"How to Read a Comic Book" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Scott McCloud
6:19PM Sep 29, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, I'm jack Russel Weinstein host of wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode we're talking with Scott McCloud and asking him how to read a comic book. In 1954, the US Senate convened a hearing on comic books and juvenile delinquency. DC Comics was there as was Marvel, but the star witness was William M. Gaines, publisher of entertaining comics, etc, as it was called published the biggest and most successful horror titles. Tales from the Crypt The Haunted fear in the vault of horror. They depicted murder revenge tortured were filled with sexual innuendo and lots of Oh, Henry eska plot twists. They were gorier than any pop culture medium at the time, and they were beautiful. The Senate committee was hostile. Comics weren't art witnesses said they were worthless, they diminished kids intelligence and had no intrinsic value. But the hearings were built on a contradiction. If comics had no value, they could not have had the power to corrupt. If they could corrupt, then surely they would have been the most successful art in human history. Picasso's Guernica motivates neither war nor peace and its viewers. Michelangelo's David doesn't turn us into nudists. How is it that the haunt of fear makes kids bad? It seems to me that the mystical power conferred upon the heart comics was not the reason they wouldn't be classified as art. Instead, it was the refusal to call them art that made them so scary. ec comics boasted vivid colors and realistic likenesses, the framing, sequencing and narration were spellbinding. And while the comics weren't graphic by our standards at all, their panels were so emotive that they inspired readers to make adrenaline filled narrative leaps. If they weren't art, what were they? To be frank, it wasn't the comics themselves that inspired contempt. I think it was that their audience was kids. high culture celebrates art work, but comics were art play. And if children were the target audience, then surely the grown men who devoted so much time to entertaining them had to be deviants of some form or another. Like the heavy metal bands that face the ire of the US Senate of the 1980s and the video game producers who are blamed for gun violence today, hard comics spoke to a generation that wanted to seize creative power from their elders. And true creativity is always transgressive. What the senate hearings on juvenile delinquency were really about was power. The Senate's desire to control EC was in a sense, rational comics both announce and lead cultural change, and the committee could feel their authority slipping away. their concerns turned out to be prophetic. Underground comics helped create the language of political and sexual rebellion in the 1960s. And the most important titles from the 70s and 80s challenged norms by exploring immigration, cancer, sexuality and the Holocaust. Comic storylines had lost all pretense to innocence. And comics also got bigger. The larger book length volumes had literary aspirations and called themselves graphic novels, trying to distinguish themselves from monthly serials like Wonder Woman. They disassociated themselves from their youngest readers and self identified as high culture. Their creators wanted respect. And literature for kids is never considered high art, even when it is deserved. If you doubt that, just ask JK Rowling How many people think her work is in the same category as Milan Kundera's. I promise you, Harry Potter will outlast the Unbearable Lightness of Being You have my word on it.
But graphic novels demand for legitimacy ended up distracting from the growing sophistication within the monthly fees, whose imagery narrative structure and courage were frequently awe inspiring. Get the traditional comic book has come to be measured by its market worth, not its aesthetic and experimental value. Readers refer to themselves often as collectors and their collections are regarded as investments. This does them a terrible disservice. In short, we need to find a way to talk about comics the same way we would opera or sculpture. We need a language and philosophy that respects them, whether they're for kids or adults, whether they're trauma filled memoirs are 22 pages of silliness. Few people have done more to develop this language than today's guest is most influential books are themselves comics but also deeply intellectual texts that begin with a difficult task of defining what a comic is in the first place. With this in mind on today's show, we're going to have to distinguish between form and content, process and process, purpose and context. extrinsic and intrinsic value, but our most radical step will be to first acknowledge the Senate's mistake, we will have to approach comics as if they're created for their own sake. ec stood for entertaining comics. But ironically, their power came not from their entertainment or shock value, but from their ability to stand the test of time. The same can be said of them that can be said of Mark Twain, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, they must be judged on their own merits. comics are art. They always were. The fact that so many don't recognize this may be a condemnation of the audiences, but it says nothing about comics themselves. And now, our guest, Scott McCloud may be the world's leading comic book theorist. His two books understanding comics and making comics are impressive as both comics and analytic works. He teaches consultants spent six years writing and drawing the groundbreaking comic book zott. Scott, welcome to why.
We have pre recorded the show, so we won't be taking any questions. But if you'd like to send us your comments, tweet us at at why radio show post a firstname.lastname@example.org slash why radio show or visit us live at the chat room at y Radio show.org. So, Scott, when I was younger, I read a lot of Marvel comic books, I left them for a while and came back as an adult to world of graphic novels monthly is full of sex and violence and so many independent publishers that I feel like I don't know if Marvel Comics weren't making movies, no one would notice them anymore. Are our superhero comics, the kind that I grew up with? Are they obsolete or they outdated
superhero comics have gone through a lot of changes. But possibly the biggest change of all was the fact that movies in some ways, have been doing a better job at them. I think that the the beauty of superhero comics in the early days was that authors were able to invent whole worlds out of out of nothing. And they had no constraints upon them. They had no budgetary constraints, for example, they had only the constraints of their imagination. And artists like jack Kirby, who created a lot of the characters that were enjoying now in the movies could really give free rein to their crazy dreams. Now we're actually approaching an era in which movies may be nearly as flexible that is, they're nearly as able to capture virtually any dream you might have. Special Effects I think have actually become quite an art form in their own right. And I have a lot of admiration for a lot of the special effects artists out there, even if they're illustrating stories that aren't necessarily always great stories. I like superhero movies, and I think they're very effective. And now we have to contend with the fact that we have a genuine competitor. Because in the early 60s, there was nothing to compete with a great comic by somebody like jack Kirby or Steve Ditko, there was nothing as imaginative there was nothing as far ranging, there was nothing as unhinged in some ways. And that's just not as true as it used to be. But fortunately, comics found other ways to compete because they get they became far more eclectic, far more far ranging, and the kinds of stories they could tell. They have their dabbling in far more styles. And artists are free to talk about a much wider variety of subjects and stories. And also the faces behind the boards are beginning to diversify a little now to so so as an art form comics has been growing and maturing and is in very good shape. But the superhero comic, it's got some real competition now.
You know, I it's funny, I hadn't anticipated that answer at all. And and it's incredibly compelling. And one of the things that occurs to me when you're saying is the thing that gives the movies this freedom, the CGI, the special effects, is that just comics writ large, I mean, all of these backgrounds and all this computer stuff, it's just drawings, it's it's it's photographs adjusted using computers. Is that have they co opted the comic process? Or is it different even though it's cartoon inspired or comic inspired art?
