Wednesday, November 14, 2007

As a child, I would read comics every Sunday morning when I got home from Church. My sister, Jenna, and I would fight over the rainbow pages of the Sunday Record, looking to glean whatever we could from Garfield, Jump Start, Ziggy, Cathy, and, of course, good old Charlie Brown. This practice was close to ritual. We would throw the rest of the newspaper pages, Arts and Society, Business, Finance, World News, and who knows whatever down, strewing them across my mother’s newly pickled hardwood floor without a moment’s thought. Then, when my dad needed a section, Jenna would tell him that I was the one who had thrown them helter-skelter, even though she “tried to stop me.” I would huff and puff as I was made to pick up the sections and neatly fold them again while Jenna would look on with a mean smirk and glowing blue-green eyes, the same color as my own. But then again, this was the girl who had promised, “Hit me. I promise I won’t tell mom.” Which I feel for every time, never failing to deprive myself of dessert for any given week. I can remember my mom’s strong, calm voice as she reminded me, “Courtney, we do not hit people- even if they ask us to.” But that’s another therapy session entirely.
Needless to say, my exposure to comics was limited. Aside from the Sunday funnies and my uncle’s yellowing Archie collection we kept stored in our garage, I didn’t have much knowledge of comics or comic books. Finding out that Superman was a picture before he was a real guy would have completely blown away my concept of reality, in an overly dramatic explosion that would have made Siegel and Shuster proud.
You know how there are some things that you know that you don’t know? Well, as I got older I became quite aware of the cult following for the comic genre. I knew that there were people out there that ate, slept, and breathed the stuff, but what I didn’t understand was WHY. So when it came time to enroll in courses my junior year, I decided that this one class, Special Topics: Comics in America, sounded like it might actually be something different to learn about. Something cool. Which is where I was first introduced to my good friend, Scott McCloud.
Little did I know that at least three of the courses I would take in my time at Loyola would require the text. Foolishly, after the first comics course ended, I tried to sell the thing back, only to get the ever-frustrating “no value” response from the cashier. Now, I am not shy in my deeply rooted bitter sentiments toward the bookstore- it infuriates me when I buy a 200 dollar textbook in September and receive 4 dollars when I sell it back in December (I usually end up just donating my books just to spite them). BUT my initial anger in the “no value” situation eventually turned into pure, unadulterated joy when I found out that I would be using it again, and in fact, more than once. Take that, eFollett.
In spite of my raving tirade against the bookstore, there is a point at which I am hoping to arrive (hope being the operative word, anyway). This book- this zany, crazy book with its awkward and undoubtedly dorky author—it’s got something to it! In each class that it was mandated, I learned to look at a different part of the pages, eventually coming to the realization that this McCloud guy, despite his graph-paper jacket and Harry Potter-esque lightning shirt ensemble, actually has some pretty good sense after all. And it wasn’t just in classes that I thought about his meanings.
Suddenly, I was walking around (compliments of p.93), wondering (similarly to Doug’s statement in class about his present state in relation to the office of a given professor), “Hey, how DO I know if things are still there when I’m not!?” Which, aside from being a very unapologetically ego-centric thought, lead to other philosophical questioning, like “And how do I know that things exist when I’m sleeping,” etc. etc. Whoa, Court, don’t get ahead of yourself here, you’re not Descartes now will you ever be. But still, the thoughts raced through my mind faster than- dare I say it- a speeding bullet. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
One of my favorite panels in the whole book is on p. 83. It is a picture of “The Big ‘N,” a painting by Al Held which is just mostly blank space aside from two little triangles on the top and bottom. This is just one of many things that McCloud includes in his book that just completely blew my mind. So much so, that I showed it to my roommates- and, let’s be honest, when is it ever cool to show your homework to your roommates? Well, it is when it comes to Scott McCloud.
Writing this blog now, I am almost ashamed that I tried to sell this book back. It has quickly become one of my favorites, a tribute to an “invisible art,” but also to a previously invisible psychology that I had never considered. The relationship between the words, the panels, and their meanings do not leave once a page is turned (or, do they? haha). Every frame is separate. Every word and phrase is as well. And yet, it is the symphony of text and image that brings the meaning home. McCloud sums up his book in the final pages, “and all that’s needed is the desire to be heard—the will to learn—and the ability to see.” Well, I don’t know if that’s “all” that is needed. But it sure is a darn good place to start looking. And at least this time, my search for knowledge won’t end up with me having to pick newspaper sections up off the floor.

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