25 February 2012

The Flaw of McCloud's Definition

Dylan Horrocks, in his article "Inventing Comics: Scott McClouds' definition of comics", analyzes the things Scott McCloud does and doesn't do in his book Understand Comics. He says that McCloud's book is a great work of theory and persuasion, arguably the best in the comic community. But because of McCloud's art of persuasion, his book is rarely contested. People simply agree with what he has to say instead of looking deeply into the text and understanding why he is right, or possibly why he is wrong.
Horrocks takes a deeper look into McCloud's text, analyzing how he persuades his readers so well to make them believe what he is saying is truth. He starts at the beginning of the book where McCloud wipes away all stereotypes of comics. He must do this first to abandon his reader's preconceived notions of comics so that he can show them that there is a lot more that could be done with comics than what has been done previously. Horrocks goes on to explain how McCloud then erases the history of comics in order to separate the form from the content, comics being the form and content being what is inside of the comics. He uses the metaphor of a pitcher (form) full of water (content) to emphasize that to fully understand what comics could be, we need to empty the pitcher full of the content. The form is what McCloud wants to define, not the content.
The definition McCloud chooses to use is 'Sequential Art,' a term he uses from another comic master, Will Eisner. He bases the rest of his book off of this definition, but Horrocks challenges this. He asks why this definition is the defining aspect of comics when there are many other definitions he could have chosen from. The answer, because McCloud likes it. McCloud likes Eisner's definition and by his means of persuasion he implies to his readers that this is the correct definition. He makes his readers believe that the things he likes and believes are the things that are true.
All throughout McCloud's book he uses geographical metaphors in both his pictures and words. McCloud wants to spread his vision of comics to the whole world and does so by using these metaphors. Horrocks compares McCloud's definition of comics to a map, explaining that it is McCloud's way of helping his readers navigate through the world using his definition/map instead of all of the other definitions out there. He wants his readers to use his definition so he can expand their view of what comics can be. He does this by going back in time, further than when most people believe the beginning of comics to be. McCloud goes back to the 1500s and explains through his definition that the scrolls and egyptian paintings drawn hundreds of years ago were in fact comics. Comics have been a crucial way of communicating for longer than anyone on this earth has lived. In the definition of comics that McCloud gives, the most important part is not what it says, but what it doesn't say. Just like McCloud is trying to broaden his readers minds by showing them that things like Egyptian paintings are comics, he gives them a very inclusive definition of comics so that no boundaries are set for what comics could be in the future.
McCloud uses metaphors all throughout his book, one of which Horrocks believes is the definition itself. Horrocks explains that the beauty of a metaphor is it can highlight the aspects of something you want to focus on and hide other aspects that you don't want to be seen. In McCloud's definition he highlights that comics are a sequence of images while hiding all the other aspects of comics. This is very useful to McCloud because it makes it easy to convince his readers that there is only one aspect of comics when really that is not true. Another metaphor McCloud uses is the pitcher as the form metaphor. By using this, McCloud masks the elements of comics he does not want to focus on by choosing only one element to define as the form of comics.
Through metaphors and other means, McCloud ignores one of the most fragile areas of what comics are, children's books. By McCloud's definition a children's book would be a comic, but in an interview he claims that a children's book does not qualify as a comic. Horrocks points out that McCloud deliberately avoids this subject because he does not know exactly where to draw the line. McCloud says that pictures must dominate the medium, and that in a children's book you could still understand the story without the pictures, therefore they are not comics. But in McCloud's definition he says nothing of the sort. Horrocks points out that McCloud will accept an Egyptian painting as comic, but will not accept a children's book.
Horrock is explaining that McCloud's opinion on comics is not the only one in the world. He is analyzing McCloud's work to show people that his book isn't just something to be read and found interesting. It needs to be challenged, because although there are a lot of good points in McCloud's book, there are also a lot of things that he fails to discuss. In order to understand the entire picture, we need to educate ourselves with more than just one person's opinion.

Horrock attacks McCloud when he says that Egyptian paintings are comics but he wouldn't include children's books as comics. In Chapter six of Understanding Comics, McCloud states that there are different combinations of words and pictures in comics. He claims that there are word-specific, picture-specific, duo-specific, additive, parallel, montage, and inter-dependent comics. He defines word-specific as a comic where pictures add to the text, but you could still understand the story without them. He says that this is still a comic, but isn't this exactly what a children's book is? And he says that a children's book is not a comic. I think that it is a really important point that Horrock brings up against McCloud. This is definitely a flaw in his book.


  1. Nice analysis of an analysis Marci! You referred back to Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art" to help convey his overall message. You also helped support Horrock's take on McCloud's vision and pointed out what could have been included (like a more specific definition) and what was overlooked considering McCloud's definition (such as McCloud's neglect to define what children's books are).

  2. You summary is very (perhaps too) thorough.

    But you have a brilliant response, Marci! You hit the nail on the head with word-specific panels and McCloud's exclusion of children's books! Arguably, you could take this one step further and say something about McCloud's book itself *hint hint*!