Gil Sperling

video, stage and music

week 1 reading

November 8, 2019 by gilsperling

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott Mcloud (chapters 1-4)

“When you enter the world of the cartoon – you see yourself”. Really?

Thoughts that followed me while reading:

The medium of comics shares some traits with animation but is also distinct from it in some important ways. This comes up in the discussion of closure, in which the reader actively and voluntarily fills the gaps between panels, as opposed to animation, in which closure is all but transparent. Why then are we using this theory about comics as a paradigm or entry point into animation?
The book is very good at using the tools of a medium to talk about a medium. As a reader you have to focus on both what the author is saying and what he’s doing visually, the latter sometimes illustrating the former, at other times subverting or arguing with it. But beyond that…

I found the concept of subtraction very stimulating. Comics can be a study of how to tell a story visually with as few panels (or frames, or shots) as possible, finding the balance between providing narrative detail and letting the reader fill in the gaps. This is a useful lesson for creating animation, in which time is very costly, or indeed any time-based medium.

The theory of transitions between panels has some parallels to film montage. In the same way Mcloud talks about the gap between panels, we can think about cuts between shots, and define them by the degree of mental work we’re demanding of the viewer to connect between the two, or the kind of association we’re evoking – development of an action, passage of time, establishing of a space or atmosphere, psychoanalytic logic etc.

As a relatively media-poor medium (ink and paper), comics relies on iconography and a set of formal codes to allow the reader to actively extract things that don’t exist physically on the page such as sound, motion, and time flow. Mcloud argues that in comics time and space are united, that often space is used to tell time in a static form, through series of panels or within one panel, a sort of snapshot that has a time length. Words can function as spoken language or as indicators of sound and physical phenomena. This reliance on active recognition of forms by the viewer is shared with other art forms from film to poetry.
I find it interesting to contrast that with the emerging medium looming in our horizon, namely VR. This immersive medium is defined by its immersiveness and continuity, its lack of a viewing frame or time divisions. Are formal codes being created between creators and experiencers, should there be? (I don’t know yet).

Mcloud argues that the iconic style of the cartoon character, its lack of realistic detail, allow the reader to insert themselves into the comic. I don’t think he has entirely justified this claim – perhaps he will get to it later in the book. I find that characters that are an “insert your face here” blank box allow for only a shallow type of identification. multidimensionality and detailed depth in the definition of a character are what allows for deeper connection between a reader/viewer and the work of art.

Lastly, a thing I appreciate about the book is how it explains the norms and best practices of the art form of comics while constantly stretching the boundaries and breaking those norms in the comic.

Posted in Fall '19 - CL: Animation |

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