06 June 2009

Blog # 1

In Chapter two of Understanding Comics, McCloud discusses how comic artists use icons to draw the reader into the story. McCloud’s definition of the icon is “any image used to represent a person, place, thing, or idea.” He continues with how an unrealistic face or icon face is more relatable to the viewer than a realistic face, because the abstract icon face is more identifiable for the reader whereas the realistic face represents an individual. McCloud also argues that an individual relates better to the icon face because this person can’t see his/her own face, and when one pictures their own face this person is less detailed and more like icons. He also discusses how some comic artists use realistic backgrounds because “no one expects audiences to identify with brick walls.” This implies that the audience (the reader) needs a less realistic image or icon to identify with, and by making the background realistic in return would draw the reader in more. The icon faces and realistic backgrounds are some of the vessels used to draw the reader into the story.

I initially found myself confused with most of chapter two of Understanding Comics (UC). I understood all of the ideas and concepts McCloud was presenting, but had trouble with the way he pieced them together for the reader. Basically, I felt disconnected from point to point. For example, I understand McCloud’s definition of an icon. He states it is “any image used to represent a person, place, thing, or idea,” and that there are many different Icons with various meanings : symbols, letters, pictures. What I find myself confused with is why didn’t he just call them all symbols and throw out the term icon all together? I just think that maybe icon was the wrong word for me, and it caused more confusion than clarity. The confusion for me did not end there. What was going on with the faces? What I got from it was the less detailed face (icon) was more relatable than the detailed more realistic face, and this is true because the icon face just represents a face and, therefore, could be anyone. That doesn’t make sense. How can a icon of a face be more relatable than a real face? How can you see yourself in an icon, which, by his definition, only represents an abstract sign of a face more than an actually face? McCloud says this is so because we can’t see ourselves, but the image we have in our heads (of ourselves) is less detailed than our actually faces, therefore more relatable too the un-detailed face. (My brain just exploded from that!) Overall, I’m not sure if I didn’t agree with the ideas in chapter two, or just didn’t get at them.

In chapter 3 McCloud introduces the concept of closure to the reader. McCloud describes closure as an assumption or faith in an event that happens even though we don‘t see it. His example of this is showing a panel with a man saying “ no, no” and a killer with an axe behind him saying “now you die.” in the next panel there is just a city back drop and the phrase “eeyaa,” implying that the man was killed without showing the death. McCloud states the space in between the panels, which he refers to as “the gutter,” is where the reader creates closure, and becomes a murderer. In that empty space the reader decides how the man dies, how hard the axe hits him, how many blows from the axe there are.
McCloud then goes on to describe six different types of panel transitions: moment to moment, action to action, subject to subject, scene to scene, aspect to aspect, and non-sequitur, and how uses of these aspects differ from East to West. McCloud calls this the “craft” because the six panel to panel transitions are the most used methods to comic writing. In the West, according to McCloud, comic writers tend to stick with three styles; action to action being the most used, then subject to subject, and scene to scene. The levels of use vary from comic to comic, but overall comics of the West employ this pattern as mentioned. By contrast, Eastern Countries like Japan tend to follow a different more scene oriented pattern, using more of the 6 styles and especially a more non-sequitur pattern. According to McCloud, Eastern comics are like this because the focus or goal is more about “being there” or becoming involved with the scene, rather than “getting there” which is more popular in the West.

I would say chapter three for me was far more digestible. I understood what McCloud was saying about closure and how the reader creates it. I agree completely with him the first time I read the example with the man, and the axe man. I murder that poor man, and I created my own closure.

I also found it interesting to read about the 6 different styles of transitional panels. I wouldn’t have really been able to tell one from another until McCloud explained it. I even found myself going back in the book and looking at all the panels trying to decide which transitional panel is which. With chapter three McCloud made a strong point. The method of closure is identifiable through his process, and is applicable for me as a reader.


  1. I understand how you were confused in chapter two but I think that the reason why we couldn't call icons symbols is because symbols stand for different things completely. For example like how if you saw a picture of grapes, that would be and icon for grapes, but if you saw a peace sign, you just know that it means peace, but that isn't what peace looks like.

  2. You're right, Amber. McCloud's explanation of closure is hard to understand, let alone summarize. But I think you got the gist of it. As for the difference between "symbol" and "icons," Thrash is dead on. McCloud actually classifies symbols as a sub-category of icons. Where icons "represent a person, place, thing or idea" for McCloud, symbols can represent concepts and philosophies (27).

    As for why we supposedly relate more to abstract faces than concrete ones, perhaps you're misunderstanding McCloud. I think the two of you are actually agreeing on the topic!

  3. Ah Amber. I found myself in the same boat. Icons? Simple face...Detailed face? Wasn't until I read Thrash's blog that made me get it for the most part. Differant people recieve differant messages, therefore, their explainations of the material vary from that of McClouds..Thrash explained it a bit better for me=]