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Understanding Comics

Before beginning this class, I never really did try to understand comics. To be honest, I didn’t think their was much to understand. My definition was limited to stereotypical superhero comic books. Regarding these books, if I read them at all, I certainly never looked past the surface of a fun adventure story. However, after beginning the reading and thinking more critically about what comics are and what they do, I feel I have gained an increased understanding of them. I am beginning to look at comics with a more serious eye. For example, where as before I would have read a comic and based my opinion of it on it’s entertainment factor, now whenever I read a comic story or view comic art, I take the time to consider several more factors. I take into consideration the type of art used, where it lies on the picture plane, and why the artist chose to portray the scene or scenes in this particular way. I will also consider any differences between the style of the background and foreground, the intent behind the color and shading of characters, and the perspective from which the artist chose to portray the scene. Acknowledging and analyzing these things from an artistic perspective helps to provide greater insight into the scene or story.

Another aspect of comics that I am beginning to better understand is the use of icons. As I see it now, comics use icons to illustrate ideas, not just objects or people, and in doing so add a dimension of psychological suggestion to each individual scene and the story as a whole. Comics are designed to appeal to people on a more basic level. The characters are meant to represent different groups or ideas, and the story lines for each comic represents how these ideas play into different situations. By using icons, comics become heavily symbolic, as each icon used can represent anything from a single object to multiple ideas or principles depending on the style the artist chooses to use. Knowing this allows me to take my knowledge and understanding of icons and begin to put each message into historical context.

Once I have begun to piece together the historical context in which a comic was produced, I can look at the story and try to figure out what the key message at that time would have been. What sort of opinion was the author giving on an issue? Why did they feel it was an important point at emphasize at the time? How would the message have been received by the general public? All these questions are key to analyzing the situation surrounding a comic. If this type of analysis seems familiar, it is because it is the style used when trying to understand any primary source. Indeed, after thinking more on what comics are, it seems to me that they are as invaluable as any form of media when it comes to understanding the psyche and values of a population during a specific time period. By looking at the art, icons, and messages of popular comics from a specific time, we can understand what message the comic was portraying that made it popular, and thereby gain insight into the ideas people were drawn to and supported at that time.


J. Chambliss said…
Excellent commentary on the reading. As we move forward, consider how the historical context affect your perception of comic art.

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