Sunday, 7 September 2014

From The Archive: Understanding Scott McCloud

Understanding Comics (1993)
by Scott McCloud

"...an invaluable reference work about the medium...
...Entertaining, delightful, thought-provoking and innovative. Bravo!" 
~ Dave Sim
(from the back-cover blurb of the 1st Edition, Tundra Publishing, 1993)

DAVE SIM:
Treasures From The Archive -- Spiral bound draft copy of UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud along with extravagantly flattering cover letter looking for an endorsement. Of course, Scott would prove to be the first professional peer to publicly label me a misogynist (page 104 of REINVENTING COMICS). Which is one of the reasons that I never take flattery seriously. The ones blowing the most sunshine up your yin-yang when they want something are the ones that will stab you in the back the hardest when they get the chance, in my experience. Oh, well. At least I'll never be able to "pull rank" on him. Which I assume was the whole idea behind the turnabout.

Scott McCloud is a cartoonist and comics theorist best known for his comic series ZOT! and his non-fiction books about comics theory: Understanding Comics (1993), Reinventing Comics (2000) and Making Comics (2006).

14 comments:

Jeff Seiler said...

Back when I lived in Dallas, I got word that Scott was going to speak at the university in Arlington. I had never read any of his books but knew his reputation as a scholar of comics. So, I called Dave to ask him if it would be worth my time to go hear Scott speak.

That was probably THE most judicious phone conversation I've had with Dave, on Dave's part. After a brief discussion about Scott, with no mention by Dave of the info in today's post, Dave said, "I'll put it this way: *I* wouldn't go see him."

Well, I did go and was thoroughly pissed that the only mention of Dave Sim in Scott's whole presentation (powerpoint) was of Dave as a (you guessed it) letterer.

Anonymous said...

Were you, Jeff? Were you thoroughly pissed that the only mention of Dave Sim in Scott's whole presentation (powerpoint) was of Dave as a (you guessed it) letterer?

Jeff Seiler said...

"Thoroughly" might be a bit hyperbolic, but I think that, even back in the early 2000s, much of the comics field had relegated Dave to a role where, if they were forced to give him praise, it was only for his ne plus pas lettering skills. That is what I was referring to, above.

I will note that Scott showed some excellent samples of Dave's skill at lettering in his powerpoint presentation, IIRC.

Anonymous said...

I have the 1994 HarperCollins edition - Dave's quote has been removed from the back cover just one year later.

Anonymous said...

To play devil's advocate, it could be that McCloud was being sincere in the letter, and then changed his mind about Dave, rather than being sycophantic.

The letter was written in 1993, which is well before the infamous issue 186. And Reinventing Comics, as it says here, was published seven years after that.

However, even with that, the letter is fawning. There's probably some truth that those who fawn and flatter will turn on you when you fail to live up to their inflated expectations.

- Reginald P.

Tony Dunlop said...

OK, now this is just eerie. I just read, for the first time, the "Dave Sim misogyny" footnote in Reinventing Comics maybe ten minutes before logging onto the Interwebs and reading this post. Cue Rod Serling, or at least Rowdy Roddy Piper.

And yes, I did have to shake my head when I saw the footnote…it's definitely out of context for what Scott was talking about at that point in his book. The immediate context was harassment and intimidation of women in the comics "marketplace" (or "industry"), which Issue 186 had nothing to do with. I think Scott knew better. He's too smart not to have.

Anonymous said...

It seems that Dave wouldn't go to see Scott for personal reasons, rather than because Scott's talk is without value.

Jeff, why would you become incensed that Dave was not mentioned more? Dave's lettering is one of the things for which he is rightly praised. I'm sure we all can name favourite letterers who do exemplary jobs of placing balloons, indicating emphases, displaying clarity, and indeed approaching beauty in line and stroke. (Personally, I always liked the look of a Dave Gibbons page when he does his own lettering. It just seems more graphically unified.) Especially when it comes to making the lettering part of the visual fabric of the page, conveying character and tone through the graphical as well as textual use of lettering, Dave is an excellent example, and Scott was well to present that.

But I don't see that Scott was deliberately refusing to mention Dave in other contexts (like Harlan Ellison gloating to Gary Groth that he had not even mentioned Fantagraphics in his article for Playboy on comics with literary merit) because Scott was offended by Dave's misogyny.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, mlf

M Kitchen said...

Looking forward to an age where "Social Justice Warriors" and "White Knights" become passé.

The tides are turning.

Geoffrey D. Wessel said...

>> Looking forward to an age where "Social Justice Warriors" and "White Knights" become passé.

You and me both, tho possibly not for the same reasons...

--- Geoffrey D. Wessel

Jeff Seiler said...

Damion, I'm going to let discretion be the better part of valor here. Mainly because, after at least 6 or 8 years, I don't have a clear recall of Scott's presentation, other than that Dave was only mentioned for his lettering.

Having said that, how do you mention a guy for his lettering in a presentation about Making Comics and not mention the much larger picture of his overall achievement?

Jeff Seiler said...

Mike, were u making fun of me for defending Dave?

It's okay if u are. I got much worse for doing that at the Yahoo group. I'm just wondering.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you asked, "how do you mention a guy for his lettering in a presentation about Making Comics and not mention the much larger picture of his overall achievement?"

From your original comment that you were "thoroughly pissed" that a good letterer was praised for his good lettering, and your later comment that you're "going to let discretion be the better part of valour", I infer that you object not only to your hero being criticised, but to him not being sufficiently praised. I apologize if this is not what you intended, but it is how you seem to come across.

I wouldn't get into it, as I always groan at people who get into fights in the comments of third parties' blogs, but I think your claims that "even back in the early 2000s, much of the comics field had relegated Dave to a role where, if they were forced to give him praise, it was only for his ne plus pas [sic] lettering skills" is inaccurate and does a disservice to Dave and his critical attention.

Even back in the early 2000s, I saw harsh critics of Cerebus admit Dave's skill at page and panel composition, at caricature, at dialogue and humour. If Scott chose to single out Dave's skill at lettering, I might suggest it's because very few other cartoonists used lettering in such dramatic, comedic, and visual ways, rather than because he intended to slight Dave's other accomplishments.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, ppm

M Kitchen said...

HA! No Jeff, my comment was directed toward the footnote in Reinventing Comics.

Tony Dunlop said...

Well, there are two distinct issues here. One is that of aspiring women comics artists, and women comics fans, being harassed and mistreated just because they are women in a male-dominated field. Nobody in his right mind thinks this is OK - least of all, if I can judge by some of his essays and reported actions over the years, Dave Sim. Sadly, there is still a need for "white knights" to intervene when some sh*thead thinks "no" means "you'll just have to try harder." The other is one's ideas about sex/gender as categories of being, their respective proper roles in society and in the ontological scheme of things. As far as I can tell, it's only in this latter category that Dave is sufficiently...honest?...about his views to be offensive to some folks. The problem is when people choose to somehow feel threatened by such views - which pose a personal threat to no-one. This is where "Social Justice Warriors" can get obnoxious.