07 June 2009

Iconism and Closure

In chapter two of Understanding Comics, McCloud begins by discussing icons. He explains how icons refer to an image that “represents a person, place, thing or idea.” There are different types of icons including images, words, science, communication, and pictures. In this chapter, McCloud is constantly discussing the different levels of iconism and realism. He describes how iconism and realism are incorporated in comics in order to reach certain effects. He then moves on to cartoons and writes about how he refers to them as a “form of amplification through simplification,” which basically means that cartoons are images that are “stripped down.” McCloud discusses experiences and how they “can be separated into two realms,” that of concept and senses. He then goes on to discuss The Picture Plane and how the “shapes, lines, and colors” in the pyramid don’t need to “pretend” to be anything else than what they are.

From the start of the chapter, I found myself confused. I didn’t really understand how all of McCloud’s ideas fit together or how he was trying to fit them together exactly. I got really lost when he began discussing symbols and the different types of icons. I wasn’t sure if he was stating that symbols were a type of icon or they weren’t. I also didn’t understand the whole pictorial icon part which involved the photograph of the face being compared to a sketch of the same face in the photo. It was hard trying to distinguish what exactly McCloud’s point was. I understood his ideas for the most part, just not how they all fit together.

In chapter three, McCloud writes about how infants only know of what is in front of them, if they “can’t see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or touch it, it isn’t there.” Adults on the other hand know what exists even if it’s not right in front of us. This is called closure. McCloud goes on to discuss “the gutter” or space between panels. Readers will all have their own perception of what is going on in “the gutters.” McCloud categorizes panel-to-panel transitions into six classes: moment-to-moment (“very little closure”), action-to-action (“progressions”), subject-to-subject (staying within an idea), scene-to-scene (“significant distances of time”), aspect-to-aspect (“bypassed time”), and non-sequitur (“no logical relationship between panels). He then discusses these categories and goes over which categories are most popular among various comics artists.

This chapter was a lot more understandable and less confusing than chapter two. I see how McCloud incorporates the Theory of Cognitive Development, focusing on the Sensorimotor period where infants have not yet developed object permanence, into the subject of closure. It also makes sense how readers will have their own perceptions about what is happening in “the gutters” because every reader has their own ideas and imagination. I never knew that there were different categories of panel-to-panel transitions, so the section where he talks about the classes was very interesting.


  1. I enjoyed reading your summary of chapter 3 i took more time summarizing it than you did and it seems to be more clear after reading yours. I felt that mine was more analysed and yours was to the point.Good job!

  2. I agree with Caroline: your summary of the six types of panel transitions is one of the clearest and most concise I've read.

    That said, however, I have no idea what this "Theory of Cognitive Development" or "Sensorimotor" mumbo-jumbo is ;-) I jest, but still, what should we always assume about our readers?

  3. PS Way to break the lame title streak that was going on here!

  4. I'm glad you were honest about getting lost with what Scott McCloud had to say in chapter two about icons. I had to read each speech bubble at least 3 times before my brain could process what McCloud was educating us on. However, if this chapter was written in any other text book I probably wouldn't have understood it at all. Ultimately, it was the pictures and icons themselves which helped me understand. Haha!