The Graphic Storytelling Festival made a bunch of headlines in the last week or so because of the Sydney Telegraph scaring off Robert Crumb. (Fuck You Sydney Telegraph.) But Crumb wasn’t the only draw. Scott McCloud made te intercontinental trek to give a talk called Understanding Comics, and I bought tickets for myself and Holly.
I figured this would be a good event for her, because she’s been reading a few more comics recently (Persepolis and the first Absolute volume of Sandman), but the only person blathering at her about how significant and important they are is me. And I get very scattered and distracted and haven’t been doing this since 1993. So having so good a blatherer about comics as Scott McCloud explaining the stuff I’m a lukewarm (but passionate) rehasher of, sounded perfect.
His presentation was less than an hour but packed with stuff about visual communication and its uses in education and the way we as humans live. He demonstrated the Grimace project which uses his facial expression diagrams from Making Comics. He showed sketches of the semiotics of comics and talked about how tragic it is that in school we’re taught about all the different ways writing can be used, but we restrict drawing to self-expression only, since it can do all sorts of amazing stuff. He said recently he was at a “second annual” Comics in Medicine convention, which was awesome and spoke to the educational nature of comics. He stressed how comics don’t reduce information, but concentrate it into easily remembered forms, like mnemonic devices.
McCloud showed loads of slides, but they were done really well in a way that was not a bunch of boring bulleted lists. He was using Keynote, not Prezi or anything fancy, just using the tools in a better way (lots of slides, little text) which helped highlight his points about visual communication, and how we should be approaching them as “tools of empowerment.”
That tied in well to his talking about libraries. In the Q&A I asked if he had any recommendations for libraries in dealing with comics. He had a few comments:
- Libraries should put the comics-knowledgeable staff in charge of them, that that domain knowledge is really important to making a good comics section. Note that well, future employers of mine. This is what I was made to do.
- Libraries just have to look at the circulation numbers to see if comics are a good idea. He gave the example of a great library in Alaska whose circulation numbers jumped by something like 800% when they committed to comics.
- To work with comics in libraries we have to bypass the “at least they’re reading something” mentality. That wasn’t a terrible hook in years gone by, but treating comics as complex literature with many different layers, is better for comics as we go forward. Not everything is Watchmen, but in the prose section it’s not like libraries only have War & Peace either.
He also had some comments about creating better classification systems for comics in libraries. In his opinion people think in terms of form first, so it still makes sense to shelve the nonfiction Graphic Novels together rather than interfile them with the rest of the books on a subject. Oh! He also called graphic novels “a specific type, format and approach to comics,” which I appreciated. I’m one of those people who resists calling comics graphic novels just to confer some legitimacy on them through linguistic sleight-of-hand, so this fits my worldview and expands it a bit. Which is what you want out of a talk, right? That and an enthusiastic reading of his “really dumb” comic about MonkeyForces fighting zombies of MonkeyTown in an escalating to kaiju battle epic. (He said he was inspired to do something more performance-like by being in the Sydney Opera House.)
After it was over, Holly said she almost wished she was teaching so she could use some of that theory in her educational repertoire. It was a really good afternoon.