(Finally?) Understanding Comics

After reading McCloud’s Understanding Comics I was fascinated by how deep the analysis of the comic medium can actually go.  Although I have definitely read comics before (both in the newspapers and in graphic novels), I am a bit ashamed to admit that I may have had some of the dismissive views towards comics that McCloud talks about.  I guess the idea that I found most interesting (although I’m not sure I completely agree with it) was the idea that the simplification or “abstraction” of comic books actually allows readers to get more involved in the work because the medium acts as a way for the reader to see themselves in the imagery.

McCloud did a very good job at giving visual examples of what he was describing.  When he was discussing how different icons/symbols/images can be used to represent different information in very different ways, it was a simple but fascinating concept that I had not think of.  An example of his illustrations that I thought was particularly effective was showing the drawing of a face, but with the word “eye” where the eye of the face should be drawn.  So often in comics, but also in every single media, our brains are taking in so much information.  What I found so interesting was that I am only somewhat aware of how much information I am taking in, but am almost completely unaware about the way in which it is coming in.  When I see pictures or words it is impossible for me to not interpret them as ideas or concepts.  In the “eye” example, McCloud pointed out perfectly for me that not only is my brain trained to interpret images that way, but that different media really do go into the brain differently.  I realized how much I take for granted the fact that the media I am taking in occur so naturally and easily to me.

The one concept McCloud covered that I will probably be pondering over for the next couple of days is the idea of “abstracting” images and how it can actually help the reader relate to the content.  While everything McCloud said made sense, and I can think of examples where a simplified abstract idea was very relatable and almost self-reflective, I can’t help but think of comics like Maus or Persepolis where there is much graphic and disturbing imagery, that gets simplified and abstracted.  In instances like this, I feel like my emotional response to this imagery is not as intense as when I see similar imagery in photography or film.  McCloud references MacLuhan saying that the media is an extension of our senses, but I feel like with the example of the comic, the abstraction of the images disconnects me from that extension and more often than not lessons my emotional response.  While I can maybe use the comic to get ideas (i.e. using icons and symbols to represent concepts) I feel like I get more emotion and feeling from other media.

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