24 June 2010

Breakin' It Down

Comics, however defined or thought to be, are always a topic for debate and judgement. In Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics he chooses Will Eisner's term "sequential art" to define and explain comics. But as Dylan Horrock explains, McCloud doesn't attempt to justify why this sequential art should be seen as the one definitive element in comics to the exclusion of all others. He only chooses this term because he likes it and it is useful; it highlights the things he values most about comics. But doesn't come to suggest that it is the only such element or that it is unique to comics in any way.This rhetorical essay was more difficult to understand I thought that Scott McCloud's book, but Horrock does break down and analyze every aspect of McCloud's definition as to what he believes comics are. McCloud's argument is refered to as simple because the majority of those who will read, or have read this book do share his same views and concepts. It's hard to get someone to read something that opposes their point of view or idea as to what comics really are, or just to get someone to read something new and in book form in general now a days.

Superman According to the Academic

Umberto Eco's essay "The Myth of Superman" takes the comic qualities of Superman and compares them to those of mythic heroes. In this piece, Eco states that though Superman carries mythic qualities (i.e. having superhuman abilities), there are major differences between Superman and the traditional mythic hero.

Traditional mythic heroes have a inescapable, irreversible destiny and character, that is, they have their strengths and weaknesses and a certain purpose or destiny that will always follow. Traditional mythic heroes and their stories are past, they have already developed their history and the public is certain of the outcome. In Superman comics, we are not aware of the history of this hero and therefore are more concerned with "what will happen" as opposed to what has already happened. Having a weekly release of new Superman comics can change the character's destiny and leave room for changes in his character.
"The mythic character embodies a law, or a universal demand, and therefore must be in part predictable and cannot hold surprises for us; the character of a novel wants, rather, to be a man like anyone else, and what could befall him is unforeseeable as what may happen to us."
In the same sense, a mythic hero must also follow the laws of time, whereas Superman is nearly omnipotent and therefore unable to develop as other mythological characters might. He is stuck in a never-changing present (the price you pay as a well-read comic series), where no one can hurt him but also he cannot marry his love interests, reproduce, or grow older since this could cause conflict in the series. Since time has no bearing on Superman, he evolves into the character we know him as today: an evolutionary superhero... he goes from jumping over skyscrapers, running faster than trains, and having impenetrable skin in his first appearance in 1938 to having x-ray and heat vision, super hearing abilities, being able to fly at the speed of light (and break the time barrier), while having impossible strength. His history is found after his appearance (and changed as well). He grows up Clark Kent in Smallville and the entering manhood, moves to Metropolis to become a reporter, but he is always Superman and he always tries to blend in with the normal humans. The good/evil concept in Superman comics is on a much smaller scale due to his longing for a normal human life, where evil is embodied by an "offence to private property," good is represented only as "charity." Superman could fight all evil in this world, he's certainly capable of it, but he holds to these simple civic responsibilities, I believe in attempt to stay grounded as Clark Kent.

Superman may not be a traditional mythic hero but he is far from ordinary to me. Having the ability to change his future, and even his past, writers have the most amazing task at hand. They can rewrite time and his development, superman can be reborn, nothing is out of the question or impossible for this superhero. As I read more about comics and especially superheroes, I am constantly amazed at how creative their lives (past and present) are. I am aware of the legacy that is Superman. The comics have become movies, tv shows, books... a topic of conversation and debate for decades. It is not surprising that Superman is a favorite and has lasted so long in comics and media!

