“Ligne claire” for instructional comics

I have long wondered why many comic strips put me off, although I appreciate the benefit of visuals very much, and I find some drawn narrations acceptable. In my today’s newspaper (FR) I found a name for this: “Ligne claire” (as of Tintin), which was applied to a spiny pedagogical project.

This is the style that I am not uncomfortable with. It looks old-fashioned and sober and not much emotionally appealing. It has no effects like shadows, hatchures, color gradients, or lines emphasized by their thickness. But I think these very effects create the impression of unseriousness — and inappropriateness for education — because they create an importunate style that is, in a way, distance-less, and seems to suggest to the reader how they should feel about the story or the characters shown.

With Ligne Claire, by contrast, the reader retains sufficient distance to develop their own emotional stance alongside the cognitive treatment, and so s/he is enabled to engage with the resource in a pedagogically fruitful way.

This possibility of developping one’s own imagination of the material presented, has much to do with the esteem of the medium as worthy or unworthy. The opportunity, or even the necessity, of constructing one’s own understanding from a written text, has significantly contributed to the reputation of books that, on the other hand, often disdains visual or other non-textual media. Non-textual media are always suspicious to relieve readers of some effort, to do the work for them of converting back a certain amount of abstraction. Since reading was more demanding than listening or viewing, a connotation of superiority emerged, and “literate” was equated to “erudited” (and hence the view that new media and the internet cause the decline of the west…).

Regarding comic strips, I was not able to elude this impression of inferiority, myself. It was not only that they partially save viewers from reading. Also movies and audios do that, while comics are more comparable to written texts since they are to be engaged with in an asynchronous way enabling autonomous pace and hence more of one’s own reflection.

Like some kind of comics, some kind of visual thinking caused discomfort to me, as well, and I appreciate the reservations of people dismissing this stuff as too primitive for real problems. I was tempted to draw the distinction between the two visual styles: Between spatial visualizations (more abstract – demanding – superior) and object visualizations (more realistic – easier to grasp – inferior), but this would not explain why some examples of very simple stick figure sketches are so perfectly capable of helping to tackle tough questions. I was also thinking if there might be cultural differences, that we in Europe or Germany have reservations against some style elements from elsewhere.

Finally, the description of Ligne Claire makes it plausible that its sober style is more adequate for autonomous emotions and thoughts than other, distance-less drawing styles. So, while educators’ reservation against the latter are probably justified, the former kind is very appropriate and recommendable.

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