Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Reding Pile Special: Understanding Comics Day Four

Understanding Comics
Chapter Three - Blood in the Gutter
By Scott McCloud

Wow. Stunning. While I found chapter two a little hard to digest, Chapter Three exploded with information.

Here, McCloud describes “the gutter.” That space between panels which can take up seconds, years, or no time at all. He breaks down the types of transitions that occur in graphic narratives. I won’t bore you with those details, they are in the book if you are truly interested. Through these methods he notices trends in comics. What is most surprising is the fundamental difference in how Eastern and Western creators craft their stories.

The West tends to be concise, balancing what is needed with what can be left to the imagination. However, in the East, more emphasis can be placed on panels that relate the same point in time, creating a more detailed portrait of a moment. Most often this is used to evoke a sense of mood that can be missing in our traditional comics.

He also discusses a work’s length and abstraction on its effect to synthesize panels. His final conclusion is that the magic of the gutter is what raises comics above the level of some bastard child of visual art and prose.

It is the single most enlightening thing I have ever read about comics and explains many of my own preferences. In Manga, it explains why I enjoy the atmospheric nature of Vagabond over the more dense and Western DragonBall. It is key in understanding why I enjoy Jason and Seth, finding more meaning in their minimalism than in the static realism of someone like Alex Ross. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ross, but am more likely to appreciate a panel individually over the sequence of art as a whole. Most telling is why someone like Bendis, who I enjoy thoroughly, for other reasons, drives me mad with his penchant for confusing panel layouts.

So much of why I enjoy the comics I do is illuminated in this chapter. I feel spent. With six chapters left. I fear for my tiny brain. At this point, a pantomime strip will be a different experience for me. Already McCloud is shaping my opinion and view of my favorite medium. It is revelatory; and to be honest, a little frightening as well.

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