What are Comics?

Have you ever asked yourself what exactly a comic is? If you have, you’ll realize the definition isn’t as straightforward as it might seem at first.

I wrote an essay tackling this subject for the same class I wrote a rhetorical analysis of Mere Christianity, a USP writing module. The full essay (with pictures!) can be downloaded at the link below.


What Are Comics?

“What are comics?” This seemingly easy question still puzzles scholars of the subject. Scott McCloud famously defined comics as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” His focus was how images placed next to and with each other create a sequential narrative – a definition of form, not content. McCloud’s definition allowed him to incorporate sequential artworks such as the Bayeux tapestry and the Mexican codices under the umbrella of comics. He does so in order to propose that its form precedes the bad reputation it used to receive as unintellectual children’s entertainment. However, McCloud’s definition excludes one-frame gag cartoons that people would also consider comics. Also in disagreement with McCloud is Robert C. Harvey, who feels that such art pieces should not be lumped together with comics, simply because they aren’t perceived to be. To Harvey, what makes comics unique is how it ‘blends’ visual and verbal content. But Harvey’s definition excludes all comics without any text. Both McCloud’s and Harvey’s definitions are able to cover certain subsections of comics, but also ignominiously exclude many other works that would be considered comics and include some that aren’t. The flaw with both definitions is their attempts to identify a comic by its appearance, but definitions by appearance alone will fail as long as comic artists who experiment with form intentionally defy aesthetical and structural conventions. What we should realise is that people are somehow able to tell when something is a comic, and it is this subconscious knowledge I attempt to elucidate.

What Are Comics?

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