Humor in Comic Strips:
A Pragmatic Analysis of Nemi
Márcio Hemerique Pereira
(Department of Arts and Humanities, University of Minho, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal)
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Figure 1 (May 5, 2008 edition)
“Laughter is the best medicine.” This proclamation suggests by medical experts and psychologists prove to be effective and wise. The therapeutic effect of laughter is somehow paradoxical and mysterious. As an antidote for psychological stress and problems, laughter, is derived from various sources of human interaction and mediums. One can laugh out loud while watching Jim Carrey in his movie “Ace Ventura”, or the recent “Kung Fu Panda”. One laughs very much when watching a comedian delivering punch lines in a comedy bar. Everyone acts and experience such kind of deliverance, a releasing strategy against stress and to have healthy lifestyle.
However, the point of which one moves to laugh is because of one who can deliver and create humorous scenarios. This boils down to human characteristic and ability – Humor.
Humor in this context, is a human behavior expressed in various ways and habits. There may be psychological theories that would prove how one can create or make a humorous scenario or action, and others respond laughter to it. However, this I think is beyond the context which, I am trying to explain.
In this paper, I would like to bring this human characteristic in the realm of language and linguistic analysis, dissecting hidden discourses and meaning found in texts which creates humor. In this sense, to be more specific, I would like to attempt telescoping various explicit and implicit elements of linguistic structures found in the texts using a print medium, in particular, a comic strip Nemi.
The following discussions will cover various concepts indicators primarily used in language in order to give light to the whole of the project. The essay utilized selected editions of the comic strip Nemi for analysis and dissection. The fecundity of the whole essay will depend upon the use of appropriate theories and concept that would guide the operation throughout the essay. We will try to explain through pragmatics, few of Nemi comic strips.
I Pragmatism in Language
The whole concept of pragmatism if taken seriously will give us a lengthy discussion. Many pragmatists formulated various definition and interpretation of the subject, depending on the suitability to their own theories and principles. Still, even proponents of the same doctrine manifested critical examination on the core concepts and principles of such theory.
On this level, let us keep our mind in a simple definition of the principle of pragmatic theory, that is, a doctrine which adheres to propose principles which are relevant and useful in the process of developing and restructuring social fields and networks.
According to Margolis (2002) the corpus of the language is found in the interaction and communication between individuals in the social setting. Their interrelationship maintains the language and vice-versa. This means, no interrelationship occurs in the absence of language and language will not be useful unless communication and interrelationship between individuals are present.
In my point of view, language, actually, manifests pragmatic contributions to society. The simple utterances of words delivered by individuals in relating to others inferred pragmatic tones. Yet, in this relation, I would like to deepen the analysis by using formal approaches which help us to reveal pragmatism in language.
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Figure 2 (June 5, 2008 edition)
According to Ruch (1997) in his article Perception on Humor, he identified humor based on the historical background which comes from the aesthetics where the “comic defined as the faculty able to make one laugh or to amuse.” Humor then in this context is an elemental characteristic of comic. Like any other elements of a comical behavior such as wit, ridicule, sarcasm, prosody, satire, irony, mimicry, humor basically denotes a “smiling attitudes towards life.”
II The Role of Meaning
The analysis of meaning highlighted our understanding on the reading of a comic strip Nemi. In certain instances, the story of Nemi may have varied meanings and information conveyed, depending on editions of publication. Based on selected items being analyzed, Nemi ’s story tackles various aspect of her human life. It presents various information about her character, who she is, what she can capable of doing, her weaknesses and strengths, and etc, her lifestyle, on how she deals with people and dealing with strangers, some blunt information about politics and her cultural template. These things would be clear when and if one can successfully dissect and understand the hidden messages and meanings of the texts embedded in language constructions, syntactic positions and semantic formation.
The issue on meaning is but essential in relation to the humor it builds through the presentation and language games used in a comic strip. If one, who reads an edition of Nemi who cannot relate himself and unable to grasp the meaning would not treat the comic as humorous or funny. Hence, understanding and knowing the explicit and implicit meaning of certain comic story, in this case, Nemi can not, in a way, prescribe such comic as funny or humorous. Moreover, the role of meaning is essential. A presentation is considered futile unless one cannot find any meaning but absurdity.
The comic strip Nemi presents its story based in its own context. Originally published in Norway with Norwegian language as a medium used, there language if translated in English must have a different impact and effect. For a Norwegian, the story may have different intonations, compared to an English translation. This fact is due to nuances in which different languages cannot totally grasp its essential meaning.
 Analysis on Humor using a Linguistic Approach.
 The social nature of humor is a frequent theme in the laughter literature. In 1900 Henri Bergson insisted that laughing and humor must be understood in social terms if they are to be understood adequately at all. He complained that through a neglect of its deeply social nature, “the comic has been looked upon as a mere curiosity in which the mind finds amusement, and laughter itself as a strange, isolated phenomenon without any bearing on the rest of human activity (1900:65). Bergson himself strikes off boldly: “Such, let us say at once, will be the leading idea of all our investigations. Laughter must answer to certain requirements of life in common” (1900:65). Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, distinguished joking from humor precisely in terms of social structure of joking as opposed to the non-social structure of humor. (p. 280) From Henri Bergson. Laughter (1900). In Comedy: An Essay on Comedy by George Meredith and Laughter by Henri Bergson, ed. And trans. Wylie Sypher, 61-190, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1980.
 “Humor can be defined in various ways. It is generally agreed that humor is a unique type of communication in that it establishes an incongruent relationship or meaning and is presented in a way that causes laughter (Berger, 1976). It can result from a cartoon or a pun” (p.136). Quoted from A. A. Berger, 1976. Anatomy of the Joke. Journal of Communication, 26, 113-115. In Jack Duncan. Humor in Management: Prospects for Administrative Practice and Research. The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, (Jan., 1982), pp. 136-142.
 “The humorist knows well that the pretense of logic is much greater in us than real logical coherence, because if we feign logic, the logic of our actions reveals the logic of our thoughts by showing that it is fiction to believe in its absolute sincerity. Habit, unconscious imitation, mental laziness help in creating the equivocal” (p.50). In Luigi Pirandello and Teresa Novel. On Humor. The Tulane Drama Review. The MIT Press. Vol. 10, No. 3, (Spring, 1966), pp. 46-59.
 Humor as a psycho-social concept: Across history from Aristotle to Freud, and across all the intellectual disciplines of the humanities and human sciences, thoughtful people have sought a satisfactory understanding of the problem of humor. Our perception and understanding of humor is somehow paradoxical, emotionally compelling, and pit pervades human life. However, to look at it in the basis of our daily practice, humor is something that there exists a certain psychological state which tends to produce laughter, which is the natural process of humor. To put it descriptively, one may tends to laugh at something when one sees it peculiar and thus, stimulates an impulse to laugh. Some people laugh much to comedy actors because they see their actions funny. This in a case would lead us to analyze its psychological attributes. Refer to Michael Mulkay, 1988. On Humour. Cambridge: Polity Press.
 Isabel Ermida discusses these points in her essay ‘Linguistic Mechanisms of Power in Nineteen Eighty-Four: Applying Politeness Theory to Orwell’s World.’ Journal of Pragmatics. 38th ed. Elsevier. 2006. She also gives an excellent approach to the face-to-face concept and on the arguments of comics’ reading in her doctorate thesis (2002) entitled ‘Humor, linguagem e narrativa: para uma análise do discurso literário humorístico’ (‘Humour, Language and Narrative: For an Analysis of the Literary Humorous Discourse – my translation) is a worth reading material that investigates and discusses ‘the ways in which humour is linguistically and pragmatically rendered in English literary narratives. Being an elusive and polemic object of analysis, humour takes on further configurational complexities in the corpus under focus. Besides, it looks into the three main theories of humour - namely Disparagement, Release and Incongruity - with a great emphasis on their linguistic applicability. The important dimension of humour as a communicative act is also discussed. The analysis of each of these departs from a descriptive account of its linguistic and structural organization, so as to eventually assess its degree of conformity to the model proposed. Time will then come to confirm the existence of meaning and discourse regularities in literary narrative comedy which transcend its thematic, stylistic and formal diversity.’
 This pragmatic analysis would not only mean that the structural and grammatical impositions of language are not only subject for investigation. But pragmatic analysis can be drawn on the level of language adaptability and flexibility given the diversified social structure and cultural systems. W., Ruch, 1997. The Perception on Humor. Department of Physiological Psychology, Dusseldorf, Germany.