Week 2 // Inkslingers & Wordsmiths: Graphic Memoir

This Week: Persepolis & McCloud

 This week we are reading book one of Persepolis alongside Scott McCloud’s supercritical and still mind-blowing-after-all-these-years book, Understanding Comics. McCloud’s book to me is still the best book out there about writing, reading, and making comics. If you haven’t read McCloud yet, please do! Read it cover to cover. Read it again. Then read your favorite comic book and finally understand why you felt what you felt at certain times. MIND BLOWN.

So, let’s start with the first couple chapters of McCloud. One of the coolest McCloudian ideas that you can ponder for eternity is his diagram of “The Picture Plane.” This diagram essentially illustrates that there are three points that make meaning: icons, reality, and language. As an image slides along from close to photograph all the way to abstraction or symbol to language our brains make meaning in different ways. The more photographic an image, the less wiggle room our brain has to make new meaning. The more symbolic the image (a smiley face for example) the more we put meaning onto that image ourselves. Think: emojis. SO MUCH MEANING IS MADE from such a small icon. Feast your eyes on “The Picture Plane” below, which can be found on pp 51 in his Understanding Comics.

Scott McCloud  Understanding Comics , pp 51.

Scott McCloud Understanding Comics, pp 51.

A Few Key Points from McCloud’s Understanding Comics

*I’m not going to go over all the key concepts in his book, because you should really buy his book (as my students have). But here are some teasers.

Icon: 'Any image used to represent a person, place, thing, or idea.'

The 'universality' of a cartoon image: 'when you enter the world of the cartoon -- you see yourself. ... We don't just observe the cartoon; we become it.'

Combination of 'iconic characters with unusually realistic backgrounds ... allows readers to mask themselves in a character and safely enter a sensually stimulating world.'

Characters drawn more realistically are 'objectified.'

In comics, words are the ‘ultimate’ abstraction.

The picture plane as a triangle with Reality at the left bottom corner, Language at the right bottom corner, and Picture Plane or Art Object at the pinnacle. The Picture Plane is 'where shapes, lines, and colors can be themselves and not pretend otherwise.' 

Closure: a comic shows parts of thing that the observer then perceives as the whole.

The gutter: the space between the panels of a comics; our imagination takes the two images that border the gutter and transforms into a single idea.

"If visual iconography is the vocabulary of comics, closure is its grammar."  OMG I LOVE THIS LINE.

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is one of the best books written in any genre in the past twenty years. Yes, I am a fan. :) It’s so powerful that it inspired a generation. She takes so many risks and the narrative and illustrations are authentic and raw. While some early on criticised her illustrations for being rudimentary, the claim was strangely silly. If you consider McCloud’s idea of “The Picture Plane” and the simplicity of her character renderings, Satrapi’s coming-of-age-tale becomes universal. We can see ourselves in her character’s position, dealing with all the sorts of things that teens deal with. And with something they shouldn’t have to: war.

This week in my course we are applying McCloudian theories of comic storytelling to Persepolis. Some panels defy categorization. Some of my favorite pages exist outside of time — the image is literally panel-less and seeps into our consciousness FOREVER.

If you are reading the book, pay attention to moments where the image and text juxtapose each other, as well as scenes, pages, and panels that change your connection to time. When an image doesn’t have a panel framing it, it defies gravity. The simplicity is the point.

I also love hearing from authors, no surprise, so here’s an interview with Satrapi where she talks about the book.

Next week? Book Two of Persepolis!

Week 1 // Inkslingers & Wordsmiths // Writing Graphic Memoir

I decided to do a weekly post about my current course at CU called Ink Slingers & Wordsmiths. It centers on writing the graphic memoir and I LOVE THIS CLASS SO MUCH and I want to share it with the world. I spent a long time curating the materials, readings, and assignments — and for the past couple years students have been making stunning work. So, hello world, this is what I’m up to this semester. I hope you enjoy. I’m happy to share the course syllabi and materials if you reach out.

This week, (OMG it’s week 3 of the semester!) and we are finally diving into Hyperbole and a Half by the wonderful Allie Brosh. She is one of the best, and my students always connect with her work. We spent the first two weeks of the semester thinking, discussing, and reading memoir essays by some masters of the genre (Mary Karr, Cheryl Strayed, etc.) and now we are jumping, head-first, into the wild world of graphic memoir. If you have been living under that rock, please do read her book. It will slay you while making you laugh.

There’s an amazing thing that happens when reading in order to write and I adore this stage the most when I mentor (and when I experience it as a writer). When you read as a reader, you’re so easily dumbfounded and perplexed as to how someone had the ability to make something like THAT BEAUTIFUL. When you study in order to craft your own work in a particular genre, you appreciate every single inch of the tools they are using. A lot of studying writing is narrowing the gap between yourself and the stuff you admire in the world. Sure, there are works of art in the literary world — simply stunning entities that defy decoding, etc. But for the most part, there’s a human being sitting down (standing, walking, whatever) and putting words in order for a good reason.

With graphic memoir, a triangle presents itself: the image, word, and the time that exists within that one panel. This is the relationship that makes graphic work so astounding: TIME / IMAGE / WORD. If you’re just getting into this world, Brosh’s work is fun because it’s super non-traditional (you rebel, you!). She writes chapters of loosely interlocking stories that are illustrated in whatever way she sees fit from panels, to pages, to half pages all done painstakingly carefully and simultaneously scribbly on her tablet. Her stories are so relatable about anxiety, about a kid who doesn’t fit in, about being a human being who deals with an all-encompassing depression. All I know is that this book has touched so many. In any case, it’s a stunning work.

Happy reading!

Next week: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.