You'll All Be Sorry

Tue, January 18th, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Gail Simone, Guest Contributor

[Understanding Understanding Comics]

INTRODUCTION

I'm Scott McCloud. Or, more accurately, I'm the words of Scott McCloud. Or, even MORE accurately, I'm the ink symbols that REPRESENT the words of Scott McCloud. But that's a lot to remember. Just remember this, even though you can't prove it: I'm Scott McCloud. My drawing hand hurts, so just imagine the little cartoon guy with a lightning bolt on his shirt saying all this.

[Scott McCloud talking on a Cell Phone.]
"Hello, Aunt Alice? Please note that B&W has no color, see?"

That's me.

In 1993, I published a book titled UNDERSTANDING COMICS. It was revolutionary, because it, for the first time except for the other books that preceded it, examined comics as a form, and what comics mean and why, and there was some stuff in there about the Aztecs, too. THEY knew how to support their cartoonists. The editors back then were very strict, though. A simple misplaced Snake God could get you eviscerated and your whole temple wall cancelled.

One of the things I set out to do with that book was DEFINE comics. What IS Comics, I asked a lot of people? One guy stabbed me with a pen. If we make a chart of the responses to my question "What IS Comics?", it would look like this:

[A big graph]

What we see by this chart is that there is a wide

range of answers to this question, with most people

falling roughly in the middle, and the relatively rare

response of being stabbed with a pen at one extreme.

Charlie Brown is only PART of the wonderful panorama

that is the answer to "What Is Comics?"!

What do we learn from this? That my definition of comics, "JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE" didn't catch on like I thought it would, as catchy as that phrase is.

F***!

Anyway, that tells me that I need to do a book to help people understand my other book. But I'm tired of drawing that little me. Just imagine that the little cartoon me is saying all this. And don't skimp on the imaginary backgrounds!

In a perfect world, this would be a typical conversation between kids:

KID ONE: Hey! Let's go to the JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE store and get some JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE!

KID TWO: Yes! I ALSO enjoy JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE. My favorite is MARVEL JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE!

KID TWO: You're crazy! DC JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE are far superior!

Both kids are wrong, of course. The best JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE is Zot. I can't believe this didn't catch on...but in the REAL world, it's much more common to hear conversations like this one:

KID ONE: Boy, these electronic, soul-destroying "video games" are sure fun!

KID TWO: Much better than those "funny books!" Those SUCK, dude!

KID ONE: Let's go commit some CRIMES!

These kids are headed for a lot of trouble, and all because they didn't read my book carefully enough. But here's the catch: They're not real! They're just drawings I would have done if my hand didn't hurt! Ha! Comics can FOOL you! Man, if you could see the look on your face right now!

This is why a second book. So no one gets hurt.

CHAPTER ONE
UNDERSTANDING A METAPHOR FOR UNDERSTANDING

Apparantly, some people were left befuddled by the in-depth analysis in my last book. If you imagine my book as the top half of a bikini and the cups are filled with Sharkleberry Kool-Aid, one of the cups would represent people who understood the book, and the other would represent those who didn't. And that cup would hold about three gallons.

That's not a very good metaphor. Imagine two fat guys with cowboy hats on scooter bikes. The one that is going downhil hits a homeless guy, then comes back and runs over him again and again...

No, that's no good.

Got it! Imagine a pie, a nice Dutch Apple pie, and cut a teeny slice. Those are the people that understood my chapter on Time Frames. Now eat the pie. Tastes good, doesn't it? HA! FOOLED YOU AGAIN! There IS no pie!

NOW do you see why you need this book? Safety first, I say. Understanding Comics is harder than it seems, isn't it? I'm glad I decided to write a book to help people understand the first book that was supposed to help people understand comics. Everything is crystal-clear now for you, I bet.

CHAPTER TWO
AGAIN WITH THE "WHAT IS COMICS?"

To understand comics, first we must UNDERSTAND comics. What are comics? Jeez, PAY ATTENTION!

Comics are drawings. But what ARE drawings?

Drawings are lines.

But what ARE lines?

Here is a typical line:







There are MANY kinds of lines. This is just one of them. The best one.

Some comics have way too many lines. These are called "AWESOME COMICS." While other comics may have only a line or two per issue. These are called "SIN CITY."

Many people think that lines originated in 1937, with the advent of DETECTIVE COMICS #1. These people are hopeless. Ignore them. They're the ones who insist Zot wasn't the first superhero. They're big meanies.

Lines go back quite a bit further than 1937. In fact, lines have been with us since at least 1200 B.C., as evidenced by this lavish illustration I'm too tired to reproduce. See? See the lines? So, does this mean the ancient Mesopotamians had comics?