Well, in some ways, they span the alphabet alphabet, you might say that the comics artists gives you the ABC of a dream. And the mind of the reader fills in the rest from C to Z. And up until recently, it was very difficult for people to to complete that image. But the completion in the readers mind was very powerful. There's no question about it. It's just that now. Now that completion is possible now now we have people who will create effects that are every bit as vivid as what was happening in the mind of the reader. And so, yeah, I think that that, while I think they're comparable, I think for, for me that the essence of what made comics comics had more to do with simply putting one picture after another to tell a story. And that's something that distinguishes them for movies. It's tricky, because sometimes we can mistake the genre for the medium. And I think that comics were so closely associated with superheroes for so many years, that when superheroes are beginning to dominate moving pictures, we can sometimes think that comics have moved into the movies, when in fact, it's merely the genre that comics gave birth to that's been moving into the movies.
So the question I'm about to ask is, if comics aren't a genre, then what are they? But before I ask that, I want to talk a little bit about this filling in the imagination. We'll talk more about it in a second, because you have this whole discussion of what you call closure, which is, which is this process, but you spent a fair amount of time talking about the white spaces in between the pictures that the gutter the the frames around the imagery, and how those are manipulated and changed? Is it? Is it the presence of that gutter? Is it the presence of that whitespace that you see, in between multiple images? That is the kind of thing that you're alluding to now, the one after the other imagery?
Yes, in fact, I think really the essential difference between comics and film is a very simple one. And that is that in comics, we place one picture next to each other at the same time. And then film we place one picture after another in the same space at different times. So all we're doing is we're substituting time for space, when we move from one medium to the next, that whitespace between the panels, the reason why I use that as a handy metaphors, because that's where our imagination is activated, not literally as we're looking at that space. But in the sense of that blink in between images, you may show a picture of, let's say, Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz's peanuts strip, you may show him picking up a snowball. And in the next panel, you may show him you know, throwing that snowball, but you complete that motion in between you bring it to life, you take those static images, and you're what animators would call an in betweener. In the sense of you, you complete it and create a fluid motion in your own mind. That's an essential characteristic of comics, static images in visual sequence is what comics are all about. Now, there are lots of analogies between film and comics. Certainly a lot of people have pointed out that what happens in the mind when you cut from one scene to another in a film is a little bit like what happens when you cut from one panel to the other. In comics, there is a link. But as a lot of people have pointed out though there are a lot of similarities between film and comics. It's actually the differences where things get really interesting.
This this idea of filling in the imagination, it comes to mind. I mentioned the EC har comic Tron hearing in the monologue and DC Comics has been very influential to me, William Gaines was actually probably my talk about this later, the first person I ever considered a personal hero. And he talks about there's there's they're talking about a particular panel in one of the conflicts where there's a set of severed head on a knife, and they hint at the bottom of the neck and the gore and the senator and the committee says, Well, do you show this that that and William Gaines says no, if it had been lower, if it had showed, it would be in bad taste, that the what you call the gutter, cuts off the gore? And what it sounds like you're suggesting is in fact, if they had shown more blood, it would have been less powerful. It's the fact that the whitespace and the imagination is responsible for filling in the imagery is what gives it its power. And so I guess what I'm asking is, to what extent is the absence of information as powerful to the comic experience as the information that the artist and the writer gives?
Well, it's a sliding scale. And if you're working in a medium like comics, you have a choice. You may give the audience quite a lot. You may render things very carefully. You may show moments very closely together, which leaves less up to the imagination, but you can still create effective work if the imagery is powerful. If the choice of what you choose to show is powerful, it can still be a very compelling work. But a lot of the best cartoonists do find that less is more, they find that by just showing a little bit by pulling those points, those moments a little bit further apart and compelling the reader to do more work along the lines of what you're just describing that that can be very effective. And there are two there are two kinds of connections as well there's, there's moment to moment connections that is taking one panel and imagining what happens between. And then there's also the fact that when we draw a panel, when we put a rectangle around a scene in comics, we're also asking the reader to imagine the world beyond that rectangle. We're not saying that this is the entire world. We're saying this is a window into the world. And that's what Gaines was dealing with when they were discussing that cover.
So then, let's let's start the conversation at the beginning. You say in the book that something like a single panel farside, or a family circus is not a comic. And I inadvertently, in an early comment, use the word cartoon instead of comic and then corrected myself. What is a comic? What isn't a comic? And how important is this definition to the conversation that we're having?
Well, interestingly, to start, I actually would describe something like the far side of the family circuses, cartoons, they're cartoonists who make them. And I think often if you would ask the people who make single panel pieces in the newspaper, they would describe themselves as cartoonists, they would talk about, it's maybe a cartoon panel, they might use the word comic, and of course, comics. It's the comics page, right? So that the word can be just a catch all for everything on the comics page. And, you know, I first of all, I have no trouble with that when I offered my definition of comics, I was adding a definition to the dictionary, I wasn't attempting to wipe away the old ones. So if you wanted to use the word comics to merely describe the stapled for color stories of you know, 24 pages long with two guys in skintight costumes, beating the crap out of each other, that's fine. They, those are, those are comics. That's that's one meaning of the word. But I was saying that in addition to that, in addition to the comic strips, and the comic books and the things that we're familiar with, there was also this overarching idea of putting one picture after another. And as you mentioned, I had to exclude single panels. But I think the first thing to recognize is the fact that that's no disrespect, to cartoonists, to those who use a cartoon style. Because I use the word cartoon to describe the style of drawing the style of image making. There's no disrespect in saying that they're not making comics, they're still cartoonists. So there's an incredibly proud tradition of cartoonists in America, at least as proud as the tradition of comic artists. But the important thing wasn't so much, which small examples were sort of sliced off. When I drew that boundary around my definition. The purpose of the definition wasn't about excluding work, the purpose was to include work. And I actually think that there were a lot of things that we didn't think of as comics that really were comics. And the longer I look at them in it, analyze them over the years, the more certain I am in the conviction that we should consider certain other works to be comics.
So what is that definition? Since the readers haven't read the book? It involves sequential art. What What does that mean? And what's the definition you've settled on?
Yeah, the simple the simple definition is sequential art. And that's, that's usually all you'll need. But sooner or later, somebody comes along and says, Well, well, animation is sequential. And then you have to try it out the longer definition. The longer one I cobbled together was juxtapose pictorial and other images and deliberate sequence. I'm not suggesting that we replace any of the words that we use, really are a philosopher,
you know that if, if a sentence like that is useful to you, where we both hang out in the same bar,
but just yeah, it helps you be more specific.
So would you would you say that again, though, so that everyone can hear it one more time?
Sure, juxtaposed pictorial and other images and deliberate sequence really putting a picture down on on a page or a screen, and putting another picture next to it and saying, These are not two pictures next to each other. This is one moment. And then the next moment to kind of temporal map your mapping time. And if you think about it, that's unique among the art forms, pros, movies, theater, all of these things, all of these narrative art forms. It's always now in those art forms, only in comics to rise above that landscape of time that we live in. And you're no longer on that treadmill of now, because you suddenly you see past, present and future all around you. It's a very unique form in that respect. You're creating a map of time. And it's it's a kind of top site that no other art form provides.
