Images in sequence
Understanding Comics gobbled me up! I couldn't put it down. It's passionate and clear. You couldn't ask for a better introduction to the genre.
My comics literacy, I'm now convinced, is woefully lacking—I'm planning to go up to Forbidden Planet and buy up the whole store.
On the assignment: Tom had already read Understanding Comics. I think my new-found enthusiam for the book probably skewed our assignment toward the most obvious axis: levels of abstraction. Tom did the sketches and the drawings; I made the "amorphous blob"/blocking/iconic levels and the textual descriptions. The most interesting part of the process for me was having to decide which of Tom's visual elements were salient enough to be included in the iconic and textual layers. Even though our comic had no explicit narrative, I found myself resorting to constructing my own narrative, in order to narrow down the number of elements that were to be part of the comic's "abstract" representation.
If Tom and I hadn't decided to focus on narrative and abstraction, I would have wanted my assignment to comment on the relationship of space and time in comics and the varieties of panel transitions. These are the most insightful observations in Understanding Comics, in my opinion, a simple yet powerful example of what makes comics tick.
I do worry, however, that McCloud would draw so sharp a distinction between the medium of comics and its content. His obvious contempt for some comics is a barrier to any recognition of how the form of comics dictates its content. The medium, ahem, is the message, after all, and maybe something about "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in sequence" enables certain styles, narratives, characters, whatever. There is a risk in using emotional criteria to devalue certain exemplars of a phenomenon, which is that you might end up excluding those exemplars that conflict with the theory you're trying to advance.
Finally, the concept of "closure" interested me. In linguistics, the same concept—when applied to conversation—is called "implicature" (see Grice, uh, 1979 I think). McCloud's explanation of closure is more generally applicable and I wonder if some of the conclusions he reaches about comic panels might also be true about, say, sentences.