I guess so. But they probably had a lot more stories about milling wheat and fishing than about superheroes. But wouldn't it be cool if some Neanderthal had done a cave painting called "Understanding Cave Paintings?" There's really no end to how much I could talk about the history of comics, if I liked research more than just fevered introspection.

Still, what if the problem of Understanding my book is more simple than that?

CHAPTER THREE
READING UNDERSTANDING COMICS

I'm going to take a different approach here. In response to my last book, here are some of the fictional letters I received:

Dear Mr. McCloud,

After reading your book, I was dismayed to find that there were no actual instructions for READING these comics. Thus, I find that I am unable to UNDERSTAND them, as your title clearly implied. Do you have any advice for someone who can't read?

Sincerely,

Just a guy

Yes. Keep it to yourself, like the dark, dirty secret

it is. Fortunately, there are a variety of comics you

may enjoy without being able to read. In the case of

some Image comics, that may in fact be an advantage.

Still, it's gross, so don't write me again. It's not

too late to consider becoming an alcoholic, though.

If I ever write a book titled UNDERSTANDING MY OWN

LOSER-HOOD, I'll send you a copy. You think I'm being

hard on you? Well, boo-hoo, Mr.

Can't-Read-This-Letter. I'm not your mommy. If I'd

been your mommy, I'd have put you in the corner and

made you sit there 'til you understood comics,

including Time Frames.

Dear Mr. McCloud,

Is there any way that you could help me understand my

OWN comics? I mean, I get the Robot Ape thing, but the

rest just goes WOOOSH right over my head!

Sincerely,

Todd McFarl…Er, John Smith

Dear John,

To answer your letter, first we must UNDERSTAND your letter. And I'm too busy. But if I DID understand your letter, I might do a scale like this:

INFINITY, INC.---> SPIDER-MAN---> SPAWN---> BARBIES FOR FANBOYS

From this scale, it's easy to postulate a possible future, as evidenced by this second scale:

BARBIES FOR FANBOYS---> VENEREAL DISEASE ---> BRAIN ROT ---> INSTITUTIONALIZATION

And finally, of course, a lonely confinement, purchasing invisible baseballs from "space athletes."

He should have bought my book.

CHAPTER FOUR
UNDERSTANDING TODAY'S COMICS

Maybe this would be easier if we tried to actually apply the principles learned here to some current popular comics. Let's take a look at some of these books, and really UNDERSTAND them.

Okay! Using the things we've discussed and a game-master's screen with all my charts, let's look at:

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA

All right…well, let's see. Superman is being attacked by some sort of fish-like God-being, and the angel guy is talking about the Seventh Host and then he's transported to a place where the words have no vowels, Plastic Man is making some hilarious joke I don't get

at ALL, and Flash, at least I think it's Flash (he's

drawn all blurry) is vibrating his molecules and

creating some sort of sub-atomic…For Pete's sake!

Let's move on. My charts aren't helping.

PREACHER

This book mainly seems to be about cussing and feces.

Good use of action-to-action panel sequences, but I

got a bit queasy where the dog ate the guy's thingie.

One thing I don't get is how these people have all

their teeth and are still supposed to be Texan. There

was a point where I thought I was beginning to

understand this comic, but then a big fat guy landed

on the descendant of...never mind.

X-MEN

…If any of YOU understand this comic, will you please

send me a chart? I swear to God, I think maybe it's

written in Lebanese.

Maybe it would help if I make a chart. Let's call

this, the Circle of X-Men.

[The Circle of X-Men]

Hmm. On second thought, maybe this current comics thing was a bad idea. I think maybe I'm over-analyzing. That's what my ex-girlfriend used to say when we would argue. I still have a scar where she hit me with a shovel.

Maybe today's comics aren't WORTH understanding. Maybe they're just for "collecting."

Unlike Zot.

CHAPTER FIVE
UNDERSTAND COPPING OUT

Okay, it's obvious by now that I used up all the good stuff in my first book. Anyway, it's been great undestanding comics with you all.

Um. Thanks for reading. And understanding.

I hope you've found it enlightening, and I hope you

understand your enlightenment. Trust me, it wasn't

easy drawing that little me ten thousand times, so

this is the end of our journey in understanding.

Go forth and understand!

Other books by Scott McCloud…

UNDERSTANDING COMICS (Out of print)


UNDERSTANDING FRENCH TOAST (Out of print)


UNDERSTANDING WALKING (Out of Print)


UNDERSTANDING GETTING YELLED AT FOR NOT DOING MY CHORES (Out of print)


UNDERSTANDING SELLING BLOOD TO MAKE THE MORTGAGE (Out of print)


UNDERSTANDING DOING ODD JOBS AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOOD FOR FOOD MONEY (Out of print)


UNDERSTANDING POKEMON (Now in its 15th printing!)


And a big YABS thanks to Scott McCloud for the use of his logo and illustrations. Visit Scott at http://www.scottmccloud.com/

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