH: Cartoon Books.Google Scholar
  43. ———. 2005. Out from Boneville: 1. First Thus edition. New York, NY: Scholastic.Google Scholar
  44. Smith, Matthew J., and Randy Duncan, eds. 2011. Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  45. Sontag, Susan. 2009. Against Interpretation and Other Essays. London: Penguin Classics.Google Scholar
  46. Spiegelman, Art. 1997. Open Me… I’m a Dog! New York: Joanna Cotler Books.Google Scholar
  47. Tan, Shaun. 2007. The Arrival. London: Hodder Children’s Books.Google Scholar
  48. Ward, Lynd. 2010. Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts. Edited by Art Spiegelman. Slp edition. New York: The Library of America.Google Scholar
  49. Ware, Chris. 2001. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  50. ———. 2003. Quimby the Mouse. 1st ed. Seattle, WA; New York: Fantagraphics.Google Scholar
  51. ———. 2005. The Acme Novelty Library. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Fisher Davies
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations