A couple of years ago, some of my undergraduate students and I were talking about comics, and one of them mentioned rage comics. I hadn’t heard of that before, so I was grateful to learn about them. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Redditor, and I don’t ever spend time on Reddit. But in August 2012, when I finally upgraded to a smart phone from my previous dumb phone, I downloaded the Rage Comics app. Every now and again, when I’m on the bus headed to work, I scroll through some of these comics.

Most of the time, rage comics convey exaggerated levels of emotion regarding an event or a situation. The following comic captures this relationship very clearly. A common situation (somebody is trying to sleep) becomes annoying (a single cricket chirping) and prevents the person from accomplishing a goal (getting a good night’s rest). In this case, annoyance is represented as rage.

troll cricket

troll cricket

In the final panel, the character says “FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU,” which is sometimes represented as f7u12. This is also the name of the rage comics link on Reddit.

Rage Comics consist largely of prefabricated images. These are stock images available on the Reddit website as well as related sites. The images are highly predictable in their meanings, and users are free to borrow the images and adapt their appearance as they see fit.

One category of emotion found in rage comics is ‘surprise.’ I have aggregated some of the more common images, below.

conventions of surprise in rage comics

conventions of surprise in rage comics

Notable here is the category of “surprise” and the range of intensity of that emotion represented in each image. Both the convention of the long neck and the convention of the gasp convey much stronger emotional responses than the term “surprise” may indicate. But this is often the point of rage comics, to heighten the representations of the emotions. On the other hand, many of the images don’t “overdo” the emotion, like the “Not Bad Obama” image. In any event, the images serve to make commentary on a situation.

The rage comic below describes a situation that many people have experienced. Playing this arcade-style “claw game” is notoriously difficult. How much money has been spent in these machines trying to claim a tiny plush toy or other kind of gadget from the treasure pile? Notice in panel 4 the word *drop!*.

claw game fail

claw game fail

At the end of the game, when we almost always drop the treasure, do we feel rage? Do the red eyes of the character in the last panel resound with readers because of realism or because of exaggeration? It would also be easy to change the ending of the comic. If on the off chance that we do succeed in claiming our treasure, we could use an image from the ‘VICTORIOUS’ category of the rage comics conventions, as follows:

victorious

victorious

Should Rage Comics be considered comics? Are they sequential art? Conversely, are they simply “cut and paste” images that should not in any sense be compared to “comic art”? Do they mock the loving care that many (all?) comics artists devote to their creations? Is this an up-to-date color-by-number gimmicky analogue for the internet generation?

About Frank Bramlett

Until June 2014, I am a visiting lecturer in the English Department at Stockholm University, where I offer seminars in Sociolinguistics; Language and Gender; and Language and Comics; among others. For Fall 2014, I will return to the English Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

4 responses »

  1. Hi Frank – I have seen these strange little comics around, but didn’t know what they were. (What would I do without this blog!) Very crude and intense – I can see how they might be appealing and fun to put together. I think there’s plenty of room in the medium to consider Rage Comics as comics, although your great analogy to “color-by-number” paintings points out that there’s a broad range of skill level and narrative depth in the form. And those who know the genre best can probably see all kinds of nuances that I don’t. I wonder if there is an Alan Moore or Frank Miller of Rage Comics…?

  2. Is there an Alan Moore or Frank Miller of Rage Comics? Probably so! Just in terms of sheer numbers, there is bound to be a gem on a day-to-day basis. Hundreds of new Rage Comics are made every day, so there’s no way for me to read them all. If I do manage to read 15 or 20, then that’s a lot for me.

    I think ‘crude’ and ‘intense’ are great terms that you’ve used. In fact, many Rage Comics contributors make commentary on the ‘quality’ of their comics, and they often use self-deprecating humor to do so. My best guess is that everyone who reads and/or makes Rage Comics knows that the point is not to make ‘pretty’ or ‘artistic’ comments but to capture the intensity of an emotional reaction to a situation using the conventions of Rage.

    In a certain way, these comics can be seen as an extraordinary record of the day-to-day experiences of ordinary people. It’s a record of culture (and of memes), of social interaction, of commonality. I don’t want to go too far with this, but perhaps they could be considered the People’s Comics?

  3. roytcook says:

    It seems to me that there are two questions here (at the very least): Are ‘rage comics’ comics, and are ‘rage comics’ art? I think the answer to the first one has to be “yes”. Based on their panel-page structure, their historical development out of more mainstream comics practices, and their being labelled ‘comics’ by their producers, consumers, and critics, there is almost no reasonable position on the nature of comics that I can think of that would discount them as comics (note that the considerations above cover formal considerations, historical situatedness, and ‘institutional’ labelling – not clear what else there is!)

    The interesting questions, as I think is already implicit in Frank’s post and both Frank and Qiana’s comments, are those that hover around the “are rage comics art?” question. Of course, I have no doubt that at least some rage comics are in fact art (although not all, no more than all comics are art). But the more interesting question is what kind of art. In particular, what role do rage comics play (other than the rather obvious one of being a mean to vent one’s anger or share the source of that anger with others).

    This is where Frank’s question about rage comics being the ‘people’s comics’ comes in. They certainly allow for participation/production by most people. But their niche online status (I also didn’t know this was a ‘real’ category until now) also makes their consumption somewhat of a narrow, non-universal sort of thing. So what, exactly, makes them the people’s comics? (I am not denying that they are, but only wondering what, exactly, this amounts to).

  4. Roy, I appreciate your point about the status of rage comics as art. I think you’re right, that it probably is a range.

    But your paragraph about the ‘people’s comics’ surprised me, mostly because I didn’t put much thought into the phrase when I wrote it. Rage comics are nichey, but because they exist on the web in multiple places (multiple web sites, etc.), they may not be as narrow as they first appear.

    Maybe ‘people’s comics’ should be a topic for a future post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s