Time and Development

Chapter 4 focuses on the use of time frames in comics. One Single panel can show several moments in time, the past, the present, and the future. Comics are not limited to one panel representing one moment in time, although to some it's a preference, "and beween those frozen moments--between the panels--our minds fill in the intervening moments, creating the illusion of time and motion. The example on pg. 95 is of one panel with several sequential moments in time. From left to right we read the bubbles and understand the scene, obviously all moments in this one panel aren't simultaneously happening but because we read left to right and there is no panel breaks so the time it takes for our eyes to scan from one moment to the next serves as enough closure to to create the illusion of time, and as McCloud explains this one panel could also be seperatied into five seperate panels with one moment in time each and representing order because "the panel acts as a sort of general indicator that time or space is being divided," thus creating a comic strip. Panels come in all shapes and sizes, while different shapes don't affect the direct meaning of these panels they may affect the reading experience.
In chapter 6 McCloud explains how as a child we begin with reading books that have tons of pictures because they are more comprehendable to us at that age, then as we age we move to books with less and less pictures until we reach the comics without pictures, novels, "or perhaps as is sadly the case these days, to no books at all!" Human vocabulary has vastly developed in the same general way as we develop from infancy to adulthood, we began 15,000 years ago in the Golden Age of Cave Painting where most art was pictorial representational and similiar to our children's books, where as others were very iconic and acted as symbols rather than pictures, sort of like a language for this time period, which is similiar yo our novels. As words became more elaborate and explanatory with details, pictures became more symbolic and representational.

Understanding Sequential Art

Chapter one begins with a young Scott McCloud realizing that comic books are usually "crude, poorly-drawn, semi literate, cheap, disposable, kiddie fare," but understands that they don't have to be. People fail to understand comics because they define them as having set boundaries and rules to what they have to be. "A proper definition, if we could find one, might give lie to the stereotypes--And show that the potential for comics is limitless and exciting!" After examining a few extended versions of Will Eisner's definition of comics, which is "Sequential art" he comes out with his own thought provoked definition "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response to the viewer. Seeing as how people might get bored reading this novel of a definition, McCloud decided to stick with Eisner's solid definition.
To begin chapter two McCloud introduces us to the painting "The Treachery of Images" by Magritte. The subject matter of the painting is obviously a common tobacco pipe, although the text on the painting reads "This is not a pipe." But as McCloud explains this is really not a pipe, it's not a photo of a pipe, nor is it the drawing of one. It is actually ten printed copied of a drawing of a painting of a pipe, when it's considered that every panel represents one single copy of the painting. This is an example to the use of icons in comics. Icons represent any image used to represent a person, place, thing, or idea (any noun to make it easier). If comics are the language, "words, pictures, and other things are the vocabulary." There are a lot more to comics than meets the eye!
I was particularly drawn to how he explains how our mind perceives icons, they represent nothing to people who are out of the common culture it is used in. For example, when I was in London the currency there is pounds, and it has its own icon to represent it. Here in the United States we use the Dollar which is totally different. The two represent the same thing, currency, but it's used differently in icon ism based on the geographic and cultural difference. No culture's Icons are exactly alike, there may be many similarities but there is always gonna be one icon that is different in every culture.

Myths

Umberto Eco’s, Myth of Superman, provides a descriptive background of the history of superheroes in comic book, concentrating mainly on Superman. He explains the characteristics of Superman’s ranging from: his incredible strength, his ability to fly faster than the speed of light, his heat vision abilities and his x-ray vision. Eco also describes how the creators/writers of Superman generate a sense of a timeless atmosphere which never provides the reader with an actual time or date of Superman’s adventures, which allows Superman to obtain a mythic image since he never ages and allows the reader to keep an intriguing interest in the story of Superman. Eco also explains how Superman has a hero side and a fake human side which he doesn’t actually favor. He explains further that the readers might perceive Superman as a hero in religious or mythological sense that allows the reader to link their past with his and hope for similar outcomes.
I know that I didn’t touch all areas of Eco’s writing but he provided some much information that for a non-comic book reader, such as myself, was overwhelmed and couldn’t really get a good grasp on what he trying portray. But I do have one question?
Is there really a correct definition for a super hero?

23 June 2010

Mythtaken?

In 1962, writer and academic Umberto Eco published an essay called “The Myth of Superman,” in which he outlined how Superman (and superheroes in general) didn’t fit the traditional concept of a mythological hero due to the nature of capitalism and the episodic nature of Superman’s life. In essence, Superman has countless adventures over decades, all of which take place in a continuous present, while he remains the same approximate age. His story has a beginning, but it will never reach its end; but more importantly, he can never make progress, can never develop as a human being.Umberto Eco is essentially treating Superman as a mythical character, and utilizing this character as a sign for us as human beingEco was concerned with delineating the features of a 'closed' text - a classic Superman story is 'closed,' in Eco's terminology, because it is designed to elicit a predetermined response - the mythological iteration of the Superman character. Therefore, nothing can happen in a Superman tale which advances the hero along the life-path: he cannot marry, reproduce or grow old.

