Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is surprisingly elegant in its dissection and analysis of the comic. In discussing Spiegelman's Maus, the question of whether or not it is effective as a memoir in the form of a comic was raised. I cannot imagine McCloud's piece existing in any other format and still succeeding in disseminating the art of comic strips. At times the panels are hard to follow physically, but, in general, presenting visual information and examples along with the written explanation is very beneficial to the reader.
I especially appreciate the techniques featured in comics as described in this work. In the present culture, it is all too easy to dismiss comics as vulgar and low brow. After all, if the creator were any good at writing or drawing, wouldn't he or she be a novelist or a painter? From a strictly analytical perspective, Understanding Comics is excellent. It discusses the vocabulary of comics and breaks the genre down into its contingent parts in a step by step process. McCloud then takes these pieces and expounds upon their purpose in the past and present and their possible uses in different contexts and styles. In particular, I was impressed by his clinical and artistic treatment of the “gutter,” the dead space between panels. This space is often taken for granted, but has great implications to the art form. Making these gutters wider or longer or eliminating them altogether have consequences that affect the reader in a significant way.
It is especially interesting to compare current comics to Aztec and Egyptian art as well as in their early twentieth century European forms. Looked at in the context of our class, it seems that McCloud's Understanding Comics is a mapping device for a specific culture in much the same way that The Whale Rider and Borderlands/La Frontera are. Rather than exploring a particular people, though, McCloud analyzes the history and growth of a form of literature. Consequently, he comes to look at many nations, peoples, and histories in regard to a single facet. Japanese comics have a very different style from western comics and value certain principles of art and storytelling on a different scale. These cultures shape comics, but the comics also shape the worlds that they exist in. This seems to be McCloud's main argument and it is this argument that allows for wacky, humorous comics as well as serious, historical comics such as Maus. The only limits of the comic strip as a form of literature are the skills of the creators and the willingness of the readers.