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The Invisible Art of Staking Through the Heart - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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June 4th, 2008


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10:30 pm - The Invisible Art of Staking Through the Heart
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is one of those books that anyone with the slightest interest in comics is supposed to check out, so I, being someone with the slightest interest in comics, checked it out. It is a book about comics told as a comic. While I was disappointed that it didn't go as in-depth as I was hoping (I may have to check out Eisner's book), it was a really fascinating text aimed squarely at an introductory reader. Which many of you may be.

McCloud begins by defining comics ("juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence"—"sequential art" for short) and then uses his definition to explore the history of the medium, showing that comics have really been around a lot longer than comic books. Then he starts going into how comics work, primarily focusing on the visual aspect and examining how a reader responds to certain images and icons. He makes a really interesting observation about the degree of reader identification possible in different art styles: a cartoony drawing without much detail allows the reader to more easily see himself as the character, whereas a more realistic drawing doesn't leave as much room for interpretation. It's not something we do consciously, but a lot of McCloud's observations are about our subconscious reactions that inform our readings. He develops a whole system of aesthetics for the pictorial vocabulary, a triangle with vertices of Reality (where pictures represent reality), Language (where pictures simply communicate an idea), and the Picture Plane (where pictures are just shapes).

Then he moves on to look at comics themselves and makes a point I never really thought about before: we fill in the spaces between panels. What is on the panels is what is on the panels, but our minds are what do the work of connecting them. This leads to a look at the wonkiness of time in comics and the ways in which panels can fit into the time-space continuum. He talks about the use of lines, the different ways in which dialogue/words interact with the pictures to tell a story, and color. And he has a whole chapter about the creative process. Throughout the book, he compares the evolution of comics in the Western world to that in Japan, where comics/manga are quite different from what we're used to.

It would be useless to try to summarize the whole book when you can just read it yourself; it's a pretty quick read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in comics, as it does make you look at them in a new light, not just because McCloud staunchly defends comics as an art form but because he makes you think about what you're actually doing when you read and process a comic.

And, armed with this knowledge, I can give you my (generally non-spoilery) assessment of Buffy: Season 8 so far!

The Long Way Home (Joss Whedon): B- (I was pretty underwhelmed by the first arc. Joss seemed like he was trying way too hard to recapture the characters' voices, and the whole thing seemed like it was just designed to please fanboys, with three issues in a row using the Appearance-of-a-Character Cliffhanger. There wasn't a whole lot of substance.)
"The Chain" (Joss Whedon): A (This issue was fantastic. It's better written and more emotionally compelling than all four preceding issues combined, and it's about a character we've never seen before. Hands down the best thing to come out of this idea so far. It would be an A+ if it weren't for the random faeries. What the hell?)
No Future for You (Brian K. Vaughan): B+ (I had really high expectations for this arc, and while I thought Vaughan did good with the character, I don't feel like we really learned much more about her. It was a good story, though.)
"Anywhere but Here" (Joss Whedon): B (I found this issue really confusing, and I'm still not sure I understand what the hell it's about and what happened at the end.)
"A Beautiful Sunset" (Joss Whedon): A- (I think Joss is at his best when he's delving into the thoughts of the characters, so an issue of Buffy musings works much better than...whatever the hell the last issue was. And it's always good to really examine the consequences of what Buffy did in "Chosen," as he did in "The Chain." Plus, the little tease with the identity of Twilight was cute. Even when individual stories haven't grabbed me, I'm still caught up in the ongoing/seasonal arc.)
Wolves at the Gate (Drew Goddard): B+ (I really enjoyed the humor in this arc, even though there was a serious story running through it. Ultimate Drew kept it pretty light and also made Dawn pay off in a big way. Pun possibly intended. More importantly, he did well with the various character relationships.)

OVERALL: B/B+ (I gave the four-issue arcs four times the weight and did the math. So far, Joss is bringing the series down more than he's bringing it up, though a lot of the damage was in the first arc. The next arc looks exciting, and I think the series has found its footing.)
GEORGES JEANTY'S ART: C+ (Oh my God, it's kind of awful. I've been spoiled by artists who can actually draw people and bother to draw faces on everyone in every panel. Characters can look different from panel to panel, and you can't always tell who a character is just at a glance. Geez, Eduardo Risso's art may be (intentionally) ugly as shit, but at least it's comprehensible.)
JO CHEN'S COVERS: A++++++ (Holy God, so beautiful. So hot. Painted covers FTW, always and forever.)
Current Mood: geekygeeky
Current Music: OK Go - Here It Goes Again

(27 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:niteflite
Date:June 5th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
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Oh man. You do know about Scott McCloud's other two books in the series as well, Making Comics and Reinventing Comics? And then the fact that he pretty much is the driving force behind the 24-hour comic project?

He's kind of like the cool professor of comics.

Also, I just can't for the life of me get into Buffy season 8. I don't know.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 05:51 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I want to check out McCloud's other two books, too! And I haven't encountered much about the 24-hour Comic Project, but it sounds good.

There's definitely an obstacle to overcome to read Buffy as a comic after seven years of watching it as a television show. Once you jump that hurdle, though, it's good stuff.
From:sainfoin_fields
Date:June 5th, 2008 06:15 am (UTC)
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Psst, make your spoilerbar text black as well! Text still shows up whatever color it normally does on one's friendspage.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 06:19 am (UTC)
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Oooh, crazy times! Thanks for the tip. Sorry if I spoiled you. It wasn't anything big.
From:sainfoin_fields
Date:June 5th, 2008 06:21 am (UTC)
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I'm caught up except for the most recent issue. No worries!
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 06:22 am (UTC)
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Wait, this is my code:

[span style="background-color:black;"][font color="black"][/font][/span]

That should make the font black. Is your style overriding it for some reason?
From:sainfoin_fields
Date:June 5th, 2008 06:25 am (UTC)
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Huh, I guess it must be? I didn't do this code, so... good to know.
[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:June 5th, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, it's overriding on mine too, weird. Luckily I have dark brown text so I can barely see it (I'm not caught up and I WANT TO BE.)(Also I bet our comic store wants us to be because I haven't picked them up in months, haha.)
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:June 5th, 2008 11:20 am (UTC)
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I laughed so hard at the thing you describe under the spoiler bar when I saw it.

