A Book Review
by M. Murphy ©2014
To begin, this was an awesome read. This guidebook served as a wonderful reminder of the foundations behind my life as a working professional artist. I have been blessed with an ability of visualization that has enabled me to view life, so far, with as many eyes as there are souls; for retaining and strengthening intrinsic objectivity to learn by. But, in relating concepts discussed in the book to the world of media artwork around me by means of what my eyes see and my brain records will of course be subjective at best; I am a Media Artwork.
The book also reminded me of my purpose for, and connection with, cultural iconography and all its attachments to exist as second nature embedded in one’s ability to communicate. We are intrinsically linked to iconography and it seems as if our brain functions in part on this level; in shape, color, and sound vibration or frequency. Part of what McCloud may be attempting is to convey the absolute essential primordial drive of humans to achieve greater understanding and awareness. The simplicity of forms used as derivatives (part and parcel) to express language and words is especially intriguing to me as it always piques my instincts with regard to the keys to opening the centers of our brain that allow for more subtle forms of communication; mind to mind sensations and higher yet incomprehensible undiscovered/inactive forms of communication closing the gaps that obviously exist in the human being. This is the future I see as it relates to new media artworks. A current example of this relationship is all the icons for the mobile communication applications. Shape, color, and sound are the catalyst to which we invest, as of late, emotional attachment in the process of enhancing our productivity, or furthering a cause.
To relate this concept of iconography to a media artwork let us examine some aspects of two films; Forrest Gump and Castaway. Several times in Forrest Gump the audience is instantly transported through time and space in their mind; when Gump wipes his muddy face on a yellow tee shirt to reveal the iconic have a nice day happy face, the shit happens bumper sticker scene, and the letterhead logo from some “fruit” company (the Apple logo) Gump invested money in. Great story telling, superb acting, and identifiable imagery make for plausibility of the illusion. The fact that there is added deliberate closure narrated by Gump supports plausibility as it helps to fill in the blanks in our mind with believable outcomes. In the movie Castaway the character assumes the role of an iconoclast to some extent while eventually clinging to a new found iconic symbol (an artists’ logo inscribed on a fed-ex package) to renew and sustain his resolve to survive during his transformation.
Moving forward, one thing I found quite refreshing, useful, and hysterical was the creation and deployment of the various charts, graphs, and statistical comparisons throughout the book. I had never seen with my eyes quite a way of putting relating issues in perspective, like what comics do naturally. It is as if the degrees of separation are no longer a mystery or convoluted. McCloud draws factual historical associations to defining comics. He introduces a timeline on to illustrate how the Mexican Codex is essentially a comic. McCloud removes the “mystery” and breaks down what was seemingly elusive in to an easy to understand translation. He does this for the Bayeux Tapestry, Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the tomb of Menna the scribe, and infers the same by applying his description to 15,000 year old cave art. Just this concept alone is vital as it serves as a tool for teaching most anything. In fact, I’d say we’ve become quite accustomed to pictures, symbols, charts, graphs, timelines, scales, polls, and so on . . . analysis and presentation of data streams that convey some kind of message so one may learn a base of understanding, more so depending on significance or relevance of topic or issue. Transcribed communication is just stylized pictures that over time have become more abstract, adapted for specialization, and simplified for broad understanding (McCloud 10-15, 141).
Furthermore, there is something McCloud expresses that carries enormous weight and should not be overlooked, ever; “. . . cartooning isn’t just a way of drawing; it’s a way of seeing (McCloud 31).” The concept that imagery can impact our focus on an idea is one that leaves huge piles of evidence all over the front yard of human history, and unfortunately much of it stinks; glossed over by more sensational expressions that make us draw from greater emotional resources to process such stimulus, and it is addictive. Millions have perished needlessly over iconography and the ideology they support, just as many more millions have seemingly enriched their lives embracing those idioms.
This leads in to another concept discussed in the book; the concept of closure. As an artist much of my work revolves around this concept of closure. I like producing imagery that amounts to essentially nothing more than cropped views of some particular subject. It is up to the viewer to fill in the gaps, to complete the rest of the story; open borders are for exploration and discovery. There is always more than meets the eye. When we are invited to fill in the blanks it is an invitation to become the creator. What we do with that gift is another story.
This concept of closure couldn’t be more evident in today’s art media culture, certainly in broadcast media. Although I no longer subscribe to receiving broadcast television it remains unavoidable. One can only remove oneself so much from the onslaught of coercive, negative media execution of information. I am reminded of George Orwell’s 1984 society of the All Seeing Eye spitting out nonsensical gibberish of an authoritative regime. Today’s media outlets have made it their business to dish out only the tiniest of slivers of what one could equate to an infectious disease. The formula of pairing graphic imagery with sound-bites is at the heart of broadcast media; this is propaganda art at its most seamless. What’s more, this is going to be quite the marriage in the years ahead with advancing technologies and the ability to directly interface our senses with nano-digital platforms by means of bio-organic computer implants. One effect this process may have is the new and improved version of messiahs, belief systems, and a whole host of megalomaniacs existing with all others in a kind of freak show collective polarity. Being able to interface directly with bio-organic nano-technology means individuals will become even more iconographic; to what ends remains undefined. I am Jack’s festering media artwork.
In theory, I suppose most all things work. But societal/cultural structural theory is devoid of real practical testing and good intentions become lost; we learn as we go. Religion is a great example of this condition when theory is put in to action. Subsequently, there exist portrayals of media artwork today that demonize the many religions spawned from the Koran. Indeed, there are plenty of examples being exploited from suicide bombers who commit the ultimate radical expressions, to tribe after tribe of folks whose idioms are expressed through physical action, sometimes extremely violent physical action. Broadcast media has been complicit in the transformation of these ideologies in to iconography, certainly in the case of any interests not aligned with the status quo. One really good example of this transformation is the political hangnail; Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The image of a prisoner standing on a box draped in tarp with arms outstretched represents the fact that America will torture you, period. I am Jack’s horrible irony as a result of ill-deployed non-scientific methods.
Understanding Comics; this book was released in 1994 which makes it twenty years old, but far from obsolete. In fact, media artworks are becoming more immersed in to our lives, causing many to continually reexamine their existence, changing cultural boundaries redrawing the lines that unify and divide; we are Jack’s polarity collective, resistance is futile. Compared to any point in humanity’s timeline the only thing that has changed is the delivery system. Today’s delivery system is pretty much instantaneous, globally. McCloud talks about challenging the status quo a little bit here and there throughout the book, at least which is how I translate part of his work. Something he says really is quite profound:
[The dance of the visible and invisible is at the very heart of comics, through the power of closure! Creator and reader are partners in the invisible creating something out of nothing, time and time again (McCloud 205).]
My interpretation of this statement, at least today, represents a challenge to continue creating artworks that question and challenge the status quo. This statement is inspiration to create an intention surrounding and enveloping my thoughts as I go forward on my path. As an artist, one of my thoughts stems from an observation of the above quote. One can easily substitute the words government for comics, and, leaders and citizens for creator and reader, and from this new statement create a whole lot of something out of nothing which many artists indeed do. In all seriousness, the concept of “partners in the invisible creating something out of nothing” (McCloud 205) means a great deal when technology is quickly closing the gap between just having a dream while asleep in bed of flying faster than the speed of sound ten feet off the ground dressed all in black, and, actually creating an interactive hyper-real holographic digital environment just by thought projection and a bio-organic nano-tech platform interface app. The new app from Apple, the iSoul . . . I am Jack’s Matrix, there is no spoon, and this is not a pipe.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994. Print.