16 June 2010

Superhero Soup: A Recipe for Greatness

To Create Your Very Own Superhero from the 1930's You Will Need the Following Ingredients:

One costume (preferably tight-fitting to show off a manly physique)
Physical Strength or Special Abilities
Alias/Secret Identity
Connections (for crime tips)
Desire to Do Good

Mix together. Throw in some humor, back story, vices, fancy gadgets, or even a sidekick to taste and ...

Voila! Bon Apetite!

Okay... so all these "ingredients" are the main ideas of what superheroes like "THE BAT-MAN" and "Superman" are supposed to include. Well, okay, they have their major differences (Superman's an ALIEN for crying out loud!), but all in all this is the template.

Superman is an alien who was dropped on this planet in an S.O.S. situation--his home planet was destroyed. A long way from home and with incredible inhuman abilities (i.e. being able to jump over skyscrapers, run faster than trains, having impenetrable skin), he decides he was going to do good for society here. Of course he fights crime and wears silly tights and says things like, "And now you're going to get a lesson you'll never forget!" He saves the girl, Lois Lane, the object of affection of his alias, Clark Kent. Now. Talk about ridiculous. Clark Kent is a horrible alter ego! He's a skittish coward that works at a news paper... the newspaper job works to get the crime tips, but does he really have to be the complete opposite of Superman?! It's sad really. We all know how Lois Lane will loose her marbles for guys like Superman and how the cowardly types don't appeal to her... why then would he torment himself like that? Superman is one of the Greats or so I'm told, so I won't write him off yet...

THE BAT-MAN (I really how they call him this!), however, is another story altogether. Now this guy knows how to fight crime and live a fabulous life. As his public self, Bruce Wayne, he's a young, rich socialite who spends his time in his mansion or smoking cigars with his good buddy Commissioner Gordon (his crime-tipper) when he's not beating up bad guys and solving crime-mysteries. It would seem in this first episode, that he is simply, a bad-ass. He's the kinda guy that would get Lois Lane as the normal guy and the superhero.

Interesting that we would read the beginning of Superman and Batman together. I wonder whose going to ask the common question, "Who'd win a fight between Superman and Batman?" After reading both comics, I could safely say that Superman definitely has the advantage, being an alien and all. But I don't think these two superheroes would ever throw down anyway. They seem to have the same agenda: do-gooders. So, instead of making war with each other, I believe they'd be making love... err, or at least join forces and fight crime together as completely heterosexual buddies!

... or maybe not. ;)

History of two Legends!

Batman, is a DC Comics fictional superhero who first appeared in Detective Comics # 27 in May 1939. He has since become, along with Superman and Spider-Man, one of the world's most recognized superheroes. Batman's secret identity is Bruce Wayne, billionaire industrialist, playboy, and philanthropist. Witnessing the murder of both his parents as a child leads him to train himself into an unstoppable force, don a costume, and fight crime. Batman isn't like most superheroes, he doesn't posses superhuman powers or abilities; he makes use of intellect, detective skills, technology and physical prowess in his war of crime.
Superman, made his first appearance on an American audience in the year 1938 in Action Comics during the bitter and unforgiving days of the Depression. Superman was faster than a speeding bullet! He was also able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Superman was intended to fight greed, crime, abuse and injustice. Superman was also known as the average man Clark Kent. Superman was an exemplary citizen who, under his disguise, was a reporter for the Daily Planet.
It seems heroes have been an important part of American history. They gave adults and especially young children something to strive for and believe in. Along with the real heroes in our everyday lives such as soldiers, parents or even the president, we also find imaginary heroes. Imaginary heroes are found in comic books, books, or movies. Two of the most Imaginary heroes of our time are Superman and Batman.
When I first think of Batman and Superman, I identify what they both have in common. The most obvious attribute that they share is a double existence. They are apart from the common horde of humanity, special ways that the rest of humankind can only dream of, and illustrate the importance of a mythic presence. Superman is specifically, programmatically, and famously engaged in preserving the truth, justice and the American way. I truly stand by him for the characteristics that he shows. I also love how Batman puts himself well within the scheme or ordinary human experience. They stand for something while they extend themselves to fight crime and arch-villains. They both to me are, great COMIC BOOK LEGENDS!!!!

