NEW MEDIA: Comics are Fun

One of the first statements that grabbed my attention in  "Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics" (I’ve linked here with his website (–follow links there to this particular book) was this:

Definition:  Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.

McCloud, in a very detailed yet easy to read (and view) manner then goes on to bring the comic book into its own through the annals of history–from caveman drawings through Hieroglyphics, medieval representations, William Hogarth, Rudolphe Topffer’s panels and borders of the mid-1800s, Lynd Ward, Max Ernst, stained glass windows, across Europe, Japan, and to the United States and present day productions.  This method of building the present upon the past is, as I’ve mentioned, one of the most obvious ways to comprehend the molding of a product into its present form.

I realize that I could do a 12-page essay on this book, just looking through the notes I’ve taken page by page.  So while at some point in the future I might expound on certain issues, let me just bring up some of the highlights, not necessarily in the ordered and structured sense that pervades "Understanding Comics," but in a looser sense of at least getting down some of the more obvious self-explanatory lessons I’ve learned from it.  Direct quotes and ideas are in bold black.

Words, pictures and other icons are the vocabulary of the language called comics.

We objectify characters and things through use of realism.  Often then, the less real, the more we are allowed to fill in ourselves in order to relate to a more abstract image of cartooning.  Amplification through simplification.

Comics is a mono-sensory medium; it depends upon the visual to convey all other senses.  Between panels, no senses are required, yet all are engaged.

A single panel, via words can exend time more than a single moment.  Time can be controlled through content, the number of and closure between panels, but panel shape can also give our perception of time a different meaning.

This last idea in particular was very interesting.  Film depends on transitioning (fadeouts, etc.), scripting of conversation, musical background, etc. to indicate the passage of time.  Books require text within text to accomplish this.  Comics use the panel placement, content, and not mentioned above, color and graphics  to indicate movement of place and time in a refined manner particular to the medium (zip lines), yet relative to all in its goal.

Chapter 5 contained a wealth of information regarding the more difficult to express emotion within the story and its characters.  It has to be visual, and it has to be concentrated and immediate–no wasting seven panels on the crumbling ego and eventual tears of our heroine.  Here, even the text is manipulated by font, size, boldness, and employs symbols that have become part of the culture of comics.

An example of appealing to the senses and at the same time, the acceptance of symbols:  smoke lines that visually may indicate a fire, a deliciously smelling turkey dinner, or garbage laying three days out onthe street. 

"Images drift out of their visual context and into the invisible world of symbol."

Sound:  #*@**#!!  or BAM!  – Need I explain further?

Another interesting concept here:  Words can most completely describe, but lack the impact and immediacy of visuals.

Chapter 6 gets to the heart of combining words and pictures to create story.  Important feature of this aspect:  (#7) they become interdependent, relying on each other to present the complete idea.  When one is strong, the other is "freed" to be creative.

In Chapter 7, McCloud gives us six steps in the creation of any work in any medium that will follow a certain path:  Idea, Purpose/Form/Idiom/Structure/Craft, and Surface.

He also presents this interesting premise:  Art is any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of the two basic instincts of survival or reproduction.  I found this notion fascinating; arguable in some ways, perhaps, but overall, it gives us such a wonderful vast field in which to play.

I found so very much more within the pages of "Understanding Comics"; the very fact that it was basically a textbook on the medium presenting itself in comic book form.  So much that was brought to light as being necessary to the nature of its form can be related in some manner to all other forms of narrative. 

It’s a fascinating journey, and in my mind, a large part of making what new, newer, and yet to be discovered media presentations are about.

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