This was for me, I think the most groundbreaking is the wrong word. But but for me that the biggest insight that I got from reading your stuff, which is that it never occurred to me that the fundamental concern of comics is playing with time. And yet you spend a fair amount of time talking about how juxtaposing different frames, at different intervals completely changes the story. So you can have you talk about, but why don't you talk a little bit about Japanese tradition and how they use a very slow notion of time and and compared with other things? Why is why is time this central idea in sequential art?
Well, one of the first things I noticed when I when I began to break it down that way was, as you mentioned, there are different ways of approaching time in comics. And I especially noticed a big difference between American and Japanese comics. Thing is, when you're putting those two panels together, the panels can can have any kind of pair of moments at all, I could show you somebody holding a coffee cup an inch above the counter, and follow it by somebody holding a coffee cup half an inch above a counter. Well, that's nearly film, right. It's just that's nearly what you'd get. If you ripped an old school film reel out of the projector, you would see something like that where the progressions were extremely small. But then again, I could show panel one, I could show you a bunch of dinosaurs cavorting. And then in panel two, I could show you a an arco station pumping gas. And now, there are two things about that, number one, we've just jumped many millions of years. But number two, your mind is so craving for meaning that you're going to find a connection. And I'm sure anyone who just heard that found that connection. The beauty is that even randomly combined pictures will compel people to find some kind of narrative connection. And so with that tremendous flexibility of, of connecting points in time, you have a lot of choices. And in American comics, what we really favor is actions, we like showing an action in panel one, a different action and panel to a different action and panel three, well, we still do that in comics in Japan and Europe. But in Japan, there's another kind of connection that we didn't see much in America for many years. And that was what I called aspect to aspect combinations where you would show just an aspect of an idea or a scene in panel one, and then another aspect in panel two, another aspect in panel three. So for instance, I'm sitting in a radio studio right now, and I have an engineer, he's sitting here, you might be in panel one, then you might see a clock on the wall and panel two, then you might see a pen lying on the counter and panel three, well, what you're saying is not that engineer happen, then clock happened, then pen happened, right? What you're saying is that you've cast a roving eye upon the world, you're showing just fragments of experience. And now it's up to the reader to stitch those together into an environment a world and experience. And that can be very powerful, because the act of stitching it together makes you a participant in the act of perception.
One of the things that I think comics does not get credit for is how active of an audience it has to have people think of comics as a passive medium, that you're just sort of looking at things and and you're entertained. But a lot of what you argue is that the audience has to be directly involved and has to put their own imagination and their own interpretation in there or it doesn't work. When we come back from the break. I want to ask you about that. And I want to ask you about the central problem that I think a lot of people have when they re encounter comics as an adult, which is what do they look at first, but before we do that, we'll take a break. You're listening to Scott McCloud and jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions but everyday life, we'll be back right after this.
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We're back with why philosophical discussions but everyday life, I'm your host, jack Russell Watson. We're talking with Scott McCloud about how to read a comic book. And I mentioned earlier in the show that I sort of took some time off of reading comic books and that I rediscovered them. And, to a certain extent that happened when I had a daughter, and she took an interest in comic books. But if I'm being really honest, it's only really happened with any intensity in the last year. And when I first picked up the comic books, again, I was encouraged by a friend. I thought, well, I'm old, and I'm going to be looking for more sophistication than it has. And I'll be it'll be a throwback to my childhood. Of course, the first thing was, they were a lot more sophisticated than I remembered. And they were much more satisfying than I remembered. But the other thing I didn't realize, is that, because I had gotten old, my eyesight had gotten really bad. This I knew. But it didn't occur to me that when I picked up a traditional comic book, that 31 page, volume, the same basic size, I couldn't read the text anymore. And so my friend showed me an iPad for Marvel Comics reader, and then another sort of generic one called eye comics that allowed me to focus on a single panel and zoom in. And suddenly I could read the text with a lot more clarity. And it wasn't stressful, and I didn't have to make an effort, and I could really enjoy it. But the process of looking at the digital reader means that I'm constantly zooming in and zooming out. And I have this almost an existential crisis when I read, which is I don't know which To start with, do I start with the full page and get an overall vision of it? And then zoom into the panel? Or do I, as the reader wants me to do focus on a panel, and then zoom out to see how it connects? And so I say that Scott, to ask you, when you open a comic book, what do you look at first? Do you look at the whole page? Do you look at a panel? Do you look at the picture? Do you look at the words, I'm an old guy, and it takes more effort to read and to see than it did when I was 16? Is that taking away from the experience? Or is that just allowing me to have another kind of emphasis that brings a whole different experience?
I do think that for me, one of the essential qualities of comics is how panels interrelate. That is how you see them in a display in a page in relationship to each other. If you take an extreme opposite case, that would be just showing one panel at a time not even zooming but simply maybe hitting a spacebar and having a new panel replace the old one. Well, if you did that, you'd actually be approaching something a little bit more like film or slideshow, you'd be losing one of the unique qualities of comics that temporal map quality. And while that might not necessarily impinge on the reading experience, it might conceivably still be enjoyable, if the story is good, if the words are good, if the pictures are good. Nevertheless, you might think to yourself, Well, this is fun, but maybe a movie would be more fun, right? Maybe a TV show would be more fun, because this is just like a sort of a poor man's TV show, right? Um, I do think that that showing multiple panels is part of what makes comics, comics and having each narrative art form occupy a slightly different aesthetic space, it's useful, you don't necessarily want each art form to be just striving to be some version of motion pictures to be some version of television, if everything is just striving to be something other than what it is, then you're experiencing that narrative world through the same lens again, and again. I think it's very important that everything from poetry, to comics, to TV, to movies, to books to theater, approach the world reproduce the world, dramatize the world, from a different viewpoint. Because when you do that, we can re enter the world that we live in, through enough different vantage points that we can triangulate the shape of the world that we live in. And and it triangulates our experience as human beings. And that's one of the great values of having different forms of narrative work is is that triangulation so so I'm always very suspicious of things that try to make comics come alive in a digital form, where they're really just like movies and there are examples of that there are these motion comics Mix, which are essentially panning around individual comics panels, one at a time with soundtracks and music. They're really just trying to be movies. And to me, there's no point in it. But another thing that you mentioned, of course, was is the way in which we're showing comics digitally. Now, with the zooming. That's all very important problem for you, you could read the text, which is a fundamental problem. I, in the early days of the web, I suggested a lot of digital forms for comics. And I was extremely excited about that. But one of the first things you have to do is just get rid of the idea of the page. And a lot of these mobile comics, they don't bother to get rid of the idea of the page. So what they'll do is you'll be you'll be scrolling and moving and panning around a single page, but then you have to turn to the next page. To me, there's no point because the page is an artifact of print, might as well have the whole thing on just one big scroll.
