Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Two Pitchers

McCloud’s Understanding Comics entirely changed my perception of the medium of comics. Sure, as a kid I was really interested in comics. I loved Batman, Spiderman, the X-Men. I even went as far as buying a book, around age 8, at one of those school book sales that tried to teach you how to draw all your favorite super-heroes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand what all these weird circles and squiggly lines were trying to tell me. I couldn’t understand how a bunch of circles and blocks suddenly became what I saw fighting crime in my comics. After a few failed attempts, I was much deterred and decided that becoming a Power Ranger was probably a better route for me.

Nevertheless, after that, I felt as though I kind of grew out of reading comics. I began seeing it as a childish thing; something that needed to be left behind in childhood. So, I stopped reading comics seriously. I’ll admit to picking one up now and then when I’m in a convenient store, but only when no one else is around and mostly just to see the way the artwork has changed.

After reading Understanding Comics, I realize that I was never able to separate the medium of comics, its form, from the various genres that exist within that medium, its content. The biggest thing I took from McCloud is that the best comics, despite whatever intrinsic content the creator brings to the comics in its “trends, genres, styles, subject matter, themes”, allows the reader to bring their own content into what is written (p. 6). The two images that really bookend this idea for me is the pitcher as the comics’ form, and the liquid within as the content. At the beginning of the novel it seemed like an interesting way of explaining how I stereotyped comics, the art-form and medium, as the genres I had read as a child. I, as McCloud writes, had mistaken the “message for the messenger” (p. 6). However, when I reached the end of McCloud’s comic book, I came upon that image again; the filled pitcher and the empty pitcher. For some reason, this image struck a chord in me and I quickly found the image at the beginning of the comic. I saw the panel with McCloud’s character stating, “the trick is to never mistake the message—”, and at once, I saw that the character was the message; that visually he was the content McCloud had chosen but, on some other level, the character was myself and that I was bringing content to the character and, in doing so, was filling up the empty pitcher that is the medium of comics. I looked back at image of the two pitchers next to each other on page ninety-nine and I couldn’t help but see two pitchers full. I had brought my own existence, my own content, into the comic form. Thus, while McCloud is stating that one shouldn’t mistake one genre or style of comics to speak for the form of comics, I believe he is suggesting that form and content are forever connected in comics because of what the reader brings to what is visually represented. The reader, ultimately, fills the pitcher.

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