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Rhetorical Devices and a Cartoon

October 4, 2018

Ever wonder how to analyze a comic using classical rhetoric?

What do you do when your comic seems to fit more than one device or figure?

Look no further….

Michael Chaney and Sara Biggs Chaney comics analysis 1.pngAn interesting editorial cartoon for analysis comes to us from:

This single-image comic is by Sylvain Pongi from France. It is captioned: “Think Different”; and represents a person with B’s inside his head who lives in a world made up of A’s.

As a whole, the image presents a rhetorical antithesis.

To successfully deliver its package of meanings, this cartoon depends upon two details held in balanced opposition: Red A’s dominate the background; blue Bs float inside the figure’s head.

At this juncture, we might say the rhetorical effect of the cartoon is best expressed by dialogismus, ­the figure that ascribes thought to a character or that paraphrases a character’s thoughts.

More interesting here is the doubling of this rhetorical device. For dialogismus happens in two ways here, not merely in the obvious demonstration of a person’s thoughts reduced to a series of Bs. This is only the overt manifestation of dialogismus. There is another, an implied ascription of thought to the world around the figure.

The thought of the world appears in this comic summarized as a linear background script. That it is paraphrased to a series of A’s  makes sense, given the gist of the device to attempt to put thought into words without necessarily succeeding in so grand an enterprise and thus having recourse to a code. The summary of the world’s thoughts is mechanical, impersonal, initial, conformist, regularized, and strictly ruled. At the same time, every A also symbolizes a person who is thinking in this conventional way. Indeed, the A’s picture all those who collectively imagine the A’s they are expected to be thinking.

Seen with this implied ascription of thought in mind, linking the background A’s to unseen people thinking them, the cartoon evinces synecdoche: it compresses an array of personifications (wholes, voices) via their logocentric, typographic means for expression (parts, A’s & B’s, quoted voices). Thus, in a complicated way, the synecdoche of the comic collapses onto citation, both overt and concealed.

There is also a deep ambivalence in the comic. The person looks foolish. One eye is bigger than the other. The nose is out sized. If the comic is an assertion, telling us to think differently, it may also be asking us to risk looking foolish doing so. Or these clues of a person who is thinking with asymmetrical eyes in abecedarian demarcations of difference, defying outer codes to embrace an inner world of alternate if drifting B’s, is also a person who is socially demoted in the process somehow, as if to say beyond the cliched optimism of thinking outside of boxes, that being different is not always so alluring to look upon. Those who think in terms of true innovation, particularly in the sense that B follows A, are liable not to be too much to look at in the final analysis, or so the comic’s depictive ironies suggest, leaving us to look at an innovative thinker whose thinking leaves them marked by confusion and marginality.

In a way, the ambivalence of the comic’s details suggest it to be wary of its own cliched message.


Michael A. Chaney   &  Sara Biggs Chaney

P.S. Here’s a painted homage to the acoustic possibilities of the comic speech bubble and its powers of semiotic collapse.





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