Understanding Comics

Comics and Ways of Seeing

Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics is an enlightening read about the mechanics and theory of the medium. While I have always loved graphic novels (e.g. Persepolis) and grew up with a Marvel-obsessed older brother, I have never analyzed cartoons in depth.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.

Comics and Art History

I appreciated McCloud’s historical overview of the development of comics as an art form and his connections to visual theory and media studies. Given my background and training in art history and Persian “miniature paintings,” I found chapter six of the book (“Image and Text”) particularly fascinating, in which McCloud explores the relationship between these fundamental elements of comics. One can also find this relationship at play in Timurid paintings from the 16th century, as well. While the basic definition of comics as “sequential visual art” is a useful framework for approaching animation, Understanding Comics illustrates that comics encompass complex ideas and systems about vision and the power of images and storytelling in human society.

Spatial Relationships

The book compelled me to consider the format and function of space in between discrete panels on a page both in comics and in illustrated manuscripts. In many cases, the margins and negative space allude to a window or frame of sorts. I appreciated McCloud’s explanation of “closure” and the concept of readers of making sense of events unfolding within the space in between.

“Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness”, Folio from the Divan of Hafizca. 1531–33. Painting by Sultan Muhammad (Iranian, active first half 16th century). Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper. Jointly owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Cary Welch Jr., 1988.

The Physical World & The World Within

Overall, Understanding Comics prompted me to think more deeply about the ways (techniques and styles via lines, transitions, shapes, contrasts, color etc.) that comics express both our interpretation and understanding of the physical world and the world within, outer resemblances and inner thoughts.

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