Chapter Two - The Vocabulary of Comics
By Scott McCloud
In the second chapter, McCloud tackles a much more complex topic. It is deceivingly simple at first, but builds to a problem that is harder to express.
Here, he starts out talking about the medium through its two major components - namely, pictures and words. The bulk of this part is devoted to pictures, or to be more precise, Iconography.
McCloud defines an icon as "any image used to represent a person, place, thing or idea." The discussion then moves to the simplified abstraction of cartooning. He eloquently states something that I have been struggling with in my reviews for two years. The emotional power of an artist like Jason over that of one like Alex Ross is what is ultimately the foundation of this concept. The universally identifiable abstraction of a cartoonist is more relatable and more real than the detail of the photo realist.
Of course, with comics, it is necessary to examine words as well. They are at once more simple and abstract than a regular icon, but they are reliant on outside information. They are infinitely more complex because of the process which is needed to perceive their message.
This is all followed by a lengthy discussion of the various combinations employed by different artists. He is looking for a single vocabulary to describe the synthesis created by the received information of iconography and the perceived reality of prose. He is successful in as far as stating their iconic importance and differences, but the true complexity of the subject means that his final analysis is not as clear as he would probably like.
It is not that he doesn't express his idea well. He does, but it is difficult to understand exactly what he is getting at. This is due to the headier nature of this topic, it is not as readily coherent as the first chapter. Abstraction is always difficult to define and his effort here is both valant and borders on the sublime. It is like Pirsig's struggle with the notion of quality, it is unattainable as the safe end to his motorcycle journey. It is a necessary step in McCloud's own philospohical journey and despite its awkwardness, it will enlighten the reader on why they may prefer Herge over Jim Lee (or vice versa).