I thoroughly enjoyed Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. It was a book that gave a great in-depth analysis of an art (and I know now that it is an art) that is often brushed off as being “for kids.”
The first thing that really interested me was McCloud's distinction between “realistic” and “iconic”. I found this point to be especially powerful when, on page 36, he has a side-by-side comparison of the iconic version of himself and the realistic version of himself, stating that if he had illustrated himself in the realistic sense throughout the entire book, “…You would have been far too aware of the messenger to fully receive the message.”
Another great portion of the book focused on the concept of “closure”, especially between panels (a space called the “gutter”). McCloud really explains the power of the gutter on page 68 where he talks about the duty of reader-participation between panels. I see his point, and agree that this is a very fun, powerful, and important part of comics. But I also had a bit of a hard time accepting the concept 100%. For example, his illustration of the murder scene, as well as his later examples of “Peek-a-boo” and the blinking eye, all made me think that the gutter space may leave a lot of room for error. For example, if I saw two panels, both with an open eye, I wouldn't assume that it had ever closed or blinked, I would simply be under the impression that the creator drew the same eye twice. This brings me to my first discussion question:
1) Does the concept of closure in combination with the presence of gutters create the possibility for readers to make mistakes? If so, could there be consequences to these mistakes?
I must also mention that I very much appreciated McCloud's distinction between the common styles of the East versus the West. It was very cool seeing not only the aesthetic differences, but the thought process that is behind them as well. This brings me to question numero dos:
2) Japanese comics are cited as being more focused on “being there”, and American comics more concerned with “getting there.” With our country now utilizing newer technologies that bring us more information faster and more frequently, would the Japanese style of 1,000 page comics that emphasize the moment-to-moment and aspect-to-aspect transitions have as great a success here? Do you feel that our fast-paced lifestyles and technology would hinder our ability to appreciate this type of comic?
The discussion on time (Chapter 4) was another thought-provoking section. I especially enjoyed his thoughts on linear movement from panel to panel, and how we, as readers, assume that as we read, the panels that lie behind us are the past and ahead of us are the future. He then gave a very interesting example of non-linear possibilities on page 105. This brought to mind our past discussions about information being displayed in a linear manner.
3) Are comics (or information in general) better displayed in a linear sense, or would a non-linear approach yield better results? Would it yield worse results? Furthermore, what new possibilities may be opened up by going non-linear, and maybe even integrating “viewer choice”?
Another concept that caught my eye was McCloud's thoughts on images and colors conveying emotion to the viewer. The discussions in Chapter 5 were great, and I liked that he talked about the influence of impressionist painting on the idea of images provoking an emotional and even sensual response. In Chapter 8 he also talks about the power of color. My next discussion question has to do with these two ideas:
4) Would you say that images or colors are more effective at evoking a sensual response? Would you say a combination of both? *This question isn't aimed at just the idea of comics, but rather how we get our information, i.e. blog layouts, web pages, etc.
My last question comes from my newfound respect and understanding of comics.
5) Knowing now the process and knowledge that goes behind comics, how influential do you think they are in our society? In addition, after reading Chapter 7 (The Six Steps) do you feel that comics can be a powerful outlet for social commentary, political views, etc?
I ask this last question because of a story I remember hearing in a class last semester. During World War II, there the character Captain America debuted with this cover:
This, to me, is a great example of a powerful message being displayed through a medium that's, as I stated earlier, often dismissed as being “made for kids.”