Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Would you like some pie?

I use the phrase continuous framing a lot in this blog entry and this is what I mean by continuous framing- the use of repetitious frames that are slightly altered to tell the story in a comic or graphic novel

When considering the difficulties of the comic industry in the late 1980s, Scott McCloud wrote, “The more innovative work – a traditional predictor of future health – had always comprised a small slice of the industry pie – but as the pie shrank, so did the slice and many creators could no longer make a living.” The main question I intend to discuss: is McCloud’s work shrinking the size of the pie?

McCloud wrote the previous line in order to criticize the cliché cartoonists and the overall lack of innovative comics during the 80s. It is clear from McCloud’s works (Understanding Comics, Making Comics, and Reinventing Comics) that he considers himself an industry expert who can relate the message of comics to the standard prose reader. His form, particularly in The Right Number, fails to be as innovative as Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan. McCloud’s “innovative” style in this work abandons the continuity of frames almost completely and forces McCloud to revert to cliché comic stereotypes, while Ware’s creative manipulation of continuous frames creates true innovation.

McCloud’s The Right Number features single sketches that the reader travels through like a “tunnel” (if I may use ### apt terminology). This journey is supported by Flash Media and does not allow the reader to view all of the frames together. Perhaps for this reason, McCloud jumps from one scene to the next, almost franticly, telling the story of the narrator. Unlike standard comics, the frames do not transition within the same or similar background. Instead, the form throws the reader quickly through the story without any form of continuity between the images. This total absence of continuity forces McCloud

to use a first person narrative, reminiscient of the first super-hero comic books (Spiderman, etc.) Without images that sufficiently tell the story, the narrator must tell the reader everything. There is no room for interpretation as the form propels the reader like the engine of train through a dark tunnel, the train only following the track laid down for it.

Although McCloud rarely uses continuous framing [the sequences that he does, like the final five frames of Pt. 1, are his best], Ware innovates within the restrictions of continuous framing within Jimmy Corrigan. One of the best examples of this manipulation is found a few pages prior to the death of Jimmy’s great-great grandmother. James, Jimmy’s grandfather, is sitting under a bridge in the rain and the following fifteen frames on the two pages build on the first illustration. The frames are narrated in a slow, steady third person narrative, which is atypical of most comics. This narrative allows James to see his future self talking to his father in a reasonable manner and the comic book style, first person narration of the protagonist is absent. If James would have narrated this scene, it would have been wrought with the emotion of a child and lost some of its sensibility. Ware is able to communicate a serious, yet rational message because of his manipulation of continuous framing. With this form of manipulated continuous framing, Ware is able to deliver a serious message in a medium that is often not respected as an art. McCloud’s form forces his protagonist to revert to the cliche, cheapening the message of his frames.

The lack of continuous framing also forces McCloud to forgo a standard of comics that I highly respect: the use of hidden symbols. The details in many of McCloud’s frames in The Right Numbers are frankly boring. Without continuous framing, McCloud cannot subtly alter the background of his frames since all the frames are so different. McCloud is relying on the narrative, not the illustrations, to be the driving force of the story. Ware, on the other hand, uses symbols to add to the power of his form. In the same sequence as mentioned before, where James is under the bridge, a horse appears behind James’ future self. The horse is a symbol of hope and joy for James, just as the sight of his future self inspires him to believe that things may get better. Ware uses complex imagery throughout Jimmy Corrigan as a necessary complement to his writing, whereas McCloud uses them only to supplement his words.

Overall, I believe that the web as a medium does not allow McCloud to rely on the best part of comics, the use of continuous framing. Ware, on the other hand, manipulates continuous framing in an innovative style, using it as a building block that makes his stories more complex, and often harder to read. McCloud’s rejection of the standard framing ironically forces him into the cliché emotional first person narrative that is common in early comics, while Ware’s development allows him to explore a form with a different style of narration. McCloud’s rejection of paper medium has given him the ability to jump from frame to frame as he wills, but this unfortunately hurts his storytelling ability. On the other hand, Ware’s use of the normal “ink and pad” method have allowed him to innovate and create perhaps the last slice of “fresh” comic pie we’ll ever taste.


JamesGz said...

Hey, I made a pretty bone head mistake in proof reading. I was referring to Dan's apt terminology about McCloud's comics, claiming that reading them is like traveling through a tunnel.

Also, this is my graded blo assignment.

Adam Johns said...

It's hard to respond to something where I agree with nearly all of it, and, perhaps more importantly, couldn't say it quite as well. You've thoroughly mastered McCloud in a way that I haven't, and this is a better version of the criticism of him which I'd like to make myself (although, as always, I'll qualify that by pointing out that he's a talented artist and interesting advocate, but has serious limits as a critic, and, as you point out, isn't nearly as innovative as he thinks he is).

This reminds me of a page of early Batman that I use in freshman comp to illustrate the fact that even a short piece of writing can be excessive: in this page, everything is both shown and narrated, as if the writer doesn't trust the artist. McCloud the writer has a tendency to distrust McCloud the artist, which you can't say for Ware.