Critiquing Comics

In Inventing Comics: Scott McCloud's Definition of Comics, Dylan Horrocks critically analyzes the rhetoric of McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Identifying it as polemic, as apposed to a “simple, disinterested scientific argument,” Horrocks picks apart many of the persuasive elements of McCloud's book. It soon becomes evident that Horrocks disagrees with the borders McCloud has “drawn” around comics, claiming the “Map” or “Nation” McCloud is trying to create limits creativity, and discourages “Nationalists” from overstepping the boundaries and exploring new areas.

Horrocks explains that in creating an argument that comics can be “limitless and exciting,” McCloud employs a dichotomy of “form VS. content.” That McCloud seeks to separate the message from the messenger. If form becomes the “vessel” and the content is all optional then we can disassociate the “crude, poorly drawn, semiliterate, cheap, and disposable kiddie fare” from the greatness that comics as a vessel can attain. According to Horrocks this is also the first step McCloud takes in erasing and revising the history of comics, and history of language and pictures for that matter. Horrocks also complains that the chosen definition of the vessel, which he notes as “Sequential Art,” is only a preference of McCloud, and may not actually represent what really makes up “comics.”

McCloud's agenda, according to Horrocks, is to remap the territory of comics to bring it out of the “ghetto.” He claims that McCloud uses many geographical metaphors, and this is evidence of his plan to stake out a comic “Nation” and to “Map” its territory. Horrocks explains that while pictures and words reside in this domain, it is primarily the domain of pictures. He references McCloud multiple times stating that in comics, pictures must carry the burden of telling the story, only to be supplemented by words. To Horrocks, these well defined borders serve only to limit what comics can accomplish. Horrocks essay asserts that while McCloud intended to give comics a definition that unlocks their potential, he has only served to create borders that will limit comics. While Horrocks uses maps “to wander outside their delineated borders every time I feel the scenery is getting a little stale,” he obviously worries that other creators, these comic nationalists, will stay within the confines McCloud has set for them. Anyone stuck in the borders of McCloud's Comic Land would not be free to wonder, as Horrocks does, "why can’t you have a comic without pictures?"

I wasn't really sure what the point of Horrocks' essay was until I read the conclusion. I still couldn't decided whether it was an exercise in critiquing comics, namely McCloud's comic, or and essay regarding mapping boundaries in art. Horrocks obviously had a kind of a love-hate relationship with McCloud's Book. While he grouped himself in with the comic fans that adopted it, he also, sometimes reachingly, picked apart McCloud's rhetoric even when there seemed no need to. It seemed a bit ridiculous that Horrocks actually claimed that McCloud's geographical metaphors were part of his grand scheme to “map” comics. Is McCloud actually not allowed to use words like bounds, territory, frontier, chart, and universe in a less than literal sense?

Horrocks also seems to have the magical ability to dance around these borders that would seem impassible to everyone else. Apparently any guidelines created around comics would set up an imposing wall to all but Horrocks, even though McCloud admits “our attempts to define comics are an on-going process.” Several times McCloud challenges readers to push the limits and move these borders, yet Horrocks still acts as if they are immovable.

All in all, while I was impressed with parts of Horrocks essay, such as his knowledge of comics, his writing style, and his ability to break down rhetoric, I was not convinced. I feel that there are a few holes in his argument, and at times he was critical for criticism's sake; he used criticism when it did not actually add to his thesis or point. McCloud's definition still stands as a guideline, not a border, and Horrocks has only proven his prowess in literary criticism, and not that his concern for the creativity of comics stands true.

Comics: The “Ghettoization” Nation

Comics, however you wish to describe them, are a debatable subject, it would seem. As an art form, medium, or communication device (or simply by categorizing as such) we create borders around what we essentially believe comics truly are. Indeed, Scott McCloud has, himself, stereotyped comics as “bright, colorful magazines filled with bad art, stupid stories, and guys in tights.” McCloud goes on in his book, “Understanding Comics” to define comics for what they are… or what he believes they should be.

