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Understatement Comics - A book review

If you have not read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, you definitely should start reading it now. This book, as the titles goes, talks about the different layers that you can find in a comic, understand the different meanings and ways of seeing when you read a comic. The factors he shared, are very applicable when one wish to embark in static or moving images.

Comic, as Scott mentioned, did not derive from an intuitive art perspective or an art movement that revolved into what you see now – although, come to think about it, there should have been a movement for comics, people would have appreciated it better! Comics came in earlier than one would imagine, dated to the time where once man considered to be the ruler of the realm, the mystical days of the Egyptian era or perhaps, something Scott did not mentioned, the prehistoric cave man drawings, which are the first of its kind, simplified drawings of pre-historic humans.

Comics, more often than not, are seen as a narrative platform that entails creative visionary from the artist in different type of styles ranging from country to country. It is a series of stationery imagery that allows participatory imagination of the readers mind as they read it. It is, a very interesting form of Art in my honest opinion. However, it has never been considered as a class of high art despite the quality that it has produced over the years. You probably may question why and who would allow this unjust act of depreciating value of comic as a piece of Art? Unfortunately, it is the state of mind of every one who perceive Comics as a mere piece of cartoon presented in a non-linear visual, this 'orgranised mess' could not be perceived as High Art because of the way it is presented, if you put it in a business term, the target audience are not meant for the upper class. Although, Scott mentioned of Max Ernst whose intricate woodcut collage was seen as piece of art. However, Max’s intention was for the viewer to read what he has inscribed on the wood, a concept driven by comics. This idea of sequential art as seen in Max Ernst and other works like Monet’s are art in series of images, but, they are never referred to as comics, which by itself is contradictory.

There is a fine line between a work that is regarded as high art or comics, the distinction to define between the both lies not on the quality of the work, but rather, on the the characters and objects presented in the artwork. If the work of the artist is presented in realism, without the presence of any cartoon characters, there is a possibility that it would be read as a painting as apposed to comics.

In comics however, there is a freedom of play for the viewer to intertwine between reality and the intended storyline. You are probably confused and shocked by this statement, so was I. But Scott’s analogy of using simplified drawings which we often see in animation was not an act of laziness, or because the artist did not bother to make the animation or character look like a human. The simplified version of a character, which we call cartoon, allow the viewer to imagine deeper. It allows the viewer to add in characteristics of the cartoon character based on what the viewer would want to see, this allows freedom for the viewer to give his or her opinion or input. If you have taken drawing lessons before, you would know that sometimes it is best to leave some details out, not because we intentionally want it to be a mistake, but leaving some details would allow the human mind to fill the missing gap, because naturally, we know how it looks like, even if we don’t, it heightens the imaginary part of our brain, which at the end of the day, is what animation all about.

Perception of time is something that could be difficult, especially when we try to lengthen a pause in a scene. However, Scott’s rendition of lengthening a pause in comics may be applicable in other areas of moving images. In comics, other than extending the same frame over a few times or making the space between a panel bigger, making the shape of a frame longer in a comic could also help in displaying the idea of a pause. Ironically, in moving images, it is very applicable. By having a long shot of a frame, we could suggest the idea of waiting or a pause.

Emotions are usually set based on lighting, the colour, the emotional change on a character’s face or even the body language. The idea of invisible ideas to express an emotion might trigger slight confusion. But what exactly is invisible lines? Can it be seen as an expressive way to display emotions? Lines are expressive on its own according to Scott. A distorted or expressionistic background would usually affect the readers inner state, even straight lines could imitate movement. Multiple short lines could indicate slow movement while multiple long thin lines could indicate fast movement.

If we compile everything together, it is interesting to note that we could apply some of this elements in moving images. It has paved an avenue of possibilities for one to express his creativity.

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