I do find, I mean, I love my iPad. And I like the fact that I can read it better. But I also have, and I'm just going to keep bringing this up. And I apologize, I also have this anthology of, of EC horror comic books, that's one of these huge oversized books. And so the the page has been increased three or four times, and I can have the iPad on my lap in bed and read it and it's fine. But if I'm sitting on bed with this massive thing that allows me to see the whole page of the EC comics, I just love that. It's so much more fun. And I think that's part of what you're talking about, which is this this thing as, as a whole, that that reproduces the the original experience. But then of course, I still have a decision to make. And the decision is, what do I look at first the pictures? Or do I look at the words to you? Is there a right way to do that? When there is the mixed? There are comics that just have pictures, of course, which I'll talk about in a second. But is there a proper way to approach that? Do you look at the picture and then read the words? Do you read the words and then look at the picture?
Well, you have to follow your own passion as a reader, of course, and you know, whichever way of experiencing comics works for you. You go with it, you don't necessarily question it. But there are two different aspects to your question. I mean, first, we were talking about that, that those oversized DC volumes, you know, I'm getting older myself, and my eyesight isn't quite what it used to be. I appreciate having lettering that I can read. But when when we were looking at the the prospect of digital comics, I first entered into that idea, from the vantage point of somebody who is was anticipating things like VR coming into it. VR being virtual, that's right, yeah. And in my ideal scenario, there would be endless, you know, zooming and panning would be fine. I mean, you could just go in to comics, all your lights, you know, get as closer as far as you like, but think of them as a single, almost physical Canvas, you know, on which the pages, the panels were all arrange. And so if you wanted to take a closer look at something, you could because it would just have a physicality to it and an all in one sness to it. But to the question of words versus pictures. And the question of panels versus pages, you see, there's there were really three aspects to your question. I think that there's four panels versus pages, I think that there's a kind of double track experience going on, where what happens is, when you land in the story, you're going from panel to panel to panel to panel, and each panel becomes the world. That is everything else kind of fades a little it becomes background, and that that single panel that you're reading at any given time that's activated and becomes now. But the rest of it still exists in your peripheral vision, you still see the rest of it, and you still see it embedded in there. And I think that that creates an aesthetic background experience, that colors, the experience of reading comics in a way that nothing else does. And then to the third part of your question, which is words and pictures, um, I think that we experience you know, again, there's no right way whether looking at pictures or looking at the words I think every comics writer hopes that you're going to read all their words. There was one comics critic once many years ago Who, who, who referred to captions as little little boxes and admitted that he never read them. But uh, you know, ideally, it's a dance. It's a it's an interdependent dance between words and pictures. And, and the two of them really should, should not hog the stage. And I think that sometimes you have a problem when you have a separate writer and a separate artist. Sometimes you'll have this writer versus artists problem that both of them are trying to show off And that that never works? Well, I think both have to have a certain amount of humility. And the pictures have to let the words do the talking sometime the words have to let the pictures do the talking sometime when that works, then you won't have to decide which one to experience because you'll be experiencing them both in an independent interdependent way, in an organic way. And in a way that you don't even notice. Because what you're really experiencing is just story.
You mentioned in the book, that an understanding comics that there's often a conflict between also the colorist and the inker, that that when when the people who are collaborating, are calling for too much attention to their individual work that also destroys the process that that struck me because the only conversation I ever recall, about inkers is in Kevin Smith's movie Chasing Amy were one of the characters calls, the inker in the comic book a tracer, what do you do for a living trace for a living? And he's very, very offended by that. How visible? Is it to people who don't know what's going on? When the collaborators if there are multiple collaborators are in conflict? Is that inherent in the product? And someone can detect it? Or do you really have to have a sense of what's happening before you before you can see that conflict?
Well, the breakdown of labor and comics is a product of the industry, not the art form. And you know, it's always important to remember that it wasn't always the way of it in the early comic strips in the early 20th century in America, it was customary for one person to do the whole job. And in graphic novels, and a lot of alternative comics and web comics, that's still true, you still often have just one person creating the whole universe. But when when superhero comics came along, and they became a hit, and there was this demand to churn out issue after issue after issue on a regular schedule, it became useful to break break apart the writer and the artist. And you had that from the very beginning. in comic books, you had Siegel and Shuster, who created Superman, they were writer and artists team. And of course, we have the famous team of Stan Lee and jack Kirby and Marvel Comics. But then they broke it down further, because they found that there maybe there was a penciller, who was especially popular, and it was better to have multiple inkers on their work. So they could be drawing two books a month, instead of just one or maybe even three. In the case of Kirby Kirby could draw a comic book in an afternoon while watching TV on his lap board and talking to fans, it was he was incredibly fast. But that so that whole mass produced culture, that was something that grew up really grew out of the industry as much as it grew out of the art form. And there are many of us who felt that simply simply saying the words pencil or an inker in a way it they reduce the reduce them to just skills rather than art. And, and, and I think many of us wanted to sort of pull back on that maybe push back on that rather, and, and encourage people to just look at it as as an art form all at once. And as I say, you know, when when you break, break it down very quickly, you have one part of the process may be competing with the other part of the process. And that integration between words and pictures, especially, that sometimes breaks down and instead you just have two different creative individuals showing off and trying to outshine each other which doesn't result in great work
in I want to revisit the panel discussion, because I want to talk about how they're organized. But before I do that you use you mentioned that, that when when you have this mass production, it tends to reduce things to skills rather than art. And what has struck me particularly with web art, is that there are these very successful comics that for lack of a better term, have bad artists and what I mean by that is not the comics aren't wonderful, but that the skill level, the draftsmanship what art is called, isn't there so you have XKCD which is a very very well loved comic strip that has just stick figures. And then you get very very stylized cartoonists who are just very basic drawings. My own daughter has a has a comic strip that she started on Instagram, and she does these peg figures. How separate is the drafting skills of the artist to the the medium of comics and and is something that is hyper realistic or super well drawn almost a different animal than something like XKCD Or savage chickens, which is not usually sequential anyway, is that is that a whole different animal? Or is it? Is it not about the individual skill level but about something more amorphous and abstract?
Well, you know, really what we're talking about is the cult of the professional. The whole idea of professional standards. This was something that made a lot of sense back in the days when the industry was this this fortress, that where you had to cross the moat, and you had to be let in at the gate. Well, all of a sudden, the hordes have come in and anybody can put their work online. And the whole idea of entry level skills is is dead. Well, as a professional artist, I'm a beneficiary of the the cult of the professional and I say, to hell with it, I I'm cheering on the hordes I'm saying tear it all down. It was it was a scam and made no sense at all. If you can create a wonderful experience in the mind of the viewer, if you can make me laugh, if you can tell an interesting story. If you can blow my mind with some fascinating insights, the way that randleman ro does an XKCD. Go for it. And if you can do it with a stick figure all the better if you can do it with a stick figure that doesn't even have a face, which is what Randall Munroe does, then then my hat's off to you. I think it's wonderful. And, and also, one of the interesting side effects of that is people who do come online, and who are doing work that may be rough, that may be unskilled. Once they get their audience, they keep learning, and they often get better. And if you look at a lot of popular web comics, especially, you'll find when you go back in the archives that when they started out, they had far fewer skills, and then they gained them over time.