Dylan Horrocks gives an astounding analysis of Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics.” In his article, Inventing Comics, we are able to see McCloud in new light. Horrocks describes McCloud as a “visionary” with an agenda and calls “Understanding Comics” McCloud’s “manifesto”; an attempt to map the “territory” McCloud wishes to claim for the Comics Nation.

Scott McCloud see’s comics as this infinite art form, a universe waiting to be discovered with limitless possibility and ability. There are no specific genres to obey, no language to submit to, no topics are out of bounds. McCloud has a vision, alright. He also has a definition.

In McCloud’s definition, or rather his idea of comics, we are given ONE example of what comics can be, Will Eisner’s concept of “sequential art”. McCloud takes this concept and fashions it into a definition. Somehow, McCloud takes two words and turns it into “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response from the viewer.”—quite a leap from “sequential art,” as a concept. By defining comics, Horrocks claims that McCloud has formed “an expression of certain values and assumptions.” McCloud has very cleverly told us what we should value more and less about comics simply by defining them.

The concept of sequential art also leads McCloud to make a claim about the form of comics—form being the definitive marker of what makes a comic a comic. The form is specific enough, but are the borders around this format combative with McCloud claim of the limitlessness of comics? Horrocks asserts that “borders are, after all, artificial inventions designed to control the movement of people, commodities and ideas.” He goes on to argue that “[McCloud’s] definition is more than simply a descriptive model; it is also necessarily prescriptive. By reinforcing some values and suppressing others, it can influence the way we read and create comics, discouraging experimentation in some directions and imposing particular narrative structures and idioms. Since McCloud gives form definition and in turn expectations, it can be assumed that McCloud wishes to limit comics to his own ideas.

Horrocks goes on to explain how McCloud crafts comics into his own definition. Comics, as a community, have a history all their own. What that history is, we do not learn from McCloud. Borrowing from history (i.e. Hogarth’s narrative sequences, wordless novels by Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel, and picture books by Maurice Sendak… even the stained glass of cathedrals! ), McCloud claims any “sequential art” that fits his definition of comics. McCloud even makes a myth-history in which pictures evolve into writing. None of these are credible, but they are also often overlooked.

Even so, McCloud has a vision and in that vision, comics can become more than what they are today. His book, “Understanding Comics” is described by Horrocks as “polemic”, “prescriptive”, a “manifesto”—strong natured words that make me think of McCloud as a politician. Comics have a long way to go and McCloud has opened new territory for creators, fans, and people like me, newbies to the Comics Nation. He urges this community to reach beyond stereotypes and genres, to leave this “Ghettoization” Nation and become what comics are destined for. And in McCloud’s Comic Nation, he screams “YES WE CAN!”

We can argue that McCloud’s definition and rhetoric holds no water, but I’m still voting for him!

15 June 2010

A Mountain out of a Mollhill........

Horrocks argues with McCloud’s definition of comics as a form and his attempts to put up boundaries around what comics are. He pulls out implications of McCloud’s definition that are not immediately obvious and adds to his argument with quotes from a Comics Journal interview with McCloud. It seems that McCloud sees comics as being dominated by the images (“…If the pictures, independent of the words, are telling the whole story and the words are supplementing that, then that is comics.’’). He notes that McCloud has rhetorically latched onto the structural features of the comic medium. Horrocks also points out that among cartoonists, there is a fear of the word as dominating factor, an inversion of the possible anxiety those who privilege traditional text may feel. Horrocks suggests a broader, more inclusive definition of not just comics or print text, but language in general, and this definition is laden with image text sentiment.
Scott McCloud’s written in an informal and accessible style, Understanding Comics looks at the history of the medium, at its vocabulary, at common misconceptions about it, at what makes it work, and at its potential. The book as a whole is a great way in helping people such as myself better understand the use of comics and how they function. The book was so smart, funny, stimulating and unpretentious. Before you ask, no, you don’t need to be obsessed with comics or anything remotely similar to enjoy it. I think that anyone interested in art history or art in general would get something out of this book. Because even though it looks at an art form in specific, Understanding Comics also makes all sorts of interesting points about how art in general works, how our brains process it, how we respond to it and why we create it. Yes, according to Horrock, McCloud might have made a mountain out of a molehill. Truly, I believe it worked in McCloud’s favor.