An investigation in to the linguistic
features of the comic strip
Judge Dredd using Corpus
By Brian Walker
Supervised By Dr. Jonathan Culpeper
Submitted March 9th 2003
LAMEL, Lancaster University
I wish to thank Dr. Jonathan Culpeper for his time, advice and support during
I also wish to thank Sean Coleman for the loan of many editions of 2000AD.
Thanks also to Wakefield Carter for talking to Rebellion (the owners of 2000AD)
on my behalf, and for providing information concerning Judge Dredd.
“Life is harsh in twenty-second-century Mega City One. Atomic wars have
devastated the planet, and left it a mean and lawless place. Out of this
chaos a radical new system of justice has arisen. Here law and order is
upheld by a new force: The Judges. They are judge, jury and executioner,
and Judge Dredd is the toughest of them all. Judge Dredd is the law!”
(2000AD Prog 2, March 1977)
This study analyses the words in the comic strip Judge Dredd using
corpus techniques. The analysis uses editions of 2000AD taken from two points
in time: 1977/78 representing the earliest editions of the comic; and 2002/3
representing the most recent editions of the comic. Two corpora were built to
represent Judge Dredd from these two eras, each of approximately 10000
words, and compared to the BNC. Wordsmith Tools (Scott 1999), a corpus
analytical tool, was used to analyse the corpora in order to establish patterns in
lexis and grammar that might be regarded as a linguistic style connected to the
context of the comic strip.
This study draws on Crystal and Davey (1969) and Enkvist (1964, 1973)
to establish a sense of style to frame the analysis, and on Enkvist (1973) as the
basis for style being establish through comparison with other texts.
Following the analysis it is concluded that the comic strip data shares
many linguistic features with spoken language, which relates to the context of
narrative through the words of characters. Comparison between 1977/78 and
2002/3 shows that certain features of lexis and grammar are represented by
both eras of comic, and can be seen as stable conventions for the Judge Dredd
comic strip, whereas features of comic strip structure and narration have
Using Corpus techniques, which are fairly new techniques, to analyse a genre
previously unexplored in this way perhaps makes this a unique study.
List of tables
1.1 The aim of the project Page 7
1.2 The components of a comic strip Page 7
1.3 The theoretical basis for this study Page 9
and the Linguistic terminology adopted.
1.4 Research questions Page 11
2.0 Literature Review Page 12
3.1 Introduction Page 16
3.2 Data collection Page 17
3.3 Data manipulation Page 19
3.4 Choosing a comparison corpus Page 21
3.5 Corpus Tools Used Page 23
4.0 Analysis of corpora and Discussion of Results
4.1 Comic strip composition Page 25
4.2 Analysis of word frequency data Page 26
4.2.1 Analysis of some initial observations Page 26
4.2.2 Analysis of Negative Keywords Page 32
4.3 Analysis of individual text categories Page 36
4.3.1 Speech Balloons Page 36
4.3.2 Captions Page 42
4.3.3 Thought Balloons Page 46
4.3.4 Sound Effects Page 48
4.3.5 Picture Text Page 50
5.0 Conclusion Page 52
5.1 Main Findings Page 52
5.2 Limitations of study Page 55
5.3 Scope for future study Page 56
References Page 58
LIST OF TABLES
Table 1.1 Components of the comic strip Page 8
Table 4.1 Percentage totals of words in each text Page 26
category for JD0203C and JD7778C
Table 4.2 Word Frequencies for JD0203C, JD7778C Page 28
and the BNC
Table 4.3 Comparison of BE usage in JD0203C, Page 30
JD7778C and BNC
Table 4.4 Negative Keywords from JD0203C and Page 33
JD7778C when compared to BNC
Table 4.5 Summary of statistical output from Wordsmith Page 35
for JD0203C and JD7778C
Table 4.6 Keywords from JD0203C and JD7778C Page 37
when compared with BNC
Table 4.7 Caption Data from JD0203C and JD7778C Page 42
Table 4.8 Keywords in JD7778C caption data Page 45
Table 4.9 Word frequencies in JD7778C thought balloons Page 47
Table 4.10 Sound effects in JD0203C and JD7778C Page 49
1.1 The aim of this project
The quote at the start of this dissertation on page 3 is how Judge Dredd
was introduced to 2000AD readers in March 1977. Since then, Judge Dredd
has continued to feature in 2000AD without a break making it one of the longest
running comic strips in British comic history. This project will analyse lexical
data from this comic strip and, using corpus tools, compare the data to a larger
corpus of written English. Comic strips have largely been ignored in terms of
linguistic analysis and this project aims, through detailed corpus based analysis
of the words in Judge Dredd, to develop a picture of the linguistic features that
make up the language of this comic strip. Also by comparing comic strip data
from 1977/78 and 2002/03 this project aims to comment on how this language
variety has changed, or not, as the case may be.
