How do you understand comics? Most people would look at you as if you were a little “slow” if you asked them this question, and I was one of those people up until a few days ago when I started reading Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Before then I would have just told you that comics were just cool little books about superheroes that had more pictures than actual words in it, so there were no questions to be asked about how you understand them. In the book, McCloud clarifies the common misconception that people have about what comics actually are and in doing so actually made understanding comics a lot more challenging. Comics are more than just superhero stories with lots of exciting pictures in them, they are much more complicated than that. The definition for a comic that McCloud gives us in the book opens up a whole new world of graphic media and art that people, including myself, would have never and still do not dare call a comic. After much debate, he defines a comic as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” This definition changed my understanding of comics from a genre of stories to a medium for telling stories just like a movie or a regular book.
With all that said, there is actually a “science” that goes into understanding comics themselves and not just what they are. When trying to understand comics it is important to realize why the characters, objects, and entire scenes are drawn in the manner that they are. It’s not just because the artist thought it would look awesome that way, there was a meaning behind it. Just like when critically analyzing a piece of literature for the author’s use of diction, tone, and scenery it is important to do the same for the pictures and details in comics. For example, when an artist draws a character that is “cartoony," that is to say less realistic, it helps the reader to be able to connect with the character and put him or herself into the story. But, on the other hand, when the artist draws a character in great detail and as realistic as possible, it can help the reader to feel more objective towards that character, whether it be in a good way or a bad way.
After reading the first two chapters of Understanding Comics, I have a new found respect for both comic writers/artists and comics themselves. I also think that as I continue to read on about understanding comics, my ideas about what a comic is and how to understand it will continually be challenged and I will look at comics in a different light than I do now.