Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How Not To Read Comics

Comics, as Chris Ware has repeatedly stated, is a visual language.  It is more than just text and pictures.  It is not literary prose.

This distinction between comics as a visual language and literary prose needs some work to explain it though I think it's the case. 

In the Morning News Tournament of Books, Natasha Vargas-Cooper recently reviewed a YA novella and Chris Ware's Building Stories.  Ware lost.

He lost because Vargas-Cooper read his comic as if it were text and pictures; she clearly prefers text.

Read this essay closely and you'll see exactly, with precision and clarity, how not to read comics.

Two excellent discussions of the visual language of comics can be found in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art.


  1. "I could describe them to you but that would be cheating them out of their purpose, which is to eschew language in favor of visuals."

    It's startling how much she can get the point and miss the point at the very same time.

    "You can’t accuse me of not “getting” graphic novels, either."

    Is that a challenge? Because I think she just served up the evidence we need on this question. Cosplay ≠ close reading of comics.

    To be fair, though, I will steadfastly resist the use of 'language' as the archetrope for articulated communicative behaviour. 'Language' is the problem; it obscures, it doesn't clarify. Comics is different from predominantly verbal communication (even books, though, have an affective visual constituent), but I will resist to the end the premise that it draws on, or constitutes, or uses a visual 'language'.

    1. AMKA -- you and I are on the same page. Or should I say splash-page and panel?

      Ware has hit on this as his talking point in order to bridge comics into "bookworld."

      But to treat speech or text as the atom out of which communication is built and to which all other signs function is to do comics and all else a kind of disservice.

  2. I have no idea what you guys are talking about but I like it. It reminds me of