The Tyranny of Z Path: Understanding how comics are read is important to understanding how comics can be presented on a screen and the potential for innovation. ~ eP
Like the sequence of words in written language, comic book page layouts direct images into a deliberate reading sequence. Conventional wisdom would expect that comic panels follow the order of text: left-to-right and down – a “Z-path” – though several layouts can violate this order, such as Gestalt groupings of panels that deny a Z-path of reading. To examine how layouts pressure readers to choose pathways deviating from the Z-path, we presented participants with comic pages empty of content, and asked them to number the panels in the order they would read them. Participants frequently used strategies departing from both the traditional Z-path and Gestalt groupings. These preferences reveal a system of constraints that organizes panels into hierarchic constituents, guiding readers through comic page layouts.
“… A high frequency of reading Japanese manga decreased the likelihood of using a left-to-right ordering of panels, as depicted in Figure 5B. Follow up analyses revealed that participants who often read manga had significantly fewer frequencies of left-to-right orders than those of people who never or rarely read manga (all t > 2.83, all p < 0.01). All other contrasts between groups were not significantly different from each other (all t < 1.69, all p > 0.096).
The interaction of left-to-right motion with frequency of reading Japanese manga may support that reading of different page layouts alters one’s navigational preferences. Participants who read more manga had a reduced likelihood of using a left-to-right motion, consistent with their reading habits: manga pages, even when translated into English, often maintain the original right-to-left orders. Despite these right-to-left orders in the entry-points of these pages, panels in the whole pages were ordered left-to-right. Thus, the effects of manga reading seem to influence only where to begin reading a difficult page. These results are consistent with evidence that readers of writing systems with left-to-right paths attend to different quadrants of an array than those of right-to-left systems (Chan and Bergen, 2005). In this case, increased reading of manga pages that begin in the upper right lead participants to start pages in that area more often, even when that directionality does not persist through the rest of the page.
Age also positively correlated with left-to-right orders, r(142) = 0.253, p < 0.005, showing that preference for this order increased with older individuals. This could be attributed to several factors. For example, if it were the case that a higher proportion of younger readers read manga, they might rely more on the left-to-right orders. However, age correlated significantly with manga reading, indicating that this was not the case. An additional explanation may be that newer comics – those read more by younger readers – may use more complex layouts than older works familiar to older readers. If this is true, newer types of layouts might familiarize younger readers to alternative strategies, while older readers retain the left-to-right orders common to older comics… ”
darkjapanese: If you find this interesting, check out Reading Japan Cool: Patterns of Manga Literacy and Discourse. It takes an approach to analyzing manga and its importance in Japanese literacy development that is very much informed by Systemic Functional Linguistics.