Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics Summaries and Notes

Chapter 1: Setting the record straight

Comic books basically refer to sequential art. Individually, those images are just images but putting even two together gives you a comic. Comics can have any ideas and any content.

Animation is different from comics in a way that animation is sequential in time and not in space. Each frame in a movie is the same size but in comic each is different.

First comic was created in 1519 and is considered one because it had sequential art.

Egyptians read their comics zig-zag.

A series of paintings was made to be viewed side-by-side, just like comic panels are.

Mid 1800’s panels and border to separate different pictures started to take form into comics.

Comics and cartoons are not the same thing. What the definition of comics does not include is the idea of a single frame and and that is what we call cartoons. They have a very close relationship and use a similar language but are not the same.

Chapter 2: The vocabulary of comics

First two pages were low-key mind blowing.

Some pictures are just more iconic than others.

Words are a total abstraction of ideas or pictures whereas icons have some resemblance to ideas or pictures.

The power of cartoons lies in their ability to focus our attention only on an idea and nothing that does not help in completing that purpose.

The more you abstract an image, the more it can relate to other images.

When we smile, we see nothing but we only have a general idea of what we look like. Even when you are looking at others, you can see every detail of their face but only have a vague interpretation of yours. When you look at realistic images, you see others but cartoons can be relatable.

Contrasting iconic characters with realistic background; it allows the viewers to relate yet experience the stimulating world.

The three vertices of the triangle: the picture plane; words, reality.

Chapter 3: Blood in the gutter

The phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole is called closure. We complete what is incomplete in the picture through our past experiences and images. Closure is not something continuous or involuntary.

Gutters adds a sort of silence between scenes. Closure leaves things left to the reader (there is nothing to be seen), and yet it helps build their imaginations about what is going to happen next in a story. Moment to moment panels require less closure, whereas action to action or subject to subject or scene to scene might not.

“The art of comics is as subtractive an art as it is additive.”

“As closure between panels becomes more intense, reader interpretation becomes far more elastic.”

Chapter 4: Time Frames

Even if there is a single panel, it does not mean a single moment. As you read the words or speech bubbles, basically sound, in that single panel, you are thinking of sound, which can only exist in time. Even a single panel can show a couple of moments instead of a single one.

Portraying time on a vertical axis, moving from left to right, makes it confusing.

In comics, time is almost the same thing as space. The larger the panel, the more the time is being given to that moment. Using panels that do not have a border, or using panels that are on the corner of the page or “Bleed” again without any borders, portrays timelessness. Sound panels and silent panels portray time differently. Silent panel seem to be more in the moment.

There are many ways to set your panels: vertical, horizontal, circular. In a horizontal comic, to understand something in the past panel you may need to go to the future panel and these both maybe connected vertically in a way.

Motion also represents time. Side to side frames or sequential frames of someone doing an action can show how that time passed. More frames might delay the time and it might feel like slow motion, but less frames would feel like time passed faster, like a time lapse.

Motion can also be showed through making “motion lines.”

Subject in motion vs the background in motion.

Continuous Backgrounds can also show time, while the subject is moving and the details of the background might be changing, but the frame is set in one place.

Chapter 5: Living in Line

Different emotions can be conveyed using different lines, curves or patterns. Sharp lines might represent a shock and more rounded shapes might represent innocence. Lines are expressive.

Use of Synaesthetics, which is linking and using all senses to expressive one another senses, to make the invisible visible.

Expressing a hot thing, a sharp thing, a bright thing or garbage can all be done through the use of different kinds of lines. And when used even without words, we immediately understand because these have become symbols. Even human expressions like being tired, scared or ashamed can all be represented from these symbols without any use of context.

The backgrounds can depict a mood or the subject can itself. For example in van goth’s paintings, the backgrounds deeply depict the emotion being expressed, but a similar emotion can be expressed in a different way if instead of the the background, the subject has the emotion on its face.

Word balloons and the font in them can also express several emotions. The font here also sort of plays with lines and curves.

Chapter 6: Show and Tell

Words and pictures together can make massive effects on the story and characters of a comic. They both don’t always have to explicitly define what is accurately happening at a time. A word balloon might show a character of a person, or a zoom up view of someone’s eyes might depict the emotions in their mind.

Word and pictures operated. Pictures started becoming more abstract and what invisible to the eye, and words started becoming more direct and simple; to the point.

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