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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Understanding Comics chap. 3

In chapters 1 and 2, McCloud has made his case that the hybrid verbal/graphical form of comics should be treated as a medium of communication with as much claim to “artistic” standing as any purely verbal or graphical mode (and yes, I’m keeping in mind that he and Magritte have just renedered the distinction between “verbal” and “graphical” porous — I’m using the terms for convenience; maybe “glyphic” and . . . what? I suppose “non-glyphic” would be requisite).

In chapter 3, McCloud illustrates the very powerful point that comics (and here his requirement that comics include more than one frame kicks in) communicates as much by what it omits as by what it displays. Moreover — and this really impresses me — he illustrates that comics uses the gutter, the un-shown, to communicate in a variety of different ways. That’s just very cool; the syntax of comics permits silence, the invisible, to signify any of several ways.

I’m hesitant to go all the way with McCloud’s speculation that the “goal-oriented” Western culture accounts for the predominance of certain types of transition in Western comics, whereas the more “meditative” Eastern culture accountsd for the aspect-to-aspect transitions in Japanese comics. There’s a superficial rightness to the observation, but we spent enough time in Gospel Mission attending to hybridity and the internal contestation of cultures to swallow so vast an aggregation of culture and expression. Yes, the styles of traditional art in China and Japan differ from traditional styles of art in Europe — but the comics McCloud examines all arrive in the post-WWII cultural mash-up; I’d try to avoid the gross aggregating that McCloud proposes here.

A couple of thoughts on the last few pages of the chapter: First, I would want to remind us (and McCloud) that although what he says about gutters and gap-filling apply with particular obviousness to comics, his earlier points about words and images imply that we deal with gutters and gap-filling even in glyphic and non-glyphic epxression (and indeed, the topic of “gap-filling” occupies a great deal of attention in literary-critical circles). Second, McCloud’s points in these pages all concern the power of evocation, of the way an expresser can [try to] elicit recollections and anticipations from an inferring audience. As McCloud points out, the effect of an evoked sound, or scent, or feeling, can impress a reader (listener, etc.) all the more forcefully by its remaining implicit. (The implicit is not, after all, bound by the contraints of particularity; if you and I appreciate different sorts of breakfast smells, we will each imagine different things to suit us; whereas if the implicit is made specific, “she smelled Alice’s coffee perking and the chili with which she always smeared her toast,” we stand to be distracted by particulars that don’t match our own memories and imagination.)

Page 93 is worth quoting in extenso in our context (though I won’t reproduce the accompanying images; what difference does that make?):
Here in this studio, I’ve tried to control that process and use it to make my case. But I can only point the way. I can’t take you anywhere you don’t want to go.
All I can do is make assumptions about you and hope that they’re correct --
-- just as we all assume, every day, that there’s more to life than meets the eye.
All I ask of you is a little faith--
--and a world of imagination.

Back to Chapter 2
On to Chapters 4 and 5


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