Thursday, January 10, 2013

Understanding Comics

“Understanding Comics” is a perfect blend of educational and informative literature. It delves into the psychology behind cartoons and how we relate to them in a way that I’ve never read before. The novel sparked a lot of “aha” moments when describing what makes cartoons and comics so appealing and I completely understand why this is known as the definitive book on comics.

An idea that I found fascinating is when Scott McCloud explained why it’s so easy to relate to cartoons. The more simplified a cartoon is, the easier it is to relate yourself to the character. He explains that the human brain takes in the appearance of others in vivid detail while our sense of self is more vague. We don’t see what we look like all the time. This is a concept that I’ve noticed for years but have never been able to explain. I see these principles all the time when I babysit. I can watch any cartoon with a group of kids and they will immediately start assigning who in the room is which character on the show. Regardless if the characters are crudely drawn or even a completely different species. They become instantly invested in what’s happening because they have made this connection to the character that they think best encompasses them. 

McCloud then makes the distinction between the sensory and conceptual world in cartoons. Everything in relation to us, or the character we are relating to, is a part of the conceptual experience while the objects and settings are sensory. This is why a lot of cartoons place their simplistically drawn characters in much more detailed worlds. The cartoon is the mask that we as the viewer are putting on and the world is a rich and exciting place for us to explore. This concept is used all over the place in animation and it’s even apparent in CG movies. For instance, in the movie Tangled, all of the characters are modeled to be stylized in a typical Disney fashion. They all have large expressive eyes and their faces aren’t too realistically textured with extraneous details like pores. Despite the character’s simplicity, the landscapes of the film are almost photorealistic. There are individual blades of grass in the fields and rays of sunlight shining through trees.

It’s exactly the aesthetic type that Scott McCloud describes in the graphic novel and now I understand why so many cartoons choose this technique. How could you not want to picnic in that forrest? This technique is so common place in comics and cartoons that you don't even think about it. "Understanding Comics" gave me the underlying meaning behind comic book conventions and my experience with the medium will become much richer because of it. 

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