Chapter six of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics explains the relationship between pictures and words in a comic. McCloud tells about the history and evolution of words and pictures and how they have been used together to create different works. McCloud explains that the first words were actually pictures! Pictures have predated the written word by a large margin. As thousands of years have passed, words have grown farther away from their ancestor, pictures.
It did not take long until ancient pictures started becoming more abstract. In time, words began losing their ancient visual resemblance and started to represent only sound. With the help of the printing press, written word took a leap and took humanity with it. Eventually, pictures and words grew farther apart in the opposite corners of the iconic abstraction chart. With both pictures and words in the corner, both had room to grow.
Pictures expanded up the abstraction chart into categories such as expressionism, futurism, Dada, and surrealism. At the same time, written words were also changing. Poetry turned away from elusive abstraction and became more direct in style. Both began moving to the left in the abstraction chart. Pictures and written word were headed for a collision.
In this collision, the comic was formed! Unfortunately for comics at this time, modern art was incomprehensible to many viewers. People did not appreciate the comic. The comic suffered the curse of new media, and the curse of being judged by old standards. Even though comics were born in this misunderstood time for modern art, comics had potential in the art of storytelling. The comic could combine words and pictures in unlimited ways.
McCloud covers a lot of history and the perspective on comics in this chapter. He explains that comics can combine words and pictures in many different combinations. Of word specific and picture specific combinations, there is additive, parallel, montage, and interdependent. These combinations help the writer tell the story in unlimited ways, making the comic ever changing. Words can carry the weight in a comic, which allows pictures to take off and vice versa. The mixing of pictures and words in comics is a beautiful thing. This is when you show and tell.