08 June 2010

Receiving Information Through Comics

"The artform--the medium--known as comics is a vessel which can hold any number of ideas and images"

Scott McCloud first defines comics in this elusive way before evaluating Will Eisner's definition "sequential art." Keeping his first observation of the limitless possibilities of comics, McCloud is satisfied with the new definition of "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer."

The first chapter relays important information of what makes a comic and what should be excluded in our definition of comics. It is important to know an artistic style (i.e. a cartoon) does not make a comic. In the same sense, there is no specific vernacular for comics. There are no uniform genres or topics to be covered in comics. Everything and anything goes. That is, as long as it still remains a pictorial sequence that relays information (we have a definition for a reason, people!). One example McCloud uses to exclude in this definition are single paneled cartoons (like The Family Circus in everyday newspapers). Cartoons may have comic qualities, but there is no such thing as a sequence of one and therefore they may not be included for this purpose.

In chapter two, McCloud discusses how comics use a combination of pictures, words, and icons to convey information. Pictures are important in focusing the attention to certain details. Focusing on certain details (and not on others) keeps the attention of the audience within what the artist/creator chooses. Focusing on certain details will make a picture more iconic. Icons represent the person, place, things, and ideas in comics and are an important tool in comics. If comics are the language, “words, pictures, and other icons are the vocabulary.” McCloud shows us a spectrum of realistic drawings to cartoons—an iconic abstraction scale, as he calls it--the final piece at the end of this scale are words. Words, which represent as pictures do, do not look like that which they represent. The way pictures are received, words are perceived. This is an important piece of information to remember. This is the basis for “the picture plane.” The picture plane uses the same iconic abstraction scale to reach from reality to meaning. Within this picture plane, any language, any art form, any means of expression can be found. Common use of onomatopoeia, changes in font, punctuation, and other literary tools can make the experience more involved for the viewer. The importance of this vocabulary (pictures, words, and icons) in the language of comics is this: how we receive and perceive comics involves us completely. It is our job to create the understanding of comics, the creator focuses on details to lead us in a direction but the viewer takes all the necessary steps to go in that direction. Seeing comics this way will widen the perspective of the viewer. The complexity of comics is amazing and something that I have rarely encountered in any other form of expression.


  1. Good writing here, Beth, but in the future, I'd like more of your own thoughts on the reading :-)

  2. I agree with the teacher I enjoy reading when there are many examples provided from the reading.