Scott McCloud: communicating with the Kapow! of comic books

Connor White

What does a “scientific mind” do in the arts? Well, I started making comics, but I also started trying to understand them almost immediately.”

Science and philosophy aren’t common venues to explore using comic books, not while there are faces to punch and wisecracks to spout. If they are present within the medium, however, they conform to the rules of the universe presented within the comic itself, which is rarely steeped in any sort of legitimate fact. There have been more than a few to delve into more meaningful themes and storylines, showcasing comics’ potential, but the medium as a whole is far from the level of scrutiny traditional novels or films undertake.

That wasn’t good enough for Scott McCloud.

Born in 1960 in Massachusetts, McCloud wanted to be a comic artist as early as high school. With comics still considered a product mostly for younger kids, college programs suited to his needs were few and far in between. Eventually, he enrolled in Syracuse University’s Illustration program and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1982.

McCloud jumped head-first into the industry, creating his first comic book, the light-hearted science fiction/superhero series “Zot!”, a separation from the gritty and predominantly violent direction comics were taking. He explored issues such as bigotry, homosexuality and a sense of belonging throughout the comic’s publication, portraying his hero (the eponymous Zot) as socially liberal. The series was nominated for many awards, including the prestigious Eisner Award in several categories such as Best Writer and Best Continuing Series.

Three years after “Zot!” had been written, McCloud released a nonfiction work of comics entitled “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art”, a 215-page dissection of the medium itself. Exploring comics’ formalities, their history, and their fundamental building blocks, this was McCloud’s love letter to the industry, why he had been attracted to the medium in the first place. In the book, McCloud describes comics as a valuable means of communication, and theorizes its potential as an art form equal to film or music.

During a presentation at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference, he summarized that comics are a visual medium, but they try to embrace all of the senses within it. So, the different elements of comics, like pictures and words and the different symbols and everything in between that comics presents are all funneled through the single conduit of vision.” He postulated that comics offered a freedom unavailable to other mediums in which the artist gives you something to see within the panels, and then gives you something to imagine between the panels.”

Despite some disagreement over McCloud’s conclusions present within the book, it received praise from industry giants such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Will Eisner for its insight into comics’ design and function, and has become a common reference in debate.

McCloud wasn’t done, however, and released a sequel in 2000. “Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form” continued his themes and ideas, predicting twelve “revolutions” necessary for the medium to survive into the future. The book was more controversial than its predecessor, and McCloud has acknowledged that the book was “a product of it’s time”.

This focus on the theory of comics and their function earned him the moniker the “Aristotle of comics” and he has continued to develop his views at conferences and experiments with his own work, publishing the findings on his website.

This Wednesday, he will be featured at Georgia Southern for a presentation on comics and visual communication. The event will take place in the College of Education in room 1115 at 5:30 p.m.