And I'm going to ask you a direct question about that in just a second. But first, is what you're describing. The analog to the the classical trained and outsider art is is is what's happening a sort of democratization of the of the comics that comes from the internet, is that really just untrained people doing it in the same way that now galleries and collectors think is incredibly value? They just call it this other category? Are these people outside or artists? Or is it not analogous?
I would say it's it's, it's only peripherally analogous for the simple reason that when all the walls are gone, there is no outside. And so the whole notion of outsider art, you know, stipulates that there has to be some kind of structure on the inside, there is no inside, there is no outside, everybody's just competing in the same arena. And the only measure of their success is in the genuine reactions of their audience. And you never know when they're going to get that audience how they're going to get it and who they're going to be. But at the end of the day, simply add up the genuine sensations you were able to generate. And that's all that matters. We're all competing on the exact same playing field. And I like that I think it's good.
So this then is going to the the fine artists who listen to the show and who I know, are shouting in my brain. But there have to be standards that have to be objective standards, there has to be something that that shows that that you aren't just popular, but you're good. So is the standard of good. Hear that you're talking about? Simply audience reaction, is it? Is it a rhetorical problem for lack of a better term? Is it popularity what what counts as good? And is is is part of what you're describing just the ratification of sort of objective standard of what a good comic is?
Well, standards have not disappeared, the standards still exist, and there are as many as there ever were. But they are after the fact standards. They are standards being applied by discriminating viewers and not so discriminating viewers based on their own standards based on their own tastes and based on communal standards as well. And in some ways, they're just as valuable in many cases, or even just as rigid or just as specifically applied. But the difference is that those standards of judgment are no are no longer able to prevent somebody from reaching their audience. That was the norm. In the days when all of these things had to be shipped from state to state and driven in trucks and put on shelves and when things had to be signed off on by publishers is that artists did not compete for eyeballs. They didn't compete for their audience. Somebody decided along the way. In fact, several somebodies would Just along the way, if they could reach an audience at all, or if they were to be buried forever buried because their work didn't look quite like what was popular on the stands buried because maybe they were the wrong gender buried maybe because they weren't telling the kinds of stories people were used to, or they didn't look the way the other people who got jobs were looked, you know that that was how standards were applied. They were applied at the gate. But there's nothing to stop us from applying those standards, once the work lands in the public arena. And I think that's a much better distribution of the power of art.
And is this why mainstream imprints and publishers look a certain way and the Indies look at different women, you look now at Supergirl and the other female superheroes and they are buxom beyond belief and super and Super Girl went through this period of her and everyone else midriff showing and just the most not just massages, that's the wrong word. But just the most exploitative sexploitation of use of the characters. And you certainly see graphic sexuality in the in many indie comics, but you don't see as dominant this kind of picture is that what's happening that the editors that the publishers they had a sense of what sold to this certain demographic, and that's what they were going to maximize and everyone else could just get out of the office, they wouldn't talk to them.
Oh, jack, it's a tempest in a teapot. You know, we're talking about what's happening at Marvel and DC as if that is comics. But in fact, those are just two companies that no longer have the influence that they used to in the comics world they do in the movie world, they have tremendous influence, which is too bad in DCs case. Yeah, they're terrible. They are pretty bad. But um, they what's going on in the superhero comics, really, we have to accept the fact that those are no longer the mainstream in a lot of ways. Because there's a whole generation of readers that just roll their eyes at the kind of things you were just describing. In fact, in all likelihood, they weren't even aware that that was happening. Because instead they're reading the work of, you know, great graphic novelists. Or they're reading that this tremendous revolution in kids comics that are coming out now. I mean, the best selling cartoonists in America are making kids comics. And that stuff is is sensitive and progressive, not at all exploitive, in terms of you know, things like costume details or whatnot, they're often telling stories about 14 and 15 year olds anyway. And they're made primarily by women, especially, there's one in particular, Raina telgemeier, who comes up a lot in these discussions. And she's sold millions of copies of her comics. And they're just comics about ordinary life about high school drama clubs, or, excuse me, middle school drama clubs, or her own autobiographical adventure when she had some dental problems, because she fell and knocked a couple of teeth back. She has a whole graphic novel just about that. And the thing has, has reached a million readers. And that's the mainstream now. So so I think that, you know, often often the latest shenanigans, you know, happening in the pages of a Marvel and DC comic, sometimes we can mistake that for the state of comics. But in fact, that's merely the state of this shrinking kingdom. That used to be the world.
My friend who initiated my return to comics turned me on to a series called paper girls, which is that these these group of high school and Late Middle school girls who start a paper route, and then stuff happens, which I'm not going to ruin it, and I read it. And first of all, I loved it. And I could have cried, because it was just so real. And so the characters, I don't even know the language that isn't gonna sound silly, cliche, but they were strong. They were real. They were thick. They were just people. And this was one of the things, one of the first comics that I gave to my daughter that wasn't, you know, my old remnants of my old collection, because she, she doesn't want to read, see, and she doesn't want to read my magazine. So that I said, read this, this is this is awesome. And, and I think that's an example of that. And I guess I am habituated to think that the standard is the Marvel and the DC. And even though I look at that standard with contempt, I still think of it as the default. And I guess part of what you're suggesting is, it's not the default anymore. It's actually just hanging on.
Well, this is really what what we're talking about here is the the question of art form versus genre, or medium versus genre. And, you know, we finally got come to the point where we realized that, that there's this art form that contained a genre known as superheroes. And now it's finally expanded well beyond that, and you were just describing something. It's not really superheroes. It's a genre comic in the sense that it has some fantasy elements and all paper girls does. But but there's this tremendous distribution of comics that that are simply outside of that original genre of superheroes. And the diversity right now, you know, there's their their autobiographical comics or nonfiction comics, where where people explain things the way I do in my books. There, there are still superhero comics, and there are actually some pretty good superhero comics out there. There are kids comics, fantasy comics. And we also still have a pretty robust readership for comics from abroad, especially from Japan. and Japan, especially pioneered this idea that there can be a comic for virtually everybody. But we were getting closer to that in the States. You know, web comics have definitely pushed the envelope in that regard. There are web comics for many, many different interests. And the nice thing is that they don't have to compete for shelf space, they they can come online and people are interested in whatever subject they're about, will find them. Whereas before, there wasn't any place to shelve them between, you know, the invisibles, and the Incredible Hulk or whatever.
So you have this comic that you worked on for six years, I forget how many issues zott. And I guess the first one I'm going to ask about it is it called Zod because your name is Scott, but but the second I know,
actually, actually, the character was originally robot and he was named bot. And then when I made him human, my friend Kurt busick, who also writes comics now that we were we were in school at the time, he suggested calling him zott instead of bought. So that's how I got the name.
All right. I will believe that since you told it to me. But, uh, so so I, I look at the issues. If someone looks at the issues, and someone sees the first issue, and let's say the middlemost issue, and the final issue, other than the fact that they started in color, and then ended up in black and white, which I'm curious why you do that? What would you say? is visibly different? at those three points in the series, how do you as an as a as an artist, as a creator, as someone with a vision? How, what's different at those points? And how does the reader How would you like the reader to experience those differences?
