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Rhetorical Devices and a Cartoon

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.





Rustic Birch Bark Paper Ornaments

Michael and Sara Chaney Birch bark ornament close up in bright light

It has been a joy making something from a natural medium that falls from the loose branches above my roof.

Michael and Sara Chaney Birch bark ornament close up

We imagine these as cards one might receive upon some grand occasion,  or as opaque window ornaments designed to merge wood grain with splintering morning light.Michael and Sara Chaney Birch bark ornament with curl

For the most part, we wanted something simple that would convey the character of the material, its raw beauty and myriad textures and hues.Michael and Sara Chaney Birch bark ornaments in softer light

I hope we achieved our goal.

If you would like one, let us know here.



animal tarot and sculpy mixed media art all in one



The No-No Negativo Five Thousand

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Phantom of the Opera Comic

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Invisible Princess

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Originally published in Spectrum Vol. 60

A R T = Another Rejection Today! x 3

Here’s another about that life a.k.a. Another Rejection Today! Seriously, being rejected hurts, but it also means you’re getting yourself read or heard or seen. The message: stay frosty, creative-types, ‘cuz the world is full of hastily judgmental mailboxes.

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The Cat: “Bird’s Sweet!” by Michael A. Chaney

Jellyfish Review

The Cat: “Bird’s Sweet!”

After Friz Freleng’s “The Last Hungry Cat.” Merrie Melodies, 1961.

Sylvester panics to think he’s finally eaten luscious canary. A kill in the cage. Much better than in the hand or bush, as Hitchcock explains. The shade rollers it down to a pang in the cat, where it sticks, and it is that darkness, near lives seven through nine, that slurs whenever the cat speaks. I taught I ate a putty tat never slipped from his bird-salivater when, perched atop a tower of stools, chairs, piano benches, and Granny’s floral cookbooks, he savored yellow victory. To the eyeballs feather engorged. Mouth fulla caution tape, school bus (and chicken). Poor Delicioush Dear. It had just been swinging, a song in its heart. That very tiny perch. She could have been a star but she turned morsel instead. We can’t help it, can we? Incisors melt for…

View original post 741 more words

New Mixed Media Artwork

Collaboratively accomplished with Sara Biggs Chaney

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See more here

Kentucky Fried Rabbit

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 9.38.25 AMAfter Friz Freleng’s “Southern Fried Rabbit” Warner Bros. 1953


Have you seen the cartoon haunted with cotton? A rabbit in famine reads in the paper where there’s Plantations of Carrots. He burrows desert and dune in soich, missing that toin at Albuquerque, whisker-sniffing on down to the Promised Land. Funny thing that it’s down (ha ha = oh no): Canaan is never “down” of anything—least of all carrots. Hop-Along replays Columbus, dotting the maps as he goes.


Have you noticed, everything that’s true has a picture? This cartoon wants a double exposure. Its final pun is on Yankee, for instance, but none of that makes heads spin or gets the curtains or floorboards going in a round of any haint’s favorite song. It marks the scene of a crime—as does the haunted house—with the sounds of a stadium full of disappointment.


Would you move over Grover? There’s a ghost at the end of this cartoon, hiding in a silhouette, little more than mise-en-abyme. A farm-appropriate form along the horizon. Full of cotton, to be sure. When Osiris jumps out of his hole, it might as well be Bale-Town because all you see along the horizon is wagon full of cloud. When the man shows up with his rifle supply and rebel Greys, I scan the curvilinear topmost edge of my grandmother’s black and white in the living room of my black-and-white family’s house. I survey cartoon heavens for nooses and Spanish moss. There is no good day for this rabbit to have in a wasteland down this far. Carrot-less and rough, but not tumble.

Is this what that little old-timer wants? With his hair trigger and hirsute nose, his hat tall as Texas and guns that swell they like firing so much. They make testicular pops of smoke every time they do. Afterwards, an orange star: hieroglyph for the pleasures of detonation. In cartoons even guns have corpora.


And why not? You get all the good contrasts that way. The orange star makes impotent shooting vivid. Add an unkillable talking animal in drag and you’ve got the makings of America: the women as men as animals as gods seducing to conquer the man as hat as hirsute gun orange stars himself to root and to toot, back-and-forth, from vermin-Vanguard to varmint-Venus.

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Why must it all happen along a horizon pregnant with a cart of crying cotton? Such an abandoned cart, you might even call it “lowly.” At “shiftless,” you’re only two name-calls away from “cotton-picking.” Now there’s a lowly shift for you. A downright declension! But no one cares, really, right? Of course not.


Don’t you remember the refrain? Frankly my, dear, I don’t give the impression that the injured text is Stowe’s or any of her disciples. No no, no. That misses the riverboat, Showboat, which is to say, that route’s Orgy at best. No, the inter-text is erasure, floppy-eared as Easter and just as threateningly unclear. I thank the devil and Mr. Jones for leading me to picture who’s dressing that rabbit in between the takes, you see, and who polishes the gun, whom you don’t, or just who it is lays all those eggs.


And every orange star?

Another dead rabbit.



<originally published in Bat City Review >

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