Tag Archives: Understanding Comics

What It Is by Lynda Barry

22nd September 2011

*I bought this book at the Strand bookstore when I was there for BEA in May.

In What It Is, Lynda Barry talks about writing – both personally and anecdotally. One part instructive and three parts creative, the book first talks about images, stories, characters, and monsters and where they come from, although in a very different way than Scott McCloud does in Understanding Comics.

When I brought this book into my ESL classroom a couple weeks ago to illustrate something we were discussing, several students wanted to share their opinions: “That person must be the crazy” and “Something is wrong with the writer’s head” were two common phrases.

No doubt about it, Lynda Barry is obsessive, though in my opinion, all good artists are. You could read this book and look at it half a dozen times and still miss something because each page is an elaborate collage. Some have her drawings on top of old letters. Some have old letters or ads or newspaper clippings pasted onto her drawings to illustrate her own creative exploration. Most often, the clipping adds to the meaning or interprets the meaning.

While this is interesting, and I loved seeing her evolution as an artist, I really loved the discussion of creativity in children. She argues that at some point in each of our lives, creativity is snuffed out and becomes something we either apologize for or do completely on our own. It’s an interesting concept and one I know I’ve read somewhere but cannot find support for. She also argues in the page below that “the time for [creativity] is always with us though we say I do not have that kind of time. The kind of time I have is not for this but for that. I wish I had that kind of time.” This is and will always be, for me, what distinguishes artists from amateurs: choosing the time and using it for art.

What It Is is a beautiful, compelling book, and it even includes a section in the back to get you started writing or drawing or creating. This section is by no means small, and the only reason I haven’t attempted it is because the book is really too pretty to write in. What It Is is a book I’ll treasure and come back to again and again, and it’s one I would encourage anyone who enjoys writing, reading or creating to have on hand.

Read this: If you need a shot in the arm to write, draw, paint, sing, create. Be prepared to pore over the pages.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

12th April 2011

Spring. I love it for so many reasons including the really great texts my students and I explore. This week, we are reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, but many of my students have never before read a graphic novel. In fact, last week one of them opened up the book, held it up, and asked: “Is it really supposed to be a comic book?” So, I thought it was essential to introduce them to the medium and made some copies of excerpts from Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud.

If you haven’t ventured far into comics/graphic novels and want a primer or even just a great, fun reference book, you could do much worse. McCloud uses the medium itself to define and explore the complex world of images and comics.

In an accessible manner, McCloud starts with the basics, using one of Magritte’s paintings and then explaining that the image you are viewing is not a pipe, or a painting of a pipe or a drawing of a pipe. Instead, it’s (in our case) a web page view of a printed page of a drawing of a painting of a pipe. Now that that’s clear as mud, take a look at the page (click to enlarge):

Why does any of that matter? Well, McCloud wants us to be able to break down images the way a cartoonist might, and he discusses icons and how icons and symbols are different from one another:

Thus, as a number or letter simply represents the corresponding number or letter (3=3; M=m), the icons above are indicative of an idea, though not the ideas themselves. McCloud argues that comics operate in icons and demand reader participation. Let me explain: he says photos only allow us to see what the photographer views. However, comics break down images to less complex levels, inviting the reader/viewer to better identify with the story.

This particular panel is an excellent experiment. From left to right, the images decrease in detail, leaving us with a simplistic drawing of a face. McCloud says we are more likely to see ourselves in the image on the right as opposed to the image on the left. In fact, McCloud says we are eager to see ourselves everywhere:

And it’s so true. Don’t you see faces in the images below? Fascinating. The rest of the book discusses panel choice, color, story, etcetera, and it’s really a great, fairly-quick read. If you’re at all interested in comic books and graphic novels, I think you’ll absolutely love this book.

If you’re interested, you can buy a copy here.

Well? Have you read Understanding Comics? Until I discovered graphic novels, I was always a fan of Archie. Are you a fan of comic books or graphic novels? What are some of your favorites?
jenn aka the picky girl