Well, I began Zod, which is as you say, it was my first comic, back in 1983. I was 23 years old, or actually was first published in in 84. But I was 23. And I finished it up when I was about 30. And, you know, it shows my evolution as an artist, I have a lot of different interests. So there were actually even though it was ostensibly a superhero comic, I was influenced by American avant garde comics, but European comics by Japanese comics I was in, I was just looking at just about everything in those days. And as it progressed, and went through its black and white phase, which was partially influenced by manga by Japanese comics.
I think I was becoming restless because I was finding that though, I was able to tell a lot of different kinds of stories. At the same time, I felt like I was being a little weighed down by the genre. And, and the kinds of stories I wanted to tell where we're starting to go a little beyond the package of the original comic. I still like soccer, but I you know, it basically it matured, it became softer, it became more about real life. And then towards the end. I think it showed the strains in me that I wanted to move on, I wanted to do a different kind of a thing. One of the things I wanted to do was understanding comics, I wanted to do this big book about comics, which had been rolling around in my head and I just started a long arc of stories and saw it when I realized, Oh, I needed to do this, I need to do this book now. Now now and I knew I'd have to wait a year and it was it was painful. But But yeah, you see an artist growing and then you see an artist straining, wanting to break out of the shackles and that's sort of the that diary of my artistic progression through that, but we had a lot of fun. I love my audience. And I actually would like to bring that back someday probably in another form. Because I'm so restless. I'm always sort of reinventing how I make things. I like a lot of the characters. I think they're a lot of fun. And again, I do think that superheroes is a legitimate genre, I think you can have a lot of fun with superheroes. One of my favorite comics, Scott Pilgrim was basically a superhero comic.
You you in the, in the very end of understanding comics, you tell a story about how a comic artist sort of grows, and then what you do is you and then the person is satisfied with this level and then stays and then you can move on to another one who moves up to the level and moves up to another level until they're sort of mastery and influence and all of that. Is that is that your story of zott? To a certain extent, is the depiction that you offer to your readers of the growth of a comic artist as as as from the perspective of artists maturity, is that representative of your experience? Or is that? Is that representative your experience? Did you find that that that zott, among other things, was just pushing you to say, I keep moving past what I can do. And so I'm keeping I'm striving for for something else, and I need to be able to articulate what that is.
I think almost any artist has a kind of progression in their early career of moving from surface to core. And that was certainly something that happened with me and Zod and that is the the very first approach that you make to an art form is usually surface, you're really attracted to something that looks pretty or cool looking and you want to try to reproduce that surface, the first drawings or paintings that you you might create, are going to be probably imitating somebody whose work you really admire. And that was certainly true of me at the very beginning when I was like 15 years old. But then a little bit later, you start to see that just under the surface, there's a certain amount of structure and craft. There's, there's a kind of construction to the work something that isn't necessarily viewable on the surface. But that affects how the how the work is put together. Like for instance, you may like the way somebody renders a drawing of a figure, but you realize, Oh, I got to learn my anatomy I got I got to figure out how these limbs connect that kind of thing. And then a little while later, you might find that there's a deeper structure underneath that a kind of architecture of the art form that you need to learn as well. And it's not just about putting one limb next to each other, not just connecting the limbs. But it's also about the whole strategy of constructing the scenarios arranging things in space, that sort of thing. And then after a while, you realize that everything you like is maybe in one particular idiom one particular genre, and that there's a broader world out there. And then beyond that, you may finally arrive at the real core questions of any art form, which is, what is it I want to say? And why is it I want to say it in this form. And those really going backwards in a lot of ways, are what I wound up describing as the six steps, which was idea, form, idiom, structure, craft, and surface. And I realized that a lot of times, artists begin at the surface and have to have to burrow down to the core. And a lot of a lot of artists, a lot of young artists kind of give up, they never really quite get to the center, they never quite, they never quite figure out what they want to say. They never quite figure out why they want to say it. And, and that was something that I wanted to get to. And that's something in many ways I'm still grappling with, because that's, that's a lifelong quest, figuring out what you want to say and how you want to say,
I'm gonna say something stupid, and I apologize, but everything you're describing, is just art. I mean, in the sense that in the sense that you're describing the life of an artist, you're describing the process of of mastery of of, of pushing the boundaries of trying to move the discourse forward and the tradition forward. So what is it that what is it that makes people so resistant to treating comics as an art in and of itself? Why Why is it is it is it commercialism? Is it the kids, as I suggested in the monologue, in your opinion, where does this resistance come from? Because everything you describe is, in a certain sense, indistinguishable from every other conversation with an artist I've had on the show in my life. Oh, yeah. It's, you know, it's a universal and I mean that natively right. It's a universal experience. That's, that's, that's tremendously wonderful to dive into. So where's the resistance?
Well, I think it comes down to the original sin, which is the what I think of is the heaven or hell conundrum. The idea that an art form can be either an art or not an The idea that any any persons endeavor can be art or not art. You know, if you if you postulate that it's binary like that, then your there's got to be some dividing line right? There's got to be some moment Oh, but for that one single breaststroke this might have been art, but I guess it isn't now, you know, I don't think art is an either or proposition. I think there's a little art in nearly everything we do. I think that some endeavors are more thoroughly in that camp, they're more thoroughly in the realm of self expression. But art at the end of the day, for me, it's just that branch of human activities that doesn't grow out of our twin instincts for survival or reproduction. That is that the things that are not about, they're not about social advancement, they're not about making money. It's not about, you know, improving your station in life. It's about the thing itself. And so, you know, effectively what I'm saying is that art is useless, which which I think it's a defensible statement. I think the thing that truly makes it art is what makes it useless. And, and that gloriously uselessness is the way that people step out of that lockstep parade of survival and reproduction, that characterizes that evolutionary mandate. So in other words, it's, it's something that, that we're, we're rising above that, that simple march of instinct, because if you look at it, survival and reproduction, actually, the tendrils that grow out of the branches that grow out of that, and the branches that grow out of those branches, branches, they infect a lot of what we do. But when you remove that, there's still time left in the day to just make stuff to just bang rocks on other rocks to tap our feet, or to to make some useless flourish. At the assembly line. There's something that we're doing, that has no purpose, but pleases us in and of itself. That's art. And there's a little art in every comic, there's a little art in every movie, there's a little art in every novel in every play. But there's also a little of those other things, too. The things that we do, for practical reasons, the things we do, because we think the market will accept them. There's a little art and everything, and there's a little not art in everything. And the the the proportions, they vary tremendously. And certainly, we can look at somebody like Van Gogh, and we can say that, that when he sat down to paint or probably stood up, come to think of it, that that guy probably had very little in mind, except the thing itself. He had very little concern for his own well being. And some would call it art, and some would call it madness. But you know, fits my definition.
