Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

Abstraction is like truth.

There are varying degrees of abstraction just like there are varying degrees of truth.

Take Pi for example. When calculating pi, hardly anyone uses the full formula. Most people use 3.14 or 3.141 or even 3.14159, either way all these numbers are pi. Just because one uses 3.14 instead of 3.14159… does not make 3.14 any less pi. 3.14 is just the common and simplified version of pi.

Abstraction works the same way. Even as details are being stripped from the human face to make it simpler, it still remains a face with all the basics: eyes, nose, lips, cheeks, etc.. The reason abstracts are so powerful, and able to inspire feelings of allegiance (as in the case of superheroes or villains), or nostalgia (i.e. Snoopy, Scooby-Doo), or become iconic (i.e. Mickey Mouse) is because meaning can be added to it. It is a blank slate, much like the narrator, and employs “amplification through simplification.”

The reason it is so easy to add ideas and meaning to images is because human beings are self-centered. We look to see ourselves in everything. Faces appear where there are none (i.e. electrical sockets and cars), and in the same way meaning is added where perhaps there is no meaning intended. When things are simplified and ‘blank’ it is all too irresistible to project oneself onto it, and therefore abstraction (especially cartoons) are so beloved.  It fulfills our narcissistic tendencies.

The beauty of comics has more to do with the individual than the artist really. The ‘blankness’ of any abstracts lets a person fill in details for themselves. Create a world that they want. In a way, it’s self-flattery and hints at humanity’s God complex. Filling in ‘reality’ gives off a sense of power; since in real life (reality) people are pretty powerless over their lives/environments. Is it ‘real’? Nah. Is it fun and interactive? Yea. The “realness” of comics does not matter, and the ‘un-realness’ is what makes it so enduring.

(What is reality anyway?)

(What the hell is pi too for that matter?)

-based on “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud (pg. 24 -59)


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