The Book of Visual and Invisible Art
March 27, 2012 § 1 Comment
“Understanding comics,” says Scott McCloud, in a defining panel of his book, “is serious business.” He then proceeds to prove his point gloriously. In fact, in his able hands, understanding comics is more than serious business; it is a delightful pleasure as well.
With great erudition shining through a wacky sense of humor, McCloud talks us through the history of the comic book from the cavemen of Lascaux to Jack Kirby, Herge, Art Spiegelman and beyond, the elements of visualization and verbiage involved, the tricks and techniques of putting it all together to create illusions of time, space and motion in the mind of the reader, even in part the economics, but mainly the aesthetics: the (I use the term advisedly) philosophy behind the comic book.
The main preoccupation of McCloud is in establishing the precise place occupied by the comic book in the star-studded pantheon of visual art in the twentieth century, hemmed in somewhere between Piet Mondrian, Claude Monet, Wassily Kandinsky, and Magritte on the one side and the world of literature on the other. In doing so, he manages to locate his own book alongside Marshall McLuhan‘s Understanding Media and Roland Barthes‘ Mythologies, as works that taught me to look for beauty and deeper insights where one would not suspect the existence of any. McCloud’s self-referential artwork is witty throughout, and makes the reading experience an immensely enjoyable one.
I am also very pleased that McCloud has taken the effort to be inclusive: he has space (and time) in his discussion for mainstream comics and ‘underground’ artists, and for Japanese and Belgian pioneers as well as Americans. This lends his work the commanding authority that it needs, in order for it to make a convincing case for the inclusion of the comic book as a valid genre of visual art, to bring into sharp focus a subject that has been largely invisible to art critics and historians around the world.
My only regret is that McCloud does not adequately explore the deep debt comic books owe to cinema. The technique of closure, for instance, that McCloud explains in a brilliant section, surely has antecedents in DW Griffith‘s pioneering use of camera cuts, and later innovations in merging soundtracks with on-screen action.
In recent visits to bookstores, I have noted with disgust the sudden boom in books that talk of things like the ‘Philosophy of Harry Potter’, ‘Inception and Philosophy‘, or ‘The Science of Super-heroes‘. I am sure ‘The Psychology of Snooki’ is right around the corner. Just because I like the thought of aesthetics in mundane things does not mean I have lost all power of discrimination. I have to assert, therefore, that McCloud’s book does not fall in this category. I am moved enough to offer (with a lot of enthusiastic assistance from my son) this slightly pathetic homage to the art medium (for indeed, I am now convinced it is one) and to McCloud himself: