[Teller’s] definition of magic: “The theatrical linking of a cause with an effect that has no basis in physical reality, but that — in our hearts — ought to.”

The Science Times ran a great article on magic, perception and consciousness today, and with it came this cool photo set of Teller demonstrating a coin trick. It reminded me of the wonderful third chapter in Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations — co-written with professional magician Jamy Ian Swiss — “Explaining Magic: Pictorial Instuctions and Disinformation Design,” that examines illustrations like this:


Page 60:

In a difficult manipulation, the magician’s hands quickly exchange a silver coin for a copper one. Timing is crucial in magic, and the complex and rapid performance required for deft conjuring is not easy to illustrate. For this sleight, the author notes that the swift moves “must be done in a one-two-three up and down wave of your hand.” Depicting the action at a rate of two frames per beat, the multiple images flow over time and through space, just as a statistical graph records a time-series… Heavy arrows conduct the rhythm of images, while streamers in frames 382 and 384 indicate finer movements of fingers and coins. In this trick, like many others, small maneuvers of fingers are masked by larger hand movements. To expose the method, these drawings depict the hand tipped at varying angles toward the reader. Yet a slightly different angle of adjustment will assure that the audience sees only a silver coin magically transformed into a copper coin. Magicians are preoccupied with such viewing angles, which make the difference between a successful deception and a disastrous exposure. And so for illustrators: Are readers to see the produced effect or how to produce the effect, or both, and by means of what angles?

Speaking of Tufte, I was trolling one of my favorite sites, Peter Durand’s Center for Graphic Facilitation, and came across his notes from one of Tufte’s seminars:

Regular blog readers know how fond I am of mind-mapping Tufte: see Beautiful Evidence, Envisioning Information, and my thoughts on the relationship between comics and information design.


As my days as a librarian wind down, I might do a few posts here and there about my thoughts on the profession, and what I’ve learned from the job.

LESSON #1: People don’t read signs.

We have a huge sign over our desks that says, “INFORMATION.” I wear a name tag around my neck that says “STAFF.” Our staff computers are clearly separate from the patron computers. So why is it that at least a handful of times during the week I’m asked, “Uh, do you work here?”

Though people often ignore signs, we can still try our best to make signs better. Above you’ll see a noble attempt by our graphics department. At left, the old sign. At right, the new.

This might be filed under “instructions at the point of need.”


This is a mindmap I did of Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information.

Not quite as fun for me as the one I did for Beautiful Evidence.

Mind-map of Edward Tufte's Beautiful Evidence

I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that this was my second time reading Envisioning Information? Taking notes on a book you’ve already read isn’t quite as fresh — you’re not as excited about the material, the new things you choose to single out.

One thing I did right, though, was make the map on both pages of my sketchbook, instead of just one. The bigger the paper, the more room you have for mapping.


Edward Tufte points out the great infographics work of Megan Jaegerman, some of whose work is featured in Beautiful Evidence.

Megan Jaegerman produced some of the best news graphics ever done while working at The New York Times from 1990 to 1998….To create this display, [she] did both the research and the design, breaking their common alienation. This design amplifies the content, because the designer created the content.

When I visited an information design studio during a school visit to Carnegie Mellon, the professor asked me for my input on some of the student projects, many of which were infographics like this. I kept blathering on about how much they could be considered comics. I said one girl’s work was basically a hieroglyphic, and one guy’s work was like a Family Circus neighborhood map (I’m not sure he took that as a compliment).

I Googled Megan Jaegerman and couldn’t find anything else out about her. Anyone have any leads?



