I just finished Ong’s “OMG Why Writing Sux” article, and I read McCloud’s fantastic Understanding Comics in one sitting yesterday, so I thought I’d offer up my thoughts (if my opinion isn’t blindingly obvious from that first sentence alone). Both works possess the goal of trying to make us more aware of the media we engage in, but I find McCloud’s sort of criticism (pointing out the huge positive potential that a medium has) infinitely more compelling than Ong’s (a distressingly common sort), which does little else besides spew pessimism and negativity. I understand that Ong’s goal is simply to make us more aware of the ways writing, a medium we take totally for granted, structures our thought, but he spends most of his time arguing that “oral cultures” have a closer relationship with truth and blah blah blah, and I don’t see what the logical response would be for someone who agreed with his arguments. Fight to return our society to orality and abolish writing? That seems like a completely hopeless and frivolous goal in the 20th century. The reason I sound so filled with vitriol about this article, which was mostly pretty tempered and reasonable in tone, is just that this sort of overtly pessimistic, purely cynical, doomsaying criticism is sort of a pet peeve of mine. I think McLuhan pulls it off because he’s friggin crazy and says lots of interesting things along the way. But any essay that completely dismisses a medium as useless or dangerous, or declares that “[insert medium here] is dead” is the sort of hopelessly abstract academic blabber that I find obnoxious and out of touch.
Anyway, McCloud. Phenomenal book! He makes so many insightful statements not only into how comics function, but media in general, and even the creative process as a whole (with his “six steps” chapter). I was especially blown away by his little pyramid diagram and his tracing of the history of the relationship between language and pictures within that pyramid. He makes me feel all giddy inside about comics, and he also reminded me that comics have played a much larger role in my life than I often realize. My recent experience with comics is limited to those works regarded as “adult”: Watchmen, Chris Ware’s devastating Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. But then I remembered the comics of my childhood: most importantly, Tintin (which McCloud is TOTALLY obsessed with) and Calvin & Hobbes, both of which I consumed voraciously and repetitively. And there were others I spent some quality time with, as well: Sergio Aragones’ Groo, Jeff Smith’s Bone, Larry Marder’s Beanworld (which was sort of terrifying as a small child), and of course, the unimpeachable Asterix the Gaul. And I had all but forgotten my former aspirations of becoming a cartoonist, a goal which I think must’ve gradually dissipated when my drawing abilities plateaued around 5th grade. But those volumes of notebooks that I populated with cartoons are still somewhere at home, including the one comic book I ever actually completed: the epic, lengthy Stickman, which I think materialized around 3rd or 4th grade. I wish I had it here with me at school so I could flip through it again (I wonder how McCloud would feel about the fact that it certainly had no “gutters”; that would’ve been far too much work), but Understanding Comics has certainly resparked my interest to look back at those old pages.