Comics: Storytelling without compromise

I love reading comics. Complex, colourful, and entertaining, they’re an ideal way to spend an afternoon.

From superheroes trying to prevent doomsday to thoughtful memoirs, there’s a comic out there for everyone.

In Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud defines comics as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer”.

Understanding the difference between the medium and the content, the word comic has no bearing on the seriousness, depth, or cultural relevance of the story itself.

To me, the terms graphic novel, graphic narrative, and comic are all synonymous in their definition of an expressive, accessible medium.

As a student, reading comics is a nice change of pace from the onslaught of academic articles and readings asked of me before every class.

I recommend that everyone check out the school’s collection of comics – all of the books mentioned in this article can be found at the Laurier Library.

Photo by Darien Funk

Watchmen by Alan Moore is one of my favourite comics.

Following a group of vigilantes and their adventures in an alternate reality of America in the 1980s, the story handles complicated and nuanced issues such as politics, sex, and violence.

Not only do the heroes of Watchmen address the realities of the complexities of justice, but the story is unique because of the format.

The book is one of many contradictions – at once, justice is presented as both impossible and straightforward, superheroes are in turns good and evil.

The medium of comics expresses these different perceptions of justice beautifully.

Moore illustrates the complex relationship between good and evil carefully, challenging the reader’s beliefs and assumptions with juxtaposing views illustrated side by side.

Through images, ideas are shared to the reader to be understood at their own pace.

One of the best comics I’ve ever read is Maus, by Art Spiegelman. A retelling of the Holocaust, Maus is a beautiful and haunting memoir as experienced by Spiegelman’s father, Vladek.

Depicting Nazis as cats and Jews as mice, the book challenged the assumptions society held about the power of the comic upon its release and in many ways, created a new standard for the medium.

Maus set new standards for the power of comics and has since preceded an era of profoundly moving visual storytelling.

Juxtaposed pictoral and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information

Scott McCloud, author of “Understanding comics”

Everything from the black and white images to the carefully messy writing depicts a level of emotion unfound in other mediums of storytelling.

As an entirely unique medium, comics are a perfect example of accessibility not necessitating compromise.

Unfortunately, they have the mistaken reputation of being nothing more than a childhood fixation.

As McCloud writes in explanation, “If people failed to understand comics, it was because they defined what comics could be too narrowly”.

Time and time again, comics have shown the depth of which they are capable.

The visual artistry of comics can remove the barriers of excessive wordiness or abstract metaphor, instead choosing to depict life one carefully illustrated page at a time.

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