And I share your love for Jo Chen's beautiful painted covers. My old comic shop guy knew that when there were two covers to pick from, I damned well wanted the Jo Chen one. She also does most of the covers for BKV's Runaways (which you need to read) and they're fantastic.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 05:23 pm (UTC)
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I laughed so hard at the thing you describe under the spoiler bar when I saw it.
It was pretty great. Oh, Joss.

Painted covers are superior, period! I also love James Jean's covers for Fables.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 04:33 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, that was cute. Hee.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 5th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
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I love Jo Chen's covers - the best.
[User Picture]
From:gymble
Date:June 5th, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)
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I've only read The Long Way Home so far, and it's good to know that it gets better. There was a bit of a disconnect in going from the TV medium to the comic book medium.

And yeah, one of the things that really bugged me about the drawing style is that it's surprisingly difficult to tell the characters apart.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
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I've only read The Long Way Home so far, and it's good to know that it gets better.
Yeah, the rest of it feels like actual storytelling as opposed to LOOK AT ME I AM THE BUFFY COMIC WHEEEEE.

Did you like "The Chain," though?

There was a bit of a disconnect in going from the TV medium to the comic book medium.
Yeah, I completely agree. It took some getting used to.

And yeah, one of the things that really bugged me about the drawing style is that it's surprisingly difficult to tell the characters apart.
I don't get it! I mean, why can't he draw them consistently? Everyone else I read has no problem!
[User Picture]
From:gymble
Date:June 5th, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
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Did you like "The Chain," though?
I only have the first trade. Is there more to it than the issue at the end of that? I think that I liked it ... but I can't remember all that well.

why can't he draw them consistently?
I wonder if part of the problem is that the characters have to look like the actors we all got used to for seven years. So there's less freedom in developing consistent characteristics.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)
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I only have the first trade. Is there more to it than the issue at the end of that? I think that I liked it ... but I can't remember all that well.
No, it's just that one great issue.

I wonder if part of the problem is that the characters have to look like the actors we all got used to for seven years. So there's less freedom in developing consistent characteristics.
Yeah, I think I read that the artist was told not to try too hard to mimic the actors, though, and to draw the characters. And, come on, if Bryan Hitch can consistently draw Nick Fury to look like Samuel L. Jackson...
[User Picture]
From:teapot37
Date:June 5th, 2008 08:49 pm (UTC)
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I am actually reading some of Scott McCloud's criticism right now. (Well, not right now. Right now, I'm typing this comment. But you get the idea.)

Your next assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to read Bone. The complete story (all 1300+ pages from 55 issues) is available as a single trade paperback that you can get on Amazon for about $27. Based on what you've read and liked, I really think you'll dig it.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
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It's only $27 for all that?? Shit, that's a hell of a deal. I've heard great things about Bone, but it's a big one to tackle. 1300 pages! 13 years!

And there's also Cerebus, which is even longer.
[User Picture]
From:teapot37
Date:June 5th, 2008 11:01 pm (UTC)
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The MSRP on the One Volume Edition is only $40! It being inexpensive like that only helps increase its visibility and popularity.

The original books are in black & white. Scholastic is currently reprinting the books in color (currently, seven of nine total volumes have been published, with number 8 due at the beginning of August).

Really, it's not any longer than Y the Last Man. It was just published over a longer period of time (which, being self-published, is understandable).

I'm a little bit scared to read Cerebus. One, because of the length, and two, Dave Sim kinda went a little bit nuts towards the end.

I think the next series I read will probably be Strangers In Paradise. Or maybe I'll get around to reading the whole thing of American Flagg!, if I can ever get around to tracking down the back issues I'm missing.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 11:04 pm (UTC)
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I've heard good things about Strangers in Paradise too.

And Bone does appear to be only 55 issues or so, but it's daunting to have all in one place!
[User Picture]
From:capnnick
Date:June 5th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
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Having read his other books first I found much of the material in Understanding Comics to be a tad redundant, but it was still a good read.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 5th, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
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Does this mean that I'll find his other two books redundant, then? I'm interested in Reinventing Comics, at least, because it was supposed to be OMG CONTROVERSIAL in its look at how comics had changed since he wrote this book.
[User Picture]
From:capnnick
Date:June 5th, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC)
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You may find them so. Honestly, I think the only people that would find McCloud's views on comics controversial are people that don't actually like comics.
[User Picture]
From:cucumbersarnies
Date:June 6th, 2008 06:11 am (UTC)
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What was the spoiler? I have read what you put under the bar but I don't understand if it was an actual clue to the character's true identity. My limited understanding of the grammar of comic books keeps failing me with the Buffy comic. I am missing sooooo much.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 6th, 2008 06:16 am (UTC)
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It wasn't an actual clue, just a gag. But I didn't want to ruin the moment for people who hadn't gotten that far because it's pretty damn funny.

P.S. I just downloaded a Maximo Park song and liked it!
[User Picture]
From:cucumbersarnies
Date:June 15th, 2008 07:41 pm (UTC)
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Yay! C'mon the Park!

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