1.2 The components of comic strips
The comic strip as we know it today has been around for over one
hundred years. Originally comic strips were humorous or comical, hence the
name, but since the 1950s their content has included action and adventure
stories and other non-comical content and for some, ‘graphic narrative’
(Eisener, 1996:5) describes more aptly publications using sequences of words
and pictures. For this study, however, I will be using the more traditional
classification of comic strip to describe the text variety I have chosen to analyze.
In general, comic strips are narratives that combine words and pictures
or “[…] juxtapose pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence […]”
(McCloud 1994:9), or are simply “sequential art” (Eisener, 1996:5). By and large
they are composed of four specific components, which are generally accepted
(see Saraceni 2003, McCloud 1994, Eisener 1996 and Sabin 1996) to be:
panel, gutter, balloon and caption, and I have adopted this terminology for this
study. For the analysis I have split balloon data into speech and thought
balloons, and also added two extra components to include other linguistic
elements from the comic strip: sound-effect and picture-text. Details of all comic
strip components used in this study are set out in Table 1.1 below:
Table 1.1 Components of the comic strip
Panel The frames that divide the comic strip on the page and contain
the words and pictures.
Gutter The blank space in between each panel
Speech Balloon A component containing words, used to report speech.
Thought Balloon A component containing words, used to report thought.
Caption A component containing words, often representing the narrator’s
voice or back-ground voice. Sometimes they are the most
important part of the narrative containing most of the words.
Sound-effect Onomatopoeic or sound symbolic words used somewhere within
the panel indicating that a noise is being produced.
Picture-text Words contained within the picture or panel not covered by any of
the above (McCloud (1994) refers to this as montage)
(Table content adapted from Saraceni 2003:7-11 and McCloud 1994:153-155)
In the study I will refer to the components that contain lexical data as text
From table 1.1 it is possible to see that regardless of the definition of
comic strips, they have a set of components and elements of a structure that
seem to be common and set them apart from other forms of narrative texts.
1.3 The theoretical basis for this study and the linguistic terminology adopted
Crystal and Davey (1969) hypothesise that:
“ […] any use of language displays certain linguistic features which allow
it to be identified with one or more extra-linguistic contexts […]”
(Crystal & Davy 1969:11)
In line with that theory, the aim of this study is to identify linguistic features of a
comic strip and relate them back to extra-linguistic features, such as words
being juxtaposed with pictures. The above quote also fits in well with the
concept of style discussed by Enkvist (1973), who says that style is linguistic
variation that correlates with both “ […] textual context and situational context
[…]” (Enkvist 1973:17). Context can be defined in many ways, both linguistic
and extra-linguistic (Enkvist 1964:29-30). In this study, context will relate to the
physical composition of the comic-strip and the way the narrative is constructed
through pictures and words, and through the various text components (bubbles,
captions and so forth).
While this concept of style fits in well with the present study, it is worth
noting that style is not an agreed term, with the EAGLES1 authors noting that
there are no agreed parameters for its definition (EAGLES, 1996), and Fowler
concluding that it is too vague to be of any use to linguists (Fowler 1996:185).
However, this study will adopt the notion of style described above and
investigate whether there are specific linguistic features in the comic strip data
that correlate to the context of the comic strip and can therefore begin to form
the notion of a comic strip style.
With respect to genre classification of the comic strip used for this study I
will be using the features identified by Swales (1990). Genre is another term
that has no agreed definition, but for some (Biber 1988, Bhatia 1993) genre
identifies a text by non-linguistic criteria, which for Swales include: structure,
audience, style, content and purpose of the text (Swales 1990:58). In terms of
the comic strip, structure relates back to the components discussed earlier,
audience for Judge Dredd would be primarily adolescent males, content could
be described as sci-fi/action and adventure stories, and purpose could be said
to be entertainment by drama or thrills (as opposed to humour). Style, however,
cannot be ascertained without some analysis, and perhaps suggests a different
notion of style to that adopted for this study. I will therefore ignore style in the
classification of the comic strip under study and use only those criteria already
identified above. This genre classification attempts differentiate Judge Dredd
from, for example, Dennis the Menace, which although is also a comics strip
has a different audience, content and purpose. This study, therefore, will be
analysing linguistic patterns in an adolescent male, sci-fi/action and adventure
comic strip with the aim of relating any linguistic patterns back to the context of
the comic strip in order to begin to describe a style.
1.3 Research Questions
1. What is the distribution of words between the comic strip components?
2. a. What are the distinctive linguistics features of the language used
in Judge Dredd?
b. Can these linguistic features be related back to any extra-linguistic
contexts of the comic strip?
3. Does the comparison of a selection of ‘Judge Dredd’ stories from 1977
and 2002 reveal any changes in the language use over the 25 year
4. a. Is there a difference between the language of captions and
b. What are the linguistic features of thought balloons?
c. What onomatopoeic words are used?
d. What function does picture text perform?
EAGLES “Expert Advisory Group on Language Engineering
Standards, an initiative set up by the European Union to create common
standards for research and development in speech and natural language
processing. At present, most EAGLES documents take the form of preliminary
guidelines from which it is hoped that standards will later emerge.” (Lee