If I could take wire radio and transform it into sequential panels right now, I would juxtapose what you just said, with an episode that we had about six months ago, called why'd Why did Homo sapiens evolved into artists, and when we had an evolutionary biologist, talk about the evolutionary function of art, and he suggested, and I recommend if people haven't listened to it, that they showed it was a great show. And he was he was wonderful. That, that what art does evolutionary is create alternative possibilities that what Mark does is say, Okay, I'm not surviving right now. I'm not in the survival mode. So how might the world be otherwise? And, and I think that that, that's helping me understand a little bit. The role of panels, because panels are, panel three does not have to follow from panel to, right, it's a choice. It's the artists choice. And so then the reader has to has to make that connection, the causal connection, or the temporal connection between panel two and panel three, and to the art, in part, and I'm leading to a question but the art and part is the artist figuring out what are the possibilities what could three be and what's believable, and what and what pursues my story? And so then the question I have for you is, and I promised earlier that I would come back to this one of the big differences that you see from the early Superman, even the EC comics, and then later I think the the, the jack Kirby comics, and then even later on are the way that panels change for at first they were just a grid that there were, you know, a couple on first column, second column, third column, new page, first column second, but then There were oddly shaped panels. And then if you look at art Spiegelman's mouse, the the flow from one panel to another isn't always clear which direction you goes. And sometimes you have whole images with a panel inside. How, how much is because this is one of the defining aspects of the genre? How much is the shape and order of the panel, an essential component of the narrative, and I don't mean, I think the way that it's the question sounds is, is, do you have to move from one to the other, obviously, that, but, but the decision to make a panel is shaped the decision to make a panel in a different location? Can you determine, then the narrative structure? Can you determine the content? Do you know something about the story by just looking at the panel shapes and the way that they're arranged without even looking at the art and the content within the panel?
Yeah, if you took all of the artwork out of a, you know, page of comics, or several pages of comics, several different kinds of comics, I bet a lot of readers could actually identify what you were looking at, you know, whether you're looking at a mid 60s superhero comic, or you're looking at mouse, or you're looking at, you know, something else? Um, to some extent, yeah, it's, it's a giveaway, although you can have wildly different comics that that all, for instance, use the six panel grid, two by three is pretty common. But I have to go back to something you said earlier, that was interesting, you're talking about the reader having to interpret in one way or another, of course, one of the beauties of comics is the reader doesn't have to do anything, there's nothing. There's nothing to prevent the reader from reading it backwards, or from skipping all around the page. It's actually a contract. It's actually a, you know, a gentlemen's agreement between the reader, the borrower, or woman's agreement between the reader and the artist, as to what order you're going to go in, and there's a kind of protocol to it. And sometimes when a genre becomes a little overly ripe, when genres become a little more insular as superhero comics were in, let's say, the, the late 90s. Sometimes that protocol becomes a little exotic, and it's actually quite difficult to know where to go, unless you're part of the initiated. And, you know, a lot of us artists were at, we were kind of pushing back against that, because we wanted, we wanted comics to be more easily read by newcomers, because we wanted new readers in those days, we got them fortunately, because we made some really great comics. But um, we as a community, not me personally, but, uh, yeah, I think that that, yeah, to some extent, it's a good ways to some extent paddle shapes really affect the work, although I've got to say that of all the decisions when you create a comic, you know, as important as panel shape is as important as how well the work is drawn. As important as you know, your skill and putting words together is the most powerful thing of all, is simply what you decide to show. That is the choice of story and the choice of what kinds of things you want to show to the reader. Those are often the most powerful, even if even if the drawings aren't always as slick. It's the choice of what goes in those panels that that makes the most powerful impact, I think on the reader.
Can you talk a little bit about that, and maybe give us some examples, in part, because we skimmed over in the beginning of the episode of this idea of closure, which was the way that the imagination fills in the gaps between the panels and also outside the frame. And I think that's really important. And I think I didn't do it. I think I did a disservice by going over too quickly. I think this is a good place to revisit. So So what do you have in mind? And what are good examples that maybe you can describe that indicate? What you mean by what you decide to show?
Well, first of all, we should say the word closure code goes back to Gestalt psychology, that notion of filling in the gaps, you know, the idea that that you know, evolutionarily speaking, it's, it's, it's pretty useful, that we can see a line that's broken up and we can kind of complete it in our minds. You know, when you have a snake in the grass, you don't want to think of it as, as many little segments of a snake you want to be able to understand that it's a real snake, and that it's heading for you. And so, so it's it's a compulsion. One of the best things about that compulsion is it's so powerful, that if I, if I cut out 10,000 photos and put them in a giant pile and you just pick to randomly and place them on a table, your sort of narrative imagination would immediately find some kind of connection. So So that power of closure, it's virtually limitless, you know, even even completely random non sequitur serial combinations, you're going to find some kind of connection. So if you've got that strong an ally on the part of the reader, you should take advantage of it. And, and many artists do many artists, you know, will will have something about to happen, and then just skip to to the scene thereafter. And we know, you know, we know that that that an action took place that something happened in between the two. But, you know, I think that it's, it may be underused, I think that that in many respects, probably, I could go through the average comic, and I could kill maybe 40 panels, and the story would not be any worse for it. I tried to do that in my own work. My editor once wisely suggested as an exercise, that I tried just cutting my story in half and see if I can still have a coherent story, I'm sure that I could. Um, you know, so that's, you know, finding finding those wider Connections is, is definitely a worthwhile challenge. For comics artists, and I think it's unfinished business, I think a lot of us probably spell it out maybe a little bit more than we need to. I know that certainly, in terms of words, the tradition back in the 60s, in a lot of those classic Marvel Comics, the tradition was to spell everything out. And you'd often have in the captions, you'd have just a restatement of what was already happening in the drawings, which, which seemed a bit criminal, especially when the drawings were pretty good as they often were.
One of our listeners had had written me in advance David to ask about the old classic illustrated comic books, which I had some and then you mentioned in passing in understanding comics, the thing about Classics Illustrated was that they took these books and they just converted into comics. David wanted to know, whatever happened to them? The question that I have, in addition to that, is, is that? Is that a really trying to ask this question? Is that a second tier comic effort, and what I mean by that is you're taking something else else's else's work and you're, you're putting into comics, but it's not the same thing as the creators of of saga, making this you know, many year epic journey that is entirely in their own imagination. It's just derivative, I guess, would be the word or do something like Classics Illustrated just, it's just another project and it's either good or not. And, and, and it has as much artistic value as something else.
