I had never really considered comics prior to reading Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. I can’t say that any strong opinions about them in general until I was forced to consider my thoughts about them. I knew that my opinions of comics being only used for humor or superhero stories was shattered when I read Maus in undergraduate, but I had never really considered why this particular genre was such an effective story telling technique.
As a child comics to me translated to those I read in the newspaper. Every Sunday I anxiously rifled through the newspaper to find my beloved section. I past sports and news and all of those other uninteresting sections until I found the excerpt I wanted–Comics, or “the funnies” as my family referred to them. To me comics were about conveying humor. Many were topical and many stressed the problems of day to day life.
My favorite comic by far was Jim Davis’ Garfield. I didn’t just read the comics that ran in the newspaper. I also read any of the Garfield books I could get my hands on. The books were a collection of Garfield comics that had ran in the newspaper.
I also watched the old Garfield cartoon, Garfield and Friends, every Saturday morning.
To me Garfield was the epitome of hilarity. I love overweight animals (Tug would be an excellent example of this), and Garfield’s endless pursuit of food, especially lasagna was thoroughly engrossing.
It wasn’t until I read McCloud’s book that I began to realize why I enjoyed Garfield so much. Using his book as a guide I decided to analyze why I enjoyed this particular comic so much. I think a major reason I enjoy it is because the characters seem friendly and easy to relate to. I think that this is because of the line that Davis uses to draw his characters. As discussed in McCloud’s chapter five. Lines play key roles in expressing emotion. All of the characters in Garfield have very rounded lines, Odie, John, Nermal, Garfield, and even Garfield’s teddy bear Pooky.He uses open lines and gentle curves to draw these characters.
This is especially prominent in Odie whose giant rounded eyes and protruding tongue make him appear innocent.
The same could be said about Garfield’s eyes. They are enormous. However, when Davis wants Garfield to appear sneaky he draws them slightly closed and parallel. When he wants him to appear vulnerable, excited, or adorable they are drawn round and wide open.
However, Garfield wasn’t always drawn this way. In the early comics Davis used a mixture of straight lines and curves to portray his characters.
I didn’t like these comics when I would read them as a kid (my grandma had a stash of the Garfield books with comics ranging from the 70s to 90s so I read A LOT of them), and I never understood why. Garfield didn’t seem as friendly in these drawing nor did John. The eyes weren’t nearly large enough or rough enough. Just look at that unfriendly straight line for Garfield’s stomach. Not appealing to the eye of a kid.
I think that the reason I respond much better to a cartoony image of a cat than I would to a realistic image can be surmised by McCloud’s analysis of cartoon images in chapter two of his book. Cats don’t really look like Garfield nor do dogs look like Odie. However, as McCloud points out “the more cartoony a face is, for instance, the more people it could be said to describe” (31). Garfield the cat is describing a myriad of overweight pets that people might have. I always likened him to my overweight dogs. Also, with the anthropomorphic qualities that Davis attributes to Garfield he is not just identifying with animals but with people too. For instance, Garfield is standing on two feet in most of the comics, is thinking very human thoughts, and keeping up a constant sarcastic tone. The fact that he has no opposable thumbs does not seem to be an issue to him when it comes to grasping items either.
In making Garfield very cartoony it is forcing the reader to focus on the idea in the comic (McCloud, 31). The idea would be Garfield’s pursuit of food or hatred of Odie and Nermal. The way that Garfield cartoons are drawn allows us to focus on concepts rather than on physical appearance because they are not drawn realistically (41). In fact many of Davis’ comics rely on words more than they do on pictures. This one from 3/18/12 leaves Garfield almost the same in all the panels but adds dialogue and paper to show transition in time.
Check out this comic from 2/26/84. In it Davis demonstrates many of the concepts that McCloud discusses in chapter five, such as using words to demonstrate sound and using living lines to create movement. Look at the shape of the word “clobber”. It takes up an entire pane and the size of the letters suggests the impact of what happened. Notice how Davis also uses living lines to show the action of Garfield jumping.
I believe that reading McCloud has allowed me to analyze comics as an art form and to recognize how words and images work together to create an art form. I had no idea how many cognitive decisions that the author makes when drawing the comic to accurately put forth his message.
I had also not considered how much really goes on between the panes. I guess I had assumed that my interpretation of the gutter was similar if not exactly like those of other people. The length of time suggested between the panes leaves a wealth of room for interpretation. It makes a significant impact in the interpretation of the comic and what has occurred in the story.