THE CURVED LINE
The curved line is a more natural line. And coincidentally curves are sexy. As much as the Earth is literally nowhere near a perfect sphere, so are strict lines and ordered geometrical shapes predominantly of human invention. Again, this perhaps reflects the pleasure and vice of humanity’s intrinsic formalistic nature to label and organize the world around us amidst the seemingly beautiful kerfuffle of celestial chaos. While groupings of any king pragmatically make perfect sense to us, the universe extends beyond organization per se, since the notions of action/reaction and gravity are the principles in play. Arguably, Earth’s perceived shape is indeed spherical, which is a three-dimensional gravitationally-influenced expansion of a single point; however, Earth’s natural surface is predominantly comprised of curvatures (gravitational forces play a key role in their shape). This might be a natural reason why curved shapes feel more natural and endearing than straight lines.
While perfect curvature can be technically and digitally reproduced million times over, in nature, however, it does not appear as such. Curved shapes appear unique every time, which everyone can experience for example just by trying to create two perfect circles with a pencil. And they say no two snowflakes are alike, equally as no two people are. As perfectly sustainable as nature seems (with or without us in it), perfect regularity nevertheless does not exist in nature.
As part of either the straight or curved line, we can create convex and concave elements, those that expand outwards and those that turn inwards, respectively (Mathematically, the internal angle of a non-curved convex shape is less or equal to 180 degrees, while the internal angle of the concave shape is always more than 180 degrees.). A speech balloon in comics is thus for the most part convex. Its curved lines expand outwards, becoming more “airy” and cloud-lie. When the curves face inwards, they resemble a hole, facing inwards and become more restricted. Visually, the balloon shape has (apart from the pleasing appearance) also a pragmatic function of offering a greater use of the space within for the text … as coincidentally does the emptiness of a jar for example in Daoist terms. Convexity, though, tends to have precedence over concavity. In other words, expanding shapes have a bigger visual value because of their inherently bigger size. The differentiation is more or less arbitrary, since the same lines can depict opposite notions purely by their position and which direction they are facing (a similar notion can be observed in letter M and W for example).
As with any basic notions, compound meanings – in this case structures – can be applied. Consequently, a vertical line can for example extend into an upright parallelogram, similarly compounding the original emotional meaning of the simple line; reflecting strength like a standing pillar or imply encapsulation or enclosement like in a coffin or the character’s own state of mind.
Composite lines represent numerous other possibilities of line rendering. Whether a zigzag line (expressing tension), a circle (unity), triangle (stability) or any other more or less geometrical and natural shape, the artist’s repository of knowledge is build from these very basic shapes. As much as the writer combines words into established phrases, (s)he incorporates, joins and creates unique expressions as well, instituting a unique repertoire and personal style of writing. Similarly, all pictorial art stems from the basic shapes and is given life through personal styles and techniques. The artists, who are influenced by the world, mimic it through their artistic approach, inspired and molded through their interests, enabling the perfect interplay of the personal and the social. These types of examples are even more context-dependent, so combinations of either intricate patterns or misleadingly simplistic basic shapes can work hand in hand to enhance the reading experience.
But more specifically, a base-heavy triangle ▲ points upwards, its base line creates a stable structure, while its enclosed sides offer further stability (i.e. mountain, especially a pyramidal peak); especially if the triangle is equilateral, where its three equal angles enhance this notion. Turned upside-down ▼, however, the nature of the triangle changes drastically. Due to the one-point base, the stability is replaced by unease. The down-pointing shape resembles a sharp object that we associate with danger (i.e. blade, icicle or tooth). Our awareness of a knife or a dagger in real life is clearly and sublimely transferred into this visually-piercing object.
The characteristics of a circle ● are quite different, since it does not have the same geometrical constraints (and advantages) as the triangle embodies. Its smooth curved surface is visually more pleasing and does not pose a threat (of course for the most part depending on size, mass, direction or movement). The uniform shape has been a long-standing standard for perfection, circularly reflecting both the Sun and the Moon, as the two most influential stellar bodies for the Earth. (Deemed so both because they are so easily observable and because of their geological, astronomical effects and reciprocity with our planet.). The natural simplicity of the circle, however, has an underlined depth which alludes to the notion of simplification for amplification and attribution of seemingly universal meaning to generally arbitrary depictions. Symbolically, the circle is the extension of the point, in other words the singularity of all complex visual expression being fundamentally in a more visibly palpable and beautiful circle … or the sphere, if we extended this notion through “dimensional magic”.
We can relate these observations to comics as well. The caption has a traditional rectangular form ■ (which is even more sturdy and uniform than a triangle). The straight nature of its sides not only offers stability and an easier outlet for the text (which traditionally follows a straight, linear path), but can reflect either the more serious tones or formalistic, factual descriptions in captions. On the other hand, the bubbly thought balloon visually follows the lightness and smoothness of curved shapes and circles, reflecting the inner dialogue of a character. Not to imply that the stream of consciousness approach means that the characters are lightheaded, even though that can often be the case, especially when an extensive action scene, meant to be read fast, is accompanied with an elaborate longwinded inner monologue, where these linguistic elements balance the pictorially dominant portrayal, only to distract the narrative flow and break the suspension of disbelief. (In other words: there’s nothing wrong this “flying” through the pages of a comic, because not every scene has to be linguistically challenging. Sorry, Alan Moore.).
Equally, the jagged shape of zigzag balloons, used to indicate mechanical voices or speech heard from television or radio for example, is visually more tense and tenuous; reflecting the electrical current necessary for the signals to be transferred to the satellites and back or to the transmitters directly. The visual tension becomes psychological as well, since this digital transference of talking on the phone and especially listening or watching a program (both passive approaches, where the communication is one-sided) is much more impersonal.
Obviously, similar arguments can be made for every object we can find both in art or nature. Arguably, specific rules apply; as much as gravity is a force that shapes life in the universe, Abstract art and Cubism follow their own distinctive pattern. Nonetheless, the very shape and color used in the latter cases are still a reflection of the prevailing natural order imprinted in humanity (even if negating these standards). In such a way every “unorthodox” art form is both unique as well as unilaterally formalistic, just as every subculture is “special” and yet quite ordinary at that. De Saussurian duads are constantly in play.
The world as we know it is our vary nature and we are but a product of it. Consequently, our “imprint” of it is both intrinsically and extrinsically based (mutability and immutability in full effect) on the natural shapes and colors. Nevertheless, distinction becomes the crucial factor which (like a trickster) stirs this pot of standards by implementing diversity of life. We can see this both in cultural distinctions of all kinds and the very evolution that brought about the complexity of life (while retaining its roots in nature).
END of PART 2 (of 2)
For reasons of extreme prejudice, the author of this blog wishes to remain anonymous …