Actually, I like your term. I'm gonna go with second tier effort. Yeah, I think that that definitely describes the original Classics Illustrated, which were really were they were illustrated cliff. Cliff Notes. Let's Let's be, let's be honest about this. They their whole existence was predicated on kids wanting to pass the test and not wanting to have to read Tess of the d'Urbervilles. So they would, you know, yank out the 20 page, you know, color version that they could read in 15 minutes. And then hopefully, they could pass the test. And, and, obviously, it's, you know, it doesn't speak well of the art form that the art forms, purpose was merely to be a cheap, quick, dirty, crude way of getting your homework done. But the notion of adapting classic works well, there's nothing wrong with that. You know, movies adapt, classic works. And sometimes they're they can create quite compelling art in their own right, sometimes even better than the original. And that does exist in comics. But you see, the key word is illustrated Classics Illustrated, took this idea that here's the classic as this primary work, and now we're merely going to illustrate it now we're going to decorate it with our pictures. And instead, what you really want is classics visualized, you want a story that's been made visual and really thought through on every level. You know, as an example of that, I think there is there are some good examples, and one of them would be city of glass, which is one of the most teachable comics that I've ever encountered. I teach comics sometimes. And we've used that in the sort of book club segment, City of glasses and adaptation of the short story by Paul Auster. And it's put together by Paul classic and David Mazza Kelly, a couple of very talented folks. And it's they made a slim graphic novel graphic novella. If you like that. really brought out all the wonderful qualities of the original story. But it really adapted them into a different form. And it uses the form of comics in a very strong, compelling way, and creates sensations that were not present in the original work, but a very harmonious with the original work, just absolutely terrific. But we're not just going to illustrate classics, I really think we have to visualize them.
So So feeding off this word, visual and knowing that we're wrapping up soon, in understanding comics, you have this whole discussion about images versus icons, and how in a certain sense, if you simplify a face, it becomes more universal. And this is one of the ways that you introduce comics, it's really fascinating. And I encourage readers to look at it. And now I know you are working on on a large scale prod project that that it sounds like it doesn't. It isn't limited to comics, per se. It's it's its work on visual communication in general, I wonder if you talk just a little bit about the project now, and how its roots are in your earlier stuff, and what you're expanding so that people not only have a sense of what you're doing now and what to look forward to, but also have a sense of how the debates within the the comic art form is also connected to the visual communication debates in general.
Well, you know, one of the nice things about understanding comics is that when it came out in 1993, it was specifically about comics, and it was for comics, readers and comics artists. But very quickly, I started hearing from people in other fields, you heard from interface designers, from game designers, from people who, who made diagrams and maps, even even from people in other art forms like theater. Many of them found the ideas and understanding comics useful, because by drilling down so thoroughly into one specific art form, I had somehow hit the bedrock of foundational ideas for all art forms. So that idea of universal ideas of design was very compelling early on. And I started to get very interested in those other fields as well. And over the years, I've I've developed more of a keen eye for information, graphics, data visualizations, educational animation, signage, all of those things. And I found that a lot of them were grappling with a lot of the same challenges, and many of them had some of the same weaknesses as well. Many of them were violating certain fundamental principles of design. But each field seemed to be trying to reinvent the wheel, each of them seem to be, you know, barking up their own little tree, but not necessarily recognizing To what degree, their challenges were universal challenges. So I thought it might be useful to put together a book where I revisit those basic principles of visual communication, as applicable to many different disciplines. And so that's, that's why I started working on. But so in other words, I started with something very specific with understanding comics, I found that it had used universal applications. And now I'm heading straight into that universal design arena, and seeing if I have anything useful to say about how visual communication works generally.
Well, I can't imagine you don't the experience of reading your work is tremendously interesting. And I encourage the listeners, understanding comics, which is the first of two books, is I think, a must read for anybody for anyone who wants to understand the art form for anyone who wants to revisit this, these questions that they didn't know that they were interested in asking. And then you have for lack of a better term, a sequel called Making comics, which is takes the same principles and applies it to people who are interested in the structure and developing in theory, at least their own comics, they're incredibly accessible, they're fun, they're interesting, they're wonderful to look at. And I
learned there, we shouldn't we should say, jack that they're comics as well,
cuz they're comics, I get to see lots of picture of stylized pictures of you have a great, a great flash t shirt that you're wearing threat understanding comics. And I, I learned more, I mean, there philosophy books, and I learned more about comics. It's not simply that I learned more about comics from understanding comics than I learned from anything else. It's that what it allowed to do and incredibly helpful way for me is solidify, articulate and systematize everything that I learned about comics but didn't know how to organize in my own brain. And so it wasn't like someone was just telling me this stuff. It was tying it in with this, this lifetime of in and out into this into this this field. So I encourage everyone to get a copy of it. I'll have links on the web page. I'll have links to your page on the webpage. And and it's just been it's it's just another example of how Every field can be philosophical and sophisticated when you take it seriously. So Scott, thank you so much for joining us on why I love the process of preparing for this and I love the conversation. It's been a blast.
Thank you, jack. I had a great time. Thank you.
You've been listening to Scott McCloud and jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life we've been talking and asking about how to read a comic and I'll be back with a few more thoughts right after this.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein. And we just finished a conversation with Scott McCloud, author of understanding comics and making comics and writer artist and creator of zott. And so many other things, he actually wrote a comic for Google introducing the Chrome browser, lots of things to explore if you are interested. This was an interesting episode for me, because I'm the son of a visual artist, I'm the son of a painter jar, she's worked in installations, and I've spent my entire life surrounded by art, and artists, and comics. For me. While they were a personal experience, were always outside that category. It's not that I didn't know that the artists were artists. And not that I didn't know that the drawings could be considered art. And it's not even that I didn't have this deep love for some of them, it's that they were just a different category. And now that I've come back to comics, as an older person, as someone who has fewer limitations, and more comfortable with intellectual exploration, which I feel safe, but also, honestly looking for some more fun in my life, I'm able to look at comics from a wholly different perspective. And that's what I tried to communicate in this episode. I tried to channel the discourse that's been in my own head, about suddenly taking this thing that I thought was for kids, that deep down inside I knew was more and bring that out to say, Okay, what happens when I take this seriously, what happens when I look at this, not only with the philosophers I but with an art lovers I with someone who loves being surrounded by art and misses being in an exciting, boundary breaking art world where there surprises around every corner or on every wall. And what I discovered, of course, was, it was me, there was this whole conversation. For years and years, there was this whole discussion, there are great artists that are recognized in the comics community, there are classic issues and important panels, and great moments in time that anyone who knows the tradition and knows the history will be able to talk about the way that somebody talks about water lilies or Moby Dick. And it's not the art form that was lacking. And it was not the community of comic artists or lovers that were lacking. It was me and it was the culture that takes this thing that they think of as this commercial package for kid and does everything they can to denigrate it does everything they can to diminish it, not say it stinks, because then people would fight back. But just to say it's unimportant. It's irrelevant. And that's just wrong. The more you look at the history of comics, the more you see that it is an incredibly powerful social and political force, but even more so it's an incredibly important and powerful aesthetic force. It is an art form in itself. And like all art forms, it is as deep as you want it to be and it will reveal as much as you ask it to reveal, like all art, it gives you what you Give it. Give comics the time of day. spend a little time examining looking, asking, following some threads, it will be rewarding. In the end, it may not be the art form that interests you just like some people don't like opera and some people don't like country music and some people don't like non traditional texts like James Joyce, Ulysses. That's a personal preference. But there's a difference between saying, it's not for me and it's not art. And if there's anything that I want to communicate today, and Scott McCloud does it better than me? Is it is art, whether you recognize it or not. You've been listening to jack Russell Weinstein and why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
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