There was this job I had where I was working at a place called XPLANE, which was an illustration company that did these visual explanation things, and a lot of times that amounted to these diagrammatic/comics illustrations. That really got me interested in diagrams. And after thinking for a while about diagrams, the stories that I did while I worked there have a lot of diagrams in them, and that carried on through. I started collecting old science textbooks and so forth that had these nice illustrated diagrams. It made me realize that since I was in high school and Understanding Comics came out, I’ve always thought about the comics form. And something I started realizing recently is that we talk about comics being a mixture of image and text, but it really seems to me that a part of the way comics works is in this sort of diagrammatic space. You have a pictorial space, which follows certain pictorial norms, and then you have the text part of comics, which follows the syntactical structure of text and language. What comics does is it has this particular way of diagramming those things together using the panel unit and the word balloon as symbols for certain things. I really realized that that was the part of comics that appealed to me the most. When I look at other cartoonists, I think that they’re real pictorial cartoonists. They’re really interested in the image part of comics. And there are other cartoonists who are really interested in stories and the subjects we associate with literary storytelling like character, plot and so on. I realized the thing that interested me in comics is the way all of that stuff is diagrammed on the page and the way that you read it.”

– Kevin Huizenga, interview




This comic is by Ellen Forney. It’s part of her excellent collection, I Love Led Zeppelin, which you should read.

At the moment I’m really interested in comics’ potential for integrating fictional and non-fictional elements into one narrative. For example, if you were writing a short story about a hand surgeon, it’s hard to imagine reading paragraphs about the intricacies and fine points of reattaching digits without falling asleep. But with comics, it seems totally reasonable that something like the above might be part of a larger story, seemlessly integrated, and really engaging. (I should note that this is a standalone page, and NOT part of a larger narrative. But if COULD be.)

More on this later, maybe. In the meantime, check out Ellen’s blog.



Didn’t realize I was plagarizing Scott McCloud with the brain-to-brain image in the bottom right of my previous comics/information design mind map. Guess it’s one of those things that drills itself into your subconcious…



Something to consider:

from James Kochalka, "The Horrible Truth about Comics"

“What is art not? Well, as I’ve described it, Art is not about communication. Art is not a way of conveying information. It’s a way of understanding information. That is, creating a work of art is a means we have of making sense of the world, focusing to make it clearer, not a way of communicating some understanding of the world that we already hold. If you already hold a clear understanding of whatever then there’s no reason to create the work of art. So you don’t. In fact, you can’t. If you are trying to demonstrate some fact pictorially this is called illustration. Illustration is superficial, no matter how skilled, because it is secondary. The idea comes first and the illustration explicates it.”

– James Kochalka, “The Horrible Truth About Comics,” in THE CUTE MANIFESTO


“The cartoon style is sometimes good in explaining things; the words are right there with the illustration, complete text-image integration produced by the same hand behind both text and image. And the mind behind that hand has to have a good understanding of the content–usually–in order to produce the narrative illustrations. Of course readers don’t expect to see original scientific evidence reported cartoon-style; the cartoon style for serious evidence would compromise the credibility of the report.”

– Edward Tufte, Ask E.T. forum

* * *

It seems that most discussion about comics done by information designers is about the merits of the cartoon style — corporations using cartoons for training manuals or teachers using comics to appeal to teenagers, for example — than about the merits of what Tufte calls “the underlying syntax of comics.” Let us remember, by way of McCloud, that comics is a form, not a style — comics can look like The Gates of Paradise, or they can look like Marmaduke.

I like the word “syntax.” Comics is a language, with its own grammar, it’s own “patterned relations,” arrangements, and structures. Comics is also a type of special reading. So yes, it is true that information design can learn from cartooning’s “unity of style,” but what can it learn from, for example, the juxtaposition of “voiceover” narration with images and dialogue? What about recursive narration? What can we learn about reading and flow?


A few days ago, I got finished with a grad school Statement of Intent that basically outlined a plan to study the relationship between comics and (information) design. Since there are no coincidences in life, two days later, somebody on Drawn! made a post, “Comics and Information Design.” That post was a brief mention of how Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is widely used in the information and interaction design communities. (Proof: it’s on Edward Tufte’s Analytical Design reading list.)

What interests me is not the one-way relationship of comics informing information design, but the two-way relationship of comics informating info design, and info design informing comics. In other words, the way comics and information design can inform each other.

Essentially, I see comics and information design attempting the same feat: one brain showing something to another brain.

I’m not quite ready to get into the nitty-gritty just yet, but here’s a mind-map I did on the subject: