The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

A, B, C, D, Batman


I love this chart, but maybe not for the obvious reason.

Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain (previously on Snarkmarket) has a revelatory section about how we recognize glyphs even when they come in many configurations. Think about all the ways the letter E can look: capital E, lowercase e, cursive e, funky-futuristic-font E, and so on. Our brain recognizes them all (well.. almost all) instantly as E. It peels back the pixels or atoms and registers the underlying letter-concept.

Anyway, looking at this chart, I realized that the bat symbol is totally a glyph! It’s beyond graphic design at this point. There are so many variations out there—many, many more beyond what you see above—and there is a lot of difference between them. But they’re all unmistakably the bat symbol. That’s cool.

I want to make something that becomes a glyph.

(Rob Greco asks which version is my favorite. For me, it’s an easy pick: 2005 all the way. But the modern choice is actually the most retro; the Batman Begins team reached way back into the early archives for inspiration.)


Not sure if it’s applicable, but good ole Saussure argued that there “are no positive values” in sign systems. When we recognise letters, rather than finding the underlying letter-concept, it’s about how that letters and words differ from other letters and words i.e. it’s about how it fits into a system based on difference. It’s for this reason that we can read words where letters are ambiguous or out of order – we recognise how it’s not or couldn’t be something else.

What’s also interesting to me is the liminal points at which glyphs start to merge – where the bat symbol becomes a gaping mouth filled with teeth and then vacillates back and forth. Also neat: when letters look similar but mean different things in different langauges. The soft ‘t/th’ sound at the end of my name is the letter ‘thatha’ in Punjabi, which looks like a 3. I like that – it’s like I’m supposed to write a trilogy or something one day.

But even so, the desire to produce something glyph-like feels the same: it’s unique because it’s position within a system of meaning is unique. It differs in a unique way.

I know this isn’t the point of your post, but what’s interesting to me about this chart is the way that the bat-emblem on batman’s costume in each of these films varies from the bat-emblem used in the rest of each film. This is probably most clear in Batman Begins, when the the bat-emblem is pretty consistent in all non-suit usage (such as the batarangs and the bat-signal), and the the emblem on the batsuit is all but invisible. (The Dark Knight brings the emblem on the batsuit in line with other usages in the movie, but again, as it’s nearly invisible on the suit, one might not notice.)

Yeah, good point! I was never a fan of that—even if it’s subtle, I want my bat-suit to have a symbol, not just an engraving or indentation.

One of my favorites bat-symbols is Paul Pope’s, which looks like a jagged bit of old sweatshirt stitched into place atop another old sweatshirt.

I wish I had come with the çedille. And then there’s this: ℑ ❦ ッ

As far as I’m concerned, Batman & Robin never happened.

Oh, but it did, and those who forget that it happened are doomed to repeat it!

I like how the last one is the most bat-like: it actually looks like it might be the silhouette of a flying mammal. That was probably my favorite part of Batman Begins–the simple but complete explanation for his choosing of the symbol, reasons both banal and poetic. I hope they finish rebuilding Wayne Mansion before the next one so they can get back to the atmospherics of the cave.

The last one is also the closest to the original symbol (black on grey, with no oval around it) from the 1930s, which Frank Miller resurrected for The Dark Knight Returns.

Tim Carmody says…

Did I talk to you about this? Or write about it?

Because I swear, I talked to a lot of people about EXACTLY THIS (literally, the iconic, letter-like quality of the bat-symbol) while I was reading Dehaene.

You didn’t! Unless our brains are connected via subspace RSS feed. (Finally!)

Tim Carmody says…

We DID talk about it, at Bookfuturism, just after Christmas! Money quotes (1 and 3 are yours, 2 is from me):

  1. Where do graphic novels fit into this? Where does “Understanding Comics” meet “Reading in the Brain”?
  2. Our ability to recognize iconic characters falls right in between these two. Mickey Mouse’s head, or Batman’s bat-symbol, aren’t just pictures. They’re proto-hieroglyphs, simplified symbols that let us load them with meaning. (Superman’s “S” is too easy.)
  3. Simple, open-faced anime characters get to ride the letterbox; super-detailed, cross-hatched dudes don’t. This is why there are teenagers sitting in the aisles of the manga section. I love it.

Dohhh busted!

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