The Lanaguage of Flatpacks

By | Tuesday, June 07, 2011 1 comment
My trusty old pressboard bookshelves that have been housing my graphic novel and trade paperback collection have about had it. After 20+ years, a dozen moves and a couple of floods, they're finally getting beyond any semblance of usability. So I bit the bullet and bought a new set of bookshelves from Target. You know the type: a bunch of flat pieces of board and an assortment of screws and dowels that you assemble yourself. A furniture kit packed flat.

As I was putting them together this evening, I got around to thinking about the instructions. (Beyond just the "what do I do next" type of thinking, that is!) I'd never gotten this particular brand of flatpacked furniture before, but the set-up and instructions were familiar. Dowel here, screw there, weird internal bolt thing over there... I really only needed to glance at each step to see which numbered boards I should use. I've put together enough of this type of furniture over the years that I've gotten accustomed to the way they tend to be built and how the instructions are laid out.

Now I'm not about to suggest that these instructions are a form of comics; I think that's a far stretch. But it does remind me of a previous post where I talked about the language of comics. Like comics, these flatpack instructions seem to have a common language that is -- with the exception of Ikea -- relatively easy to learn. Or, at least, it seemed easy to learn for me.

I wonder, then, how easy it might be for people unfamiliar with a more visual language like comics? Conversely, can people use their fluency in "instruction language" to more readily start understanding the language of comics? Are they like French and Spanish, which are both derived from the same Latin origins? Or, are they two wholly unrelated languages that don't have any relation to one another?

I'm just wondering if that might be another bridge comic fans might use to help non-comic-readers pick up a graphic novel for the first time.
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Paulo Costa said...

Sean, I read comics since I was 4, and I always have trouble with assembly instructions.

Admittedly, I'm not the handiest guy, but most times those types of instructions don't seem sequential enough... unless they're pictures. Maybe it's the illustrator's fault?