Ego-Surfing is a Double-Edged Sword

Blogger Curt Purcell takes issue with some of Understanding Comics’ speculations about the way readers stitch together individual panels into a sense of continuous experience. Two entries so far: 1 | 2.

Although he takes the above panel’s analogy more literally than I’d intended (as the first comment by “Doruk” suggests) it still offers interesting reading and makes me wish I had a more time to dig into these debates.

Unrelated: Whoah.

Discussion (12)¬

  1. Ted Closson says:

    I think he may also be failing to consider the way in which comics transfer from language to image conceptually. He seems to avoid the necessity of physical juxtaposition you describe at the beginning of the book when using animation and blink transformations to make his point. Though he does touch on it in a counter argument on the second post when he talks about conceptual shifts vs. perceptual shifts (the core of what appears to be his problem with the argument). I think the gestalt theory we talked briefly about in class with you this last Tuesday is similar to what you were talking about in the Closure chapter and would cover some of the distinctions he’s talking about. Strangely, despite all the highly technical back and forth going on in the blog he doesn’t appear to mention it at all. Nor does anyone else for the matter.

  2. Curt says:

    Hi Scott–I’m genuinely honored you took notice of my posts. UNDERSTANDING COMICS was and remains a very formative text for me in terms of thinking not only about comics but other media as well. The fact that I’ve thought about issues you raise enough to come to (perhaps?) some disagreement is testament to the fact that you prompted me to start thinking about those issues in the first place.

    If I really read that panel in a way you didn’t intend, I’ll be happy to note that in the original post and in an update on the frontpage, but in fairness to myself, the words “as an animator might” seem to reinforce the more literal understanding of the intermediate images in the silhouette’s head. Did you or didn’t you mean to suggest that the mind fills in the gap between those panels by generating supplementary mental imagery to complete the motion?

    Ted–I thought I actually made it clear that the physical (i.e. external) juxtaposition of comics panels is what makes it tempting to think the brain fills in the gutter with mental imagery. I wasn’t trying to avoid that in my discussion of blink transformations; the point there was that the brain doesn’t bother to fill in certain transitions with mental imagery, even when the surrounding, contextual imagery is mental to begin with.

    I’m not unaware of gestalt theory; I just haven’t yet found it necessary to refer to it in making or addressing any particular points. If you have any specific objections, based on gestalt or any other theory, to anything I’ve said, I’ll be happy to consider them.


    • For what it’s worth, here’s how I read the panel:

      First off, a single panel when scrutinized out of context can become really disembodied from its intended meaning.

      When you go through this section of UC, the “take away” is

      –the brain constructs MEANING between the panels–

      That’s the point that is reiterated; that’s what “sticks.”

      If Scott McCloud’s point was solely that specific Pictorial Images are constructed in the mind, then that would be a pretty loaded statement; one that would have been expressed in text, and reiterated.

      For me, the panel of the “eye closing” when read in passing just connotes “stuff goes on between the panels.” Specifically, when confronted with an eye open and then an eye closed, the brain decides “the eye has blinked” rather than “this is an open eye and a separate closed eye.”

      It never even occurred to me that Scott was suggesting that the brain creates specific images of an eye in the intermediate stages of blinking.

      Basically, I think by going to this single panel as the meaning for Scott McCloud’s theory on comics-closure might be a case of “not seeing the forest for the trees.”

      Also, while I don’t believe that Scott McCloud’s point was that the brain exclusively creates pictorial images in the gutter, I do believe that it can. In the gutter, the brain can create a specific image, a image-less imaginary sound, a vague conceptual bridge, etc. The abilities of the gutter are very broad, a point I believe McCloud makes very clear in Understanding Comics.

      Perhaps if a animated film was made of Understanding Comics, a less misleading image would be showing a panel of an opened eye, then an adjacent panel of a closed eye, then showing a brain with a flash animation of an eye blinking. But, like I said, I pretty much got that message from the book as it was written.

    • Scott says:

      Hi, Curt! Sorry for the delay in responding. Thank you for stopping by and for engaging in such an interesting back and forth on this, both here and on your blog.

      It kills me I have so little time to go over each point in detail, because you’re touching on some important issues that are worth exploring further (and you definitely exposed the limitations of the kind of visualization and description I used in the above panel!).

      Oh, and note to Will: It’s never too late! 😉

  3. Will Curwin says:

    One: He’s a little late to be critizing it. Two: I would not take a person who names his site ‘the Groovy Age of Horror’ very seriously.

    • Well, no, he raises some pretty cool points and has clearly done his homework.

      My issue was basically that I think his critique should have been, “Scott McCloud’s point isn’t expressed as well as it could be by this panel” not “Scott McCloud believes such-and-such as seen in this panel.”

      • I hate typos! Pretty please, Scott McCloud. Is there any way to edit posted comments? I feel like none of my pontifications can be taken seriously with homonym mix-ups.

        • Scott says:

          Got it. I changed “scene” to “seen.”

          Would love to enable comment editing all round but that would require everybody to register with a password etc., which might be a bit much.

          Feel free to use me as typo clean-up if the need arises in the meantime. ^^

  4. Curt says:

    First, Will, your comment made me laugh, so thanks for that.

    Matthew–you make a lot of good points that make me think my own points weren’t expressed as well as they could be. I’m very familiar with UNDERSTANDING COMICS as a whole, having read it multiple times, and in particular the “Blood in the Gutter” chapter, having reread it a few more times in preparation for my recent posts. I know McCloud’s big, broad point in that chapter is that the brain constructs meaning between panels. I agree with that, and appreciate the witty, insightful way he goes about illustrating it. I never thought for one instant, and never meant to suggest, that his “point was solely (emphasis added) that specific Pictorial Images are constructed in the mind.”

    I think I myself expressed just about every point you make in your second-to-last paragraph when I said, “In fairness, McCloud considers a wide variety of panel-to-panel transitions, and some of those unquestionably do call for filling-in with mental imagery to one degree or another.” And I know some of them are a lot more conceptual and abstract, calling for little or no imagery.

    So I didn’t think I was taking that panel out of context. It looked to me like he was illustrating one example of one kind of closure, and I tried to make it clear I wasn’t offering some wholesale critique of UNDERSTANDING COMICS, but a quibble over a very specific point. I’m afraid I didn’t offer enough context for my argument (i.e. my broad agreement with McCloud on the vast majority of the rest of that book), if it seemed like I was under the delusion that I was refuting UC on the basis of a single panel.

    • Yeah, I feel I was too harsh in my criticism. You seem to know UC inside and out from reading your whole post (not to mention a lot of outside theory on the subject). I guess I just thought it was an unfortunate way to lead off the article just because someone who hasn’t read UC might get the wrong initial impression about McCloud’s theory on closure.

  5. Curt says:

    You weren’t too harsh, Matthew. If I’m going to launch into a criticism like that, I need to be more mindful how it will come across. None of my postings on the topic so far do justice to McCloud’s whole discussion of closure. You’re right to call me on it.