Pattern Recognition: Notes on Reappearing Images

Posted by Ricardo Gonzalez Trujillo on 14 Jul, 2016
In comics we eventually notice compositions or motifs that are repeated more than once over the course of time. Through their reinterpretation they become cult images, which are in turn fragmented projections of a whole. According to Umberto Eco (Salvat, 1973). these images are charged with secondary meanings, becoming more important than the primary ones:

"Outstanding features become unique, the real, fundamental ones; the features that are left, which compose reality, are already meaningless...  therefore the object has been somewhat clipped, isolated, so that secondary elements of the comic have become the fundamental ones".

The repetition of elements in the comic could be considered imitations. Herbert, for example, argues that it is the image that precedes the idea, and this is not, as it is commonly believed, the origin of the symbolic forms (Herbert, 1965). In a similar vein, Walter Benjamin wrote that "disciples produced imitations to practice, teachers to disseminate their works and others with ambitions of profit".

For Benjamin, the work of art has always been reproducible (Benjamin, 2003). According to Eric Turquin,  a copy is not a falsification, since the falsification happens "when the aim is to deceive or commit a fraud".  A copy is nothing more than the reproduction of a work in its historical, aesthetic, symbolic or economic value, but "without losing its primal character of secondary work".

What is it that makes certain images to reappear more than others no matter how much we try to destroy them? Are these images generated by an original idea or are they merely copies, plagiarisms and tributes?

Copies of a work are classified according to the degree of relationship they hold with the original. They are replicas when they are made ​​from molds taken directly from the original, from which a clone emerges. They are reproductions when they keep the same features of the original, but without touching the latter. Recreations are those works inspired by other works, keeping more or less faithfully the style of the original author.

Carl G. Jung thought that in the collective unconscious there are fantastic and dreamlike images that correlate  universal patterns with special similarity. Jung called these autonomous ancestral images "archetypes". They are not inherited representations, but representations of inherited possibilities, so a something can be represented and transformed in detail without losing its original meaning or fundamental pattern (Jung, 2009).

It is noteworthy that contrary to what happens with piracy, where it is argued that the copy of a work discourages creativity and limits the diffusion of culture, recreation is considered as valuable, as a tribute or homage to the original idea, and therefore expresses appreciation of the original work, placing the latter as paradigm. According to Walter Benjamin, "imitation makes a thing become apparent... makes it becomes present".

One way to discover if common elements in comics are caused by a  historical relationship is to trace the life history of the artists and the relationships between authors (writers, artists, etc.) and editors. The concept of analogy refers to the reasoning that is based on the detection of similar attributes in different thing. The meaning of this concept (analogy) will vary depending on the discipline, but we argue it could be used to explain these recurrent images in comics. In linguistics, for example, an analogy consists in the creation of new forms or the modification of existing ones from their similarity to others.

We can  apply this concept of analogy to  images that can be labeled as "tributes" or "copies." Take for example the work of Jaime Hernández, whose elements and compositions in different contexts reflect influences that have been openly recognised by him (Navarrete, 1993). What changes is the intention of the image, without deleting the essence of the situation.


Unlike linguistic analogy, for biology evolutionary analogy (evolutionary convergence) means that two structures serve similar functions by similar means but have a different evolutionary origin (Begon et al. 2006). An example of evolutionary analogy is the wings of a butterfly and a bat, which perform the same function but come from different evolutionary lines. In the case of comics evolutionary analogy would be when similar image elements are produced by chance or collective unconsciousness, without any coalescence (common ancestry) between the lives of the authors.

An example of evolutionary analogy in comics would be the images created by Germán Butze (1912-1974) in 1950's  Mexico and Nestor Redondo (Philippines, 1928-1995), where the organs and structures (ideas) fulfill the same function or have similar aspects (elements and composition) but they do not have a common origin (for example styles or publisher)¿*?. There are no traces that might suggest that one of the two authors could have had awareness of the other's work, so we cannot establish a relationship of images by common ancestry. It is therefore possible conclude that these images are an example of how the elements of popular culture are recreated over and over again.


Traditionally the comparison of value between an original and its copy is inevitable, but it is known reproductions come to have an added value. Writing about "Flora Farnese" (a copy of a 4th century BC sculpture) historian José María Luzón concludes that "…our copy also has double value, because it is a copy of the original with the Renaissance restoration of the time, and this has been subsequently modified... i.e., a copy could be more faithful to the original than the original itself".

REFERENCES Begon, M., Townsend C. R. and Harper J. L. (2006) Ecology, From individuals to ecosystems (Victoria: Blacwell Publishing) Benjamin, W. (2003) La obra de arte en la époda de su reproductibilidad técnica (Mexico: Itaca) Butze, G. (1973) Los Supersabios # 229 (México: Joma) Ditko, S., Lee S. (1966) Amazing Spiderman #33 (New York: Marvel Comics) Read, H (1965) Imagen e idea (México: FCE). Hernandez, J. (1996) Chester Square. Love and Rockets Collection #13 (Seattle: Fantagraphics) Jung, C. G. (2009) Arquetipos e inconsciente colectivo (Madrid: Paidós) Navarrete F. (1993). "Low writers: chicano zines", Poliéster (México: Poliester) 6(2):34-45 Read, H. (1965) Icon and idea: the function of art in the development of human consciousness (New York: Schocken Books) Redondo, E. (1974) Swamp Thing # 12 (New York: Marvel Comics) Salvat. (1973) Literatura de la Imagen # 57 (Spain: Salvat).