I think Eco's comment holds true for all comic book characters in a general sense. Their core personas have to remain the same so they are recognizable generation after generation. That said, what keeps comic books vital is each generation's different interpretations of core personas. The characters also appear in story arcs or graphic novels that take into account current events. Superman has definitely changed over the decades. In the Forties and Fifties, the stories were nearly always short and self-contained, but in the Sixties they began to take on a somewhat bigger scope. It was the reboot of the character in the Eighties that produced the biggest changes, though. Suddenly Clark Kent wasn't an orphan anymore, since Ma and Pa Kent were still alive. Lois eventually discovered that Clark was really Superman, and I think they're married in the current continuity, but don't hold me to that. The stories have become much more epic over the past 25 years, running for many, many issues and sometimes tying in to a multitude of other titles.

Whether or not this is a good thing is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

DAMN THE MAN!

Oh the comic industry... where did we go wrong?

According to Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics, there has not been adequate change in recent years to move comics to the next level. McCloud proposes that comics focus on "twelve revolutions" to realize the full potential of comics. These "revolutions" will better the comic industry by achieving what McCloud feels is missing from comics today. The revolutions include comics as literature, comics as art, creator's rights, industry innovation, public perception, institutional scrutiny, gender balance, minority representation, diversity of genre, digital production, digital delivery, and digital comics.

In McCloud's chapter, "Big World: The Battle for Diversity," we are exposed to the idea that comics are only as real as the life experiences of their creators. McCloud claims that since, comic creators are, as a majority, are white upper-class males then the audience they appeal to will mostly be those of the same circumstances. His theory is that by making the industry more diverse, comics therefore will be able to evolve into a more diverse medium and it's audience will also follow suit. Okay. Simple, logical theory, right? Well, execution is another story.

I'll let this slip (as much as I can) for McCloud's sake... But in the process of explaining why gender balance is important, McCloud is guilty of such horrible gender stereotyping (i.e. women are more emotional and capable of expressing this better than men) and refers to comics created by women as "women's comics!" What is that about, Scotty? In the same sense, minorities are classified by McCloud. He calls the attempts of creators to portray a certain minority "just guessing." Although this isn't an unreasonable assumption, his first revolution--comics as literature would imply that creators should have the ability to write in many perspectives, not just those that are familiar to them. There are a million writers who research or put in more effort to portray a culture they are not apart of... and though I agree that every industry should be more diverse, does it mean that comics are doomed if there isn't fair representation throughout? Probably not. The weaknesses in this argument are hard to ignore. McCloud's final thought is regarding genre. McCloud claims that genre is the result of the type (gender/race/religion/sexual orientation/etc) of creator that makes the comic. His main argument is that when considering comics, one of the first (if not the first) thoughts is the infamous superhero comics... Catering to white male audiences and created by white males. And it is a common perception of comics, the superhero comes to mind. I am not saying that is always the case... but in my case, it happens to be. I have very little exposure to comics and believe that there is room to reach out to other audiences through different genres... does that mean that I would enjoy a comic made by a Hispanic, twenty-something woman who grew up in a Christian religious home?... probably not. I find that most writers I enjoy reading are nothing like me, and yet I am able to relate to their work. I can like a painting without needing a connection in economic class. And like other women in America, I resent being categorized in any reference to my economic class, religion, sexual orientation, race, and especially gender.

Shame, McCloud. You fell in the trap and published your own prejudices while trying to reveal those of the industry. But at the same time, you were right... I mean, what does a white upper-class male know about anything but his own?


22 June 2010

How to Rescue Comics

The entire comic industry needs to be reinvented from the ground up. At least according to Scott McCloud in Reinventing Comics it does, and he makes a convincing argument. In the introduction he outlines “The Twelve Revolutions.” These revolutions are twelve areas in comics McCloud focuses on in their reinvention. In a later chapter entitled “Big World: the Battle for Diversity” McCloud breaks down three of those revolutions: gender, minority, and genre diversity.

The comic industry has been declining since the mid nineties. McCloud feels that in order for comics to move forward, or better yet grow outward in all directions, several things need to change. The twelve revolutions serve as focal points in Reinventing Comics. The revolutions focus on comics as art, comics as literature, creators' rights, industry innovation, public perception, institutional scrutiny, gender balance, minority representation, diversity of genre, digital production, digital delivery, and digital comics. McCloud claims that only by reinventing comics on these twelve levels can we realize comics for their full potential.

The vast majority of comics have been created by white males. To McCloud this is a major reason why comics lack diversity. He states that comics created by women, while vastly diverse, have some qualities in common that many comics created by men leave out. Similarly minorities have perspective that white males can only guess at, and this perspective can add diversity to comics. These both contribute in a way to genre diversity. McCloud, while he does love superhero comics in his own way, realized that too many men it tights only appeals to a small percentage of the population. In order to broaden comics appeal and gain a larger audience, comics must seek to be as diverse as possible in genre.

Reinventing Comics can sometimes feel like a plea for help. Poor McCloud. He releases his first book, Understanding Comics, around the pinnacle of comics popularity, and then comes a major decline in the industry. I cant help but wonder if McCloud asked himself “didn't they read my book?!” In the introduction he cites many possible causes of the comics recession. I wonder if the rising popularity of the internet didn't have something to do with it, though McCloud doesn't mention that as a cause. McClouds appeals, and his “Twelve Revolutions” seem especially suited to those in the comic industry: creators, publishers and the like. Its purpose for comic readers seems to be just informative, not so much a call to action.

Its a little disappointing that there is little diversity in comics. McCloud makes a very good point that comics can do so much more than what they currently do. I can see why he believes that in order to make more diverse comics, we must have more diverse comic creators, including more women and minorities. His estimate is that one in every thousand people in the United States are comic readers. McCloud wish, it seems, is for more people to enjoy comics the way he imagines they can enjoy them. Considering the great heights that McCloud illustrates as comics' potential, I hope he gets his wish.

21 June 2010

Batman Begins

In reading Batman Begins it slowly unraveled the true colors of the character Stryker who had made a secret contract with the owners of the Apex Chemical Cooperation to pay a sum of money each year until he owned the business, but not having any ready cash he figured he would just kill the only people who knew about the contract so he could gain his ownership instantaneously. Then here comes Batman and saves the last person who knew about the contract and terminates Stryker as he tries escaping and falls to his defeat in a tank of acid.

I found this comic to be very entreating because ever since I was little my dad kept me very well influenced in DC comics and to this day I still enjoy them. One Batman comic I came across when my dad was in Iraq was titled The Jabberwocky, me having read Lewis Carroll’s books found this to be so awesome. The secondary character was a mental health patient who portrayed himself as the Mad Hatter and turns his nurse into a Jabberwocky. Towards the end of the comic when Batman tries to arrest the man for doing this to the nurse, the nurse stops him and tells him not to. That is only because when the nurse had become that creature he truly understood what it was like to be incapable of controlling himself and it was this that helped him understand why the patient was the way he was. I enjoy detective comics. In this Batman comic I enjoy the violence and most of all the ending. Good way to end it for the bad guy.

Inventing Comics, Dylan Horrocks

In the twenty page analysis Inventing Comics: Scott McCloud’s Definition of Comics,

by Dylan Horrocks breaks down McClouds interpretation of Understanding Comics. I found it to be very enlightening, only because in further states that McClouds book doesn’t necessarily states ultimate facts but that his interpretations of comics are just his points of views. Horrocks also clarifies McClouds arguments especially the disagreement in the fact that comics are only possible with more than one panel, but they must also have closure. This argument isn’t necessarily true because you can make single panel comics that too have closure. Horrocks also states how McCloud uses Eisner’s definition of comics which isn’t the pure justification of comics because it is such a large medium. This allows us to cleverly see comics the way McCloud does which are sequential art. I agree with that it did sum up the way I see comics but I agree with his disagreement that comics can’t just be more that a single panel.