Agitrons

Agitrons are small, squiggly lines frequently used alongside other visual cues such as motion lines or emanata to add “flavor” to the images depicted in the static panel of a comic strip. Unlike emanata, which apply strictly to characters (and generally depict emotion), and motion lines, which show motion through space, agitrons are used to indicate that either a character or object is shaking (generally while remaining roughly in place).

In this Panel from
Figure 1. In this panel from “Frank in the River,” it is difficult to distinguish the action. Image source: Woodring, Jim. (2000, June). Frank. Fantagraphics Books.

While agitrons are usually curved at a moderate angle, they can occasionally appear straight, and can therefore be difficult to distinguish from emanata in some panels. In Figure 1, the relative lack of curvature makes it difficult to distinguish whether Frank is rustling through the bush or having an epiphany. While the context of the following panels makes the action clear enough, the panel could be made clearer.

Agitrons seems to vary not only with individual artists, but also with different intended audiences and time periods. While Golden Age and Silver Age comics tend to clearly telegraph motion and emotion with very prominent markings, more modern comic series, and especially graphic novels, tend to downplay devices such as agitrons. In this panel from Saga (see Figure 2), the spaceship that the characters are currently aboard is lifting off, and as such could be expected to vibrate greatly, but the reader is given only a few stray agitrons to convey this. More modern styles seem to lean more on context and superior visuals. [[Can you describe the Saga characters with more specificity, as you did with Pig and cough syrup girl?]]

Saga, downplays the tremors of liftoff. Image source: Vaughn, B, & Staples, F. (2014, April). Saga (1).
Figure 2. Saga downplays the tremors of liftoff in this argument between Alana and Marko. Image source: Vaughn, B, & Staples, F. (2014, April). Saga (1).

However, since newspaper comics have been around even longer than the “comic book” as we know it, they seem to adhere to more traditional methods, and emphasize exaggerated reactions and movements. The Pearls Before Swine panel in Figure 3 shows Pig’s agitation with a large amount of agitrons, that do not focus on overall movement, but seem to telegraph almost every part of his body in motion.

Pig mourns the loss of his syrup-bottle girlfriend in this Pearls before Swine Strip. Image source: Pastis, Stephan. (2006) The Ratvolution Will Not be Televised (Collection 5).
Figure 3. Pig mourns the loss of his syrup-bottle girlfriend in this Pearls before Swine Strip. Image source: Pastis, Stephan. (2006) The Ratvolution Will Not be Televised (Collection 5).

REFERENCES

Walker, M. (2000, March 21). The Lexicon of Comicana. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.