REFERENCE: Visual literacy: book review

Subject: REFERENCE: Visual literacy: book review
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 13 Apr 1995 09:21:59 LCL

As writer/editors, we're all supposed to be strong "left brain" types,
but at the same time, everyone keeps telling us that we need to
acquire visual literacy. Well, I've just finished reading a great book
that will help anyone become more visually literate: _Understanding
comics_ (subtitled _The invisible art_) by Scott McCloud (Kitchen Sink
Press, 2nd printing 1993, ISBN 0-87816-243-7, about $10 U.S.).

McCloud is a comic artist who has spent a lot of time pondering just
how it is that pictures get into our brains and create meaning. He
starts by defining comics as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in
deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an
aesthetic response in the viewer"... what we might call small
multiples or narrative graphics if we were to use the jargon of our
own field. Comics have a reputation as adolescent pap, but there are
lots of interesting innovations coming out of comics, both in terms of
storytelling and in terms of Art (yes, "Art", not just silly
pictures). McCloud doesn't spend any time defending the pros and cons
of comics in terms of their literary and artistic merit: he dives
right in and describes how comic artists use these "juxtaposed images"
to communicate.

This isn't university level cognitive psychology, Edward Tufte or
Jacques Bertin: among other things, McCloud is a far better artist
than either of our two leading lights and he integrates text and
graphics far better than them too. In fact, McCloud presents his
entire thesis in the form of a comic book, with text leading the
graphics and vice versa, as appropriate. This works because he uses
the medium itself to explain his points, and there's lots of subtle
humor too if you look closely. I read the book cover to cover in about
3 hours (quick, given the amount of visual minutae to absorb), and
I'll be going back to read it again.

Important concepts covered in the book: Juxtaposition, complementary
vs. supplementary material, visual design from concept through final
polish, history of narrative graphics, use of color, and many more. If
you want the best possible example of using text and graphics
effectively together, get this book... run, don't walk. BTW, you'll
also end up with much more respect for good artists if you're one of
those left-brain types who thinks artists should be supervised so they
don't end up hurting themselves.

--Geoff Hart geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
#8^{)} <---eyes a little wider than yesterday!

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