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Understanding Comics

What makes Scott McCloud’s book, Understanding Comics such a classic? It was written in 1993 and despite all sorts of changes on the media frontier, it remains a book required or recommended in any media studies program.

Scott has a way of turning the history of comics into a history of visual media – or more to the point – a defense of the power of visual media. He says, “Creator and reader are partners in the invisible, creating something out of nothing time and time again.” He describes comics as a “baffling two-step of time and space.” When I teach my high school students about animation, I talk about the dance between time, space and motion. The two step of time and space evokes thoughts of magic. Successful media that engages and informs often seems magical. What makes it magical? What makes that comic strip either delightful or haunting, frightening or entertaining? In Animation class at ITP, we watched an animation that was haunting and frightening, while discussing the fact that the content of it did not exist in “reality.”

If you’re looking to articulate and then possibly understand better, this magic of media, this is a great book for you. One question of course is, does understanding or articulating the process, make you more likely to be successful at creating the magic? Should one go through life with a plan and make adjustments or does the plan stifle the creativity? Do you grow more by experimenting in a haphazard way or a systematic way? In truth, can we grow at all creatively or do we just wallow around and start somewhere which is a given for our being and then essentially end up in the same place?

The other day, I was busily working on my Arduino projects, thoroughly engrossed in my own challenges and progress. What’s it all for? What’s that about, I was asked… and, well….
Scott McCloud is sure that to take us on a journey of understanding the depth and breath and magic of comics will not only convince us that it is an underrated art form but also that our lives will be richer and more magical for engaging with this art form. What’s the reason for playing with Arduino – the magic of course!

He writes, “each panel of a comic shows a single moment in time… and between those frozen moments… our minds fill in … creating the illusion of time and motion… Is this what we yearn to do? Are we deeply engaged with technology because we, too, yearn to create this illusion of filling in the blank? After all, what is greater than time and motion… maybe only life itself…

1 comment to Understanding Comics

  • Nancy

    Nice post… all of the posts and comments of McCloud’s work are interesting… And I see that you have read and commented on some of them. Bravo!