27 February 2012

Challenging McCloud's Definition

"I found this an incredibly liberating exercise; it changed the way I looked at everything. It redrew my mental map of comics. It reminded me of what I used to say to people back in my teens" - Dylan Horrocks

Dylan Horrocks article "Inventing Comics: Scott McCloud's Definition of Comics" commends McCloud for his polemical work and his original concepts. In the end of Understand Comics: The Invisible Art, McCloud asks his readers to open the debate on what comics are. Horrocks believes that most readers of McClouds work also share his agenda and don't put much thought into it past that, therefore ending the debate before it starts. Horrocks article takes a look into McClouds rhetoric and how he is able to persuade his audience. He starts by introducing how McCloud shatters stereotypes, by doing so he is erasing all negative history. Horrocks introduces the metaphor of comics being a vessel, which separates form from content. By separating comics content from form the readers are still able to enjoy the style and "shiny form" of comics without acknowledging the content. By separating form from content, the reader is able to detach comics from their history, which allows them to have a fresh start. 
The definition McCloud uses to describe comics is not specific enough, McCloud uses the term "sequential art" as a starting point, but doesn't have a justified reason why it is a good starting point. Horrocks points out how McCloud bases his argument on what he wants things to be, so therefore they are. Similar to how the readers agrees with McCloud, his argument is convincing, so it must be right. The problem with McCloud's definition is that he casts away comics that don't fully fit his definition as bad comics or not comics. The issue with McCloud's definition is that it excludes children's pictures books, he then adds a rule that text can't over power pictures. By finding a flaw to McClouds definition, Horrocks is able to show McClouds logic behind his book flawed. 
"Scott illustrates his ideas by constructing a series of diagrams - or charts - on which he can ‘map’ similarities and differences as spatial relationships", Dylan Horrocks. 
Horrocks compares McClouds quest to get comics more recognition as a relocation of comics from the ghetto to other land. Along the way, Horrocks addresses how McCloud doesn't want to knock down boarders that people have set for limitations on comics, instead expansion is the idea. McCloud can't specifically identify what boarders are put up, so it is easy to say that anyone can wander off. 

McCloud's definition of comics is flawed due to how broad it is, and how often he can refine it. McCloud closes out single panel pictures as comics in one chapter then later restates they could be comics according to the reader. He also states that childrens picture books are not comics although they contain pictures and text. I believe that McCloud's book, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, is good for the ignorant reader, the less knowledge that is known before reading the better. McCloud's concepts can be easily agreed with when the reader has no other knowledge to compare it to. It is also a good book for readers that are educated on comics, although they will more likely have an argument against McClouds views than those that are uneducated. 


  1. I think it is good to also remember that McCloud wanted people to have an argument against his book. He wanted people to think about it. He has loopholes in his logic, but if people like Dylan Horrocks didn't point that out, he may not have noticed. Now he can realize that and further his knowledge and his own opinion about what a comic is.

  2. This is good. But I also remember what your referring to how McCloud made his definition then refined it later on in the book, which is what I think his point was. He was just trying to introduce us to comics so we can get the overall understanding of them, and then went on to get more technical as the book made us more aware of the narrowness we see comics as to what they really are.

  3. Both excellent comments.

    And a great post! We can argue these ideas till the cows come home and not come to a consensus. But the value is in the discussion, which is ultimately what both Horrocks and McCloud want.

  4. Finally, an honest response to McCloud. I especially like your conclusion "McCloud's concepts can be easily agreed with when the reader has no other knowledge to compare it to." In term of "dense" theory of comics, I prefer Thierry Groensteen, Benoit Peeters and Jean-Marie Schaeffer, even if they are not perfect.