Make Comics Forever!!

Make Comics Forever is a forum for cartoonists dedicated to improving their productivity. This is not a forum for wimps! This is not a forum for flakes! We are here to share tips and techniques on how to produce more work and better work. Become a comic-making machine! Join the discussion now! To become a member, email a request to robyn @ un-pop.com

Friday, November 17, 2006

Scott McCloud's Making Comics

I'm getting tired of looking at that stupid video...Maybe I'll take it down...

I bought Making Comics back in September, and I absolutely loved it. I think Scott McCloud is a genius, certainly one of the most intelligent authors out there, contributing modern ideas to our culture about comics and cartooning. I think his ideas about the “Four Tribes” are extremely insightful and he has had me thinking for days (months) about how artists choose to express themselves. This was particularly of interest to me because I wrote a play a few years ago (Daphne, staged in NY in 2001) about an artist who was emotionally wounded by his students and his friends choosing means of expression, which he believes to be contrary to artistic or “valuable” goals for society. It struck me that after reading Scott’s book, that all of the characters in the play were members of the different “Tribes”, and the actual theme of the play centered around the struggle to find some sort of integration within the self, to accommodate the need to express emotions and ideas in different ways…

I’ve been meaning to write to him about this, as I think, although I am not one who typically favors “categorizing” people, it is a very interesting idea, nonetheless. Now that I am working on adapting this story into comic form, and after reading his book, I am rethinking the entire schematic of how these people relate to each other.

One aspect of the book, which I was amazed by, but also took odds with a little bit, was the section about Facial Expressions. I have for several years in New York City spent a great deal of time training to be an actor at various schools, with various teachers. A large part of this training centers around one’s ability to analyze a script and come up with an objective or action that drives the character forward through the play or story. One strong lesson that I have come away with, that I feel is certainly imperative to good acting, is to not predict an emotional state for the character before entering into a scene. “Here the character is sad”, “here the character is angry”. The reality of the situation carries many complexities which make it necessary to remain open only to the objective of the character. The danger being that if one puts too much thought into the emotional state of the character beforehand, one falls into the risk of simply “indicating” emotions, instead of expressing something more truthful that follows the character’s need to pursue a strong objective and the course of actions that follow.

William H. Macy has an interesting quote on the back of David Mamet’s book about acting, True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, (a book which is controversial even among actors of various methods, but also very much worth reading). Macy writes, “So much of the acting we see these days is, in my opinion, emotional glop. The actors are not really acting the story, they are acting what the story means. When all is said and done, it’s just indicating.” I think it is very valuable how Scott McCloud has deconstructed the subtle varieties and combinations of emotions that exist within perceived facial expressions, but I don’t believe one should try and pre-determine this emotional aspect at the outset, while drawing. Perhaps that is my own prejudice…

Chris Ware had an interesting comment at his “Master Class” at the New Yorker Festival last year. He said “The first mistake of all real cartooning books, actually, is showing you these pages of faces of smiling… “how to draw a sad person”, “how to draw a happy person”, and I think -- I just recently had a daughter--and I think the only human beings on the planet who communicate this way are babies. They only really use their faces to express themselves, and by about age two, they start to kind of control or lie to you. So, I really think only a child is completely honest in their facial expressions, and beyond that, one of the secrets or tricks to drawing, a successful comic strip about adults, if you are drawing from the outside-in, is to remember that most adults lie with their faces.”

I remember thinking something similar when coming upon these very common pages of “faces” that one encounters when reading books about cartooning. Now, what Scott McCloud has done is something a bit different in that her really peels back the layers of what sort of emotions are really a part of a facial expression into an impressively huge and complex diagram. I don’t know though, if I would give this sort of analysis much consideration in drawing the faces of my characters (at least beforehand). I think it is an interesting aspect to explore when the drawing is done, but in this case, I don’t believe “clarity”, wins out over “truth”, unless your goal as a cartoonist is to exaggerate (certainly a tradition in cartooning-as with the symbolic expressions McCloud provides). Scott even addresses this in the book, pointing to Spiegelman and Ware as cartoonists who use a “limited palette” of expression to convey stories of great emotional complexity. I think he is quite correct in that, understanding these expressions, will help one to “draw with greater control and precision.” But if I were to approach cartooning with an actor’s point of view (and maybe that’s not very appropriate, maybe it is…), I would spend more time thinking about the character’s goal’s or objective, and allow what emotional resonance that offers itself, to guide my drawing, rather than mentally “picturing” an emotion (complex or otherwise) beforehand. When all is said and done, this sort of thing is very subjective, and I certainly don’t claim to be the expert at cartooning that Scott McCloud is. Maybe I’m just an Iconoclast at heart! Perhaps I’ll send this post to him, and see what comments he has. One thing for sure. You guys should buy his book. It is a work of art.

8 Comments:

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Liz (Baillie) said...

this post is disturbingly familiar! wonder where i've seen it before...

(JUST KIDDING)

But yes, I think your observations on facial expressions are pretty right-on. I think some combination of his and your ideas on the topic would be the ideal approach. And yes, Scott McCloud is a genius.

 
At 1:00 PM, Blogger CamChes said...

ha! You caught me. Yeah I wrote it for the Indie-Spinner Rack message board since they were talking about the book, but as I got more involved I thought this would be a good addition to MCF.

