Understanding Comics — Understand Yourself

cover for Scott McCloud book on comics

How could you not be interested in what Apple Macintosh co-creator Andy Hertzfeld called “one of the most insightful books about designing graphic user interfaces ever written”?

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art is a 215-page non-fiction comic book from 1993, written and drawn by Scott McCloud. It explores the historical and contemporary definition of comics, and how they have changed through time: from cave paintings to online and motion comics.

Refusing to be relegated to the medium of comics, McCloud adeptly delves into subjects like semiotics and the creative process in a way that makes often abstruse concepts easy to understand. Having a background in theoretical and research based visual art production, I was astounded by how succinctly the author was able to identify a six-part process of artistic creation (Idea/Purpose, Form, Idiom, Structure, Craft, Surface), within which the oeuvre of any artistic producer can be situated.

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Toilet Rug Design Koan

“I have an irreverent sense of humour.” — Not only are these the last words I’d like to utter if I’m ever I’m put to death, but they also sum up how I generally view the world. Take these two images for example, the first is of a handmade Afghan rug that I own, and the second is of something that I deemed photo-worthy, which I stumbled upon the other day.

I love my rug because I think it’s beautiful and because it’s comical to see a rug with machine guns, bazookas, and tanks. However, it’s also represents how the horrific reality of living in an often war-torn part of the world can infiltrate domestic space.

I found the defunct urinal delightful because, by removing its function (leaving it only in the realm of form), it was no longer the sort of everyday object that doesn’t warrant a second glance. Not only did I chuckle at the real world ‘Readymade’ reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, but, because the function of the urinal was thwarted, it created a tiny moment in time, and subsequent awareness of that time, which I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

At first glance, the two examples may seem totally disparate, but on further investigation, they can both be seen as examples of moments where our expectations are challenged — and this is where design comes into play. Design doesn’t always need to placate or pacify us; sometimes shaking us out of our everyday, monotonous routines and perceptions can be a welcome change… even if it comes at the expense of a much needed bathroom break.