Employing Visual Narrative to Alternate Readers’ Perspective: A Case Study of Boxers & Saints
Over the recent decade, interdisciplinary research in literature has witnessed a burgeoning interest in visual narratives such as picture books and comics. Despite some scholars’ acknowledgement of their transformative value, the field still remains debatable as others question the universality of visual language. This study uses Boxers & Saints as an example to join this debate and explore the effects that visual techniques can produce in readers. Boxers & Saints is a graphic novel created by Gene Luen Yang, which depicts the racial and ethnic conflicts during the Boxers Movement. By employing unique and creative artistic techniques such as the diptych form, contrastive colour palettes and visual braiding, Yang intends to help readers alternate between double perspectives and see the connection between the two seemingly opposing sides, thus developing a more nuanced way of thinking about the historical past and conflicts. Drawing upon reader-response theory and a cognitive approach to comics, this study conducts empirical research to investigate how and to what extent comics can help readers lay aside their preset beliefs and alternate between different perspectives. By conducting interviews with two participants—a Chinese and a British Catholic—and studying their responses to the selected panels in the book, this study questions the take-for-granted universality of visual language and reveals how preset beliefs influence the way they switch between different perspectives. The study ends with implications for future interdisciplinary research in comics and literature: what ethical considerations future researchers should attend to while doing interdisciplinary research in literature, what specific questions can be asked for future research regarding the cognitive approach to visual language, and how to tailor the research design for specific questions.