 
At 8:04 PM, Anonymous The Masked Retriever said...

My burst of productivity after reading Making Comics was so great it really must be called a breakthrough.

My 24-Hour Comic turned out much better, I feel, for having read Scott's book.

On your words on faces:

Scott actually put that same quote about babies being the only ones who use facial expressions truly honestly up in his chapter notes; it's easy to read him as advocating displaying emotion by painting from a pallette of facial muscles from the way he's written it. Interestingly enough, I re-read Making Comics after reading the chapter on the four tribes and one gets a LOT of help boiling out Scott's bias when you identify him as a formalist.

I like to think he meant it that way; he really is a freaking genius.

Back to faces, though:
I had a very similar reaction to yours, actually. I did get one extremely useful thing out of it, though: learning to draw what you feel your face doing.

Don Bluth (although he may have been quoting, I'm too lazy to look it up) describes an animator as an "actor with a pencil" and a good comics artist is doing no differently. I have, from the start, drawn emotions by making that face myself, then drawing what I imagine my face looks like. For me, then, the section on facial expressions was a real power tool, because now when I make a face and try to draw it, I can think, okay, so these muscles are twitching up, and these are all flat...

 
At 11:35 AM, Blogger bustedacres said...

Hey--I read about your post on The Beat and have been thinking about the same thing in MAKING COMICS.

I was an acting student/playwright, too, and so that whole section raised very similar questions to me. However, I see the pages of "emotional muscles" almost like a box of 64 crayons--"green", "blue", "blue green". The grass is GREEN. The sky is BLUE. Etc.

Of course, grass is a dozen varying shades of green, the sky is sometimes orange or brownish or purple, etc. But the little toolbox McCloud put there I found useful.

In my own comics, I'm actually trying to use very little facial expression and instead rely on posture to communicate a character's emotions (when necessary; as with the Mamet acting book, not to mention Practical Handbook for the Actor, which I was crazy about years ago, generally speaking the story should move the reader instead of the character's emotions moving the reader).

Anyway, this posture tool is something I've gained from reading lots of Chris Ware and then trying to apply his schematic drawing style to anonymous real people I see at the bookstore or on the street, wherever.

 
At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much does acting technique really carry over to cartooning technique? I mean, yes, there is crossover, certainly. I'm a comic artist/drama major myself. But techniques that work onstage...

Okay, the quote that my teachers have always been fond of is "emotion is to the actor as sweat is to the athlete." You don't act the emotion, the emotion just happens. You do exercises with "I want" statements and verbing and tactics, and you as your character try to get something, and emotion just happens. It's a side effect. And that's RIGHT. That works. On stage.

But does that happen on the end of a pen? Thinking about the goals and tactics, useful, certainly, but... on stage, when you're in the moment, the emotion happens, and the face instantly and automatically responds.

In cartooning, there's an extra step. The expression doesn't just happen. You have to draw it, which means at some point you have to choose it. You have to think a lot more about what the face is actually doing.

I know that people lie with their faces, but I don't think McCloud's sections on facial expressions negate that. I mean, if your character looks happy but isn't really, you still need to know what a happy face looks like (and possibly how a fake happy face looks different, if your character is a bad liar). He's giving the visual vocabulary, how the face moves and how your audience will read the various positions. You figure out how the character uses that vocabulary to lie or speak honestly, as the occasion demands.

As I said, I'm a drama geek/comic geek too, and I do think that the one has helped the other. But there are boundaries. As an actor, you're supposed to work from the inner life of the character, but as an artist, to a certain extent you are stuck working from the outside in.

Dani

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger CamChes said...

Hey Dani. Yeah I'm with you on the difference between acting and drawing comics. Acting technique and drawing are quite different disciplines, which require different processes. I do think though, that much of the analytical preperation of acting, such as the determination of the "I wants" or the "objective", can be quite useful from the writing perspective, when making comics. I'm still of the opinion that even though you are working as a cartoonist from the outside-in, that selecting an emotional state (complex or not), and methodically working to depict that, may not be the best choice (maybe it is!). As I said before it could be my own prejuidice. Sort of like the difference between cartoonists who prefer to work from a written script beforehand and those who like to "write as they draw". Even in the world of acting we get into these kind of arguments all the time, related to preparation, depending on what method you're trained in... I'm not trying to negate absolutely what Scott has done, (his book rocks my world!) but pointing out an observation that I wondered if anyone else had considered. I was sort of looking for an analogy in acting, rather than looking to use acting as a technique for cartoonists. Although I always said to myself that if I ever taught cartooning/comics, the first thing I would do is introduce an acting class. Thanks for your comments Dani (and everyone else). I'm glad to see there are other comics/drama geeks out there. I've been meeting a few thses days...

 
At 11:16 AM, Blogger CamChes said...

PS! Did you guys see that Chapter 5 and a half is online now!!! www.scottmccloud.com/makingcomics

 
At 12:50 AM, Anonymous The Masked Retriever said...

Chapter 5.5 has lots of really, really good notes. I might be the only one saying it but I'm really *disappointed* that it wasn't an infinite-canvas scroller like I Can't Stop Thinking.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home