Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

McCloud, Understanding Comics (practical notes)

This is not a book log entry, which is forthcoming. This is notes on the terminology, examples, and other practical stuff that I got out of a very fast read of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, set down for easy reference here.

This was written in 1992.

Chapter One: Setting the Record Straight

Formal definition (9): "Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer."

Chapter Two: The Vocabulary of Comics

Cartoons: amplification through simplification (30); universality (31); ease of viewer-identification (36); emphasize the idea of form over the appearance in the physical world (41).

Effects of juxtaposing realistic art and cartoons:

  • Realistic backgrounds + cartoon characters = "masking effect," allowing "readers to mask themselves in a character and safely enter a sensually stimulating world." (43)

    Examples: Disney animation, Herge's Tintin comics, and past Japanese tradition as influenced by Osmau Tezuka (42-43).

  • Recent Japanese work: makes other use of the objectifying power of realistic art, like drawing some characters realistically to emphasize their otherness, or to switch between a cartoony sword (as an extension of a person) and a realistic sword (to show physical detail and make reader aware of it as an object) (44).

(There are levels of abstraction/iconism in language too, leading to a triangular map that I didn't really grok, so we'll just skip right past it.)

Chapter Three: Blood in the Gutter

Closure = observing the parts but perceiving the whole (63). In comics, it's the agent of change, time, and motion (65). The grammar of comics, to visual iconography's vocabulary (67). Requires audience participation in way that only written word surpasses (69).

Gutter = space between panels (66).

Panel-to-panel transitions (70-72):

  1. Moment-to-moment. (Eyes open, eyes shut.)
  2. Action-to-action progressions by a single subject. (Swing bat, hit ball.)
  3. Subject-to-subject, within a scene or idea. (Axe + "now you die" --> "Eeyaa!" sound effect.)
  4. Scene-to-scene.
  5. Aspect-to-aspect, of a place, idea, or mood. (Christmas Tree, Santa in snow. Sun over trees, person in sunglasses looking up, birds over clouds.)
  6. Non-sequitur. (McCloud suggests that it's not possible for a sequence of images to be totally unrelated, because of viewer closure (73).)

Mainstream Western comics rely heavily on action-to-action, with lesser proportions of subject-to-subject and scene-to-scene (74-76). This is good for showing stories as a connected series of events (76).

Japanese comics, OTOH, use moment-to-moment (sparingly, but that's more than Western where it is extremely rare) and have a significant proportion of aspect-to-aspect, which has been an integral part of Japanese comics from the start (79). Suggests that aspect-to-aspect is most often used to establish a mood or a sense of place; it doesn't bridge separate moments, but gives fragments of a single moment (79). Aspect-to-aspect transitions also give more opportunities for closure than a single-panel establishing shot (for instance) (88-89).

Speculates that the higher prevelance of aspect-to-aspect transitions is in part due to greater length to work with, but more fundamentally is due to to Japanese focus on comics as an art of intervals, part of the idea that the omitted elements in art are a part of the work just as included elements are (figure/ground relationships, negative space).

Deciding what to leave out is important here as in any art. Striking the balance depends in part on what kind of closure the reader can be expected to perform (85). Closure can be slowed by overly detailed or overly abstracted art; "A good rule of thumb is that if readers are particularly aware of the art in a given story--then closure is probably not happening without some effort." (91)

He states that arranging panels so that people know which order to read is very complex, but doesn't offer any further details (86).

Chapter Four: Time Frames

"The panel acts as a sort of general indicator that time or space is being divided. The durations of that time and the dimensions of that space are defined more by the contents of the panel than by the panel itself." (99) However, panel shapes can affect reader's perception of time, e.g., wider panel = longer pause (101). Timelessness: borderless panels, sometimes; silent panels with no clues as to duration; bleeds (102-03).

Time through motion (within panels; between panels was already covered): "Motion lines" depict a moving character from an outside stationary position (107-113). Japanese artists developed "subjective motion" (his term), depicting motion from the point-of-view of the one moving, which was adopted by American artists and is fairly common by 1992 (113-114).

Polyptych = moving figure imposed over a continuous background (115).

Time is also introduced into a panel by sound (effects or word balloons) (116).

Chapter Five: Living in Line

I think I'm getting bored or tired, because I don't feel like writing anything down about this chapter, which is about the emotional effects that art can convey.

Oh, okay: art styles convey different feelings. Emotion can be conveyed by symbolic conventions on the face or expressionistic effects in the background. Word balloons can vary in size and shape; their contents contain symbols or different kinds of lettering.

Chapter Six: Show and Tell

Children use words and images interchangably, but are expected to grow out of it, which is a problem when it comes to comics (138-140).

Ways to combine pictures and words:

  1. Word specific combinations: pictures illustrate but don't significantly add to text.
  2. Picture specific combinations: words add a soundtrack to a visually told sequence.
  3. Duo-specific panels: both pictures and words send same message.
  4. Additive combination: one elaborates on the other ("My head feels like a smashed pumpkin" + guy wincing).
  5. Parallel combination: what it says.
  6. Montage: words are integral parts of the picture.
  7. Interdependent: convey idea that neither could alone (not same as additive; smelly guy + offstage speaker: "I ask you, does this guy look like a C.E.O. to you?").

    Usually somewhere between word specific & picture specific, because it's like a balance scale: where one carries the weight of clarity (tells you what's going on), the other can go further afield. Useful example of the woman getting a pint of ice cream in the rain.

Chapter Seven: The Six Steps

How To Make Art.

Chapter Eight: A Word About Color

"Four color" process and cheap newsprint led to bright, strong, contrasting colors on comic pages, but mostly no one color dominated, lowering the expressive potential but sometimes increasing the iconic potential.

Flat colors also emphasize shapes, so the best flat-color artists are good at form and composition. Better colors require a different kind of line art.

Chapter Nine: Putting It All Together

Rah, rah, the future of comics.

And with that, back to the Saiyuki re-read.

Tags: comics, manga

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