What does a scientific mind do in the arts?
The author of ‘Understanding Comics’, Scott McCloud answers this question in this talk about the magic of comics.
Of all the senses, McCloud values sight the most. His father was born with full sight but a bacterial infection caused both him and his sister to go blind as children. He went on to study in Harvard and became a scientist, engineer and military contractor, racking up a number of patents for guidance systems. McCloud himself was a nerdy child, interested in politics and the space program and microbiology. When his friend gave him his first comic book at 14, he knew that was what he wanted to do.
McCloud tells us his father had a blind faith in his abilities as a cartoonist, despite being unable to see his work. McCloud himself has little time for faith in the unknown, preferring to trust the scientific version. However there is a middle ground and it lies within the vision where things which have yet to be proved are reasonably possible.
There are four basic principles to following this vision; learn from everyone, follow no-one, watch for patterns and work like hell. The third principle is where visions of the future begin to manifest themselves. McCloud has named the four different ways of looking at the world; the Classicist, the Animist, the Formalist and the Iconoclast. These seemed to correspond to Jung’s four divisions of human thought.
When McCloud started making comics he also began to try and understand them.Through the visual medium of comics the storyteller tries to embrace all the senses. Pictures, words and symbols are all transmitted via the visual conduit. Sound and its texture are represented visually. Comic structure also represents time, in a temporal map also present in ancient history (such as the Tomb of the Scribe in ancient Egypt).
Once print was invented in 1450, the structure and characteristics of modern comics began to shine through. Speech bubbles appeared within 100 years. In 1993 McCloud began looking at post-print comics, examining how they could use CD ROMS. In the beginning they transferred comics directly onto screens, which broke with the continuity of presentation. McCloud then hit on the idea of the infinite canvas; creating a turn on the screen which was literally a turn, doing circular narratives which were literally circular. He shows examples of 2 from the early 90s.
Modern developments in the comic, according to McCloud, mean they have become more comic-like than ever before. According to him, this allows us to enter the world through many windows and ultimately see its shape.