In Chapter One of Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud attempts to define for the reader what comics are. He begins by creating a firm definition between the relationship between the message and the messenger. The message is the content that fills the pages in the comic. While the messenger is the actual physical object of the comic book itself. In this book, McCloud focuses mostly on the message, rather than the messenger. In order to explain and analyze the the message, or the content, McCloud must first explain what a comic is and what it is not.
He begins with master comics artist Will Eisner’s definition of ‘Sequential Art.’ This means that individual images that exist with no other images of sequence are simply pictures. However, when the image is part of a sequence, even a sequence of only two, the images are transformed into something closer to comics.
McCloud doesn’t settle with this definition, though. Eisner’s definition lacked any “matters of style, quality or subject matter” (McCloud 5). He tries to specify the type of art ‘sequential art’ is referring to by creating the definition of ‘sequential visual art.’ The problem that then McCloud faces when defining comics is the uniqueness of how comics are spatially juxtaposed in that “each frame of comics must occupy a different space” (7). And lastly, McCloud wants to define how comics use a combination of pictures and words to tell a story and that words are tiny images. So, the definition comes to be “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (20).
He notes that his definition excludes:
- Cartoons and animation as comics:
– These are simply approaches to picture creating, which is not fully what the medium of comics are.
- Single panels:
-There can not be a sequence if there is only one image.
- The Egyptian hieroglyphics:
-Some hieroglyphics represent sounds, such as the American alphabet, and therefore do not represent pictures and are unable to fit the definition McCloud created.