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Free «Understanding Comics and Manga» Essay Sample


Understanding Comics is one form of a graphic novel that was authored by Scott McCloud, to examine the manner in which comics can be viewed as a form of art, the equivalent of literature or fine art. This has been done by illustrating how comics are comparable to other forms of art as well as demonstrating their differences. The arguments that have been brought out by the author are persuasive, because readers are required to work in order to identify the meaning of the terms and concepts illustrated. Therefore, the harder the effort put in reading and analyzing the novel is, the more literature is obtained. This paper seeks to provide an explanation of the concepts of closure and time that have been applied in this graphic novel.

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The Concept of Closure

Manga, referred to in the Western context as comics, is made up of about six to nine rectangular panels on each page. According to Saraceni (2003), panels depict states or sequential moments for generating information to the reader to come up with a story. The reader looks at the panel as a part of the narrative, where an event actually takes time and takes place. The author refers the blank spaces found between the panels as the gutter (McCloud, 1994).  However, readers are actually required to connect the images found within the empty spaces through their imagination and generate some meanings (Gibson, 2008). The relationship between the gutter and the panel is, therefore, referred to as closure (McCloud, 1994). The concept of closure in comics is considered as the aspect of filling the gaps observed through imagination, thus enabling readers to comprehend the meaning and action between two seemingly distinct panels (Gibson, 2008). In his novel Understanding Comics, McCloud states that closure is a grammar that underpins the language of manga storytelling and defines it as the practice of viewing the parts but perceiving the whole (McCloud, 1994, p. 63). In other words, closure could be viewed as what the reader may assume took place between two frames, although that has not been depicted. Therefore, closure has been applied to allow readers to link the visual fractions regarding the irregular movements, or to construct the entire scene through the aspect of imagination.

Indeed, it is noted that the human minds act in response to the patterns that appear familiar, despite the fact that it can actually be considered as incomplete information, which is viewed as a survival instinct. In closure, the author refers to an intensely real phenomenon and considers it highly significant for understanding comics. He outlines different types of closure throughout the novel. For instance, it is apparent that the creation of manga entails the use of symbolism. The manga lines constitute symbolic elements such as gestures or the character’s facial expressions to strengthen this unique language. However, depending on the methods of page distribution, McCloud has outlined different types of closure in his novel. For instance, moment-to-moment whereby the same character is depicted from one panel to the other, developing a single action. However, a little closure is required here considering the fact that the action appears to be continuous and a lot of events take place between the panels. Closure is also depicted in the form of action-to-action, whereby the same character appears all the way through the panels. In subject-to-subject closure, two characters are depicted as part of the same scene. Another form of closure applied in the novel is the aspect to aspect, whereby the author bypasses time, while setting a wandering eye on various aspects concerning an idea or place. Basically, how a reader views a closure in comics provides an implication that may be totally different from what others might have.

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How Time Is Represented and Controlled

It is worth noting that time is one aspect that is highly significant when it comes to comics. A time frame is indeed viewed as a frame of time in discussing comics. Just like the beat in the screen play, it is crucial to note that pauses can also be introduced to comics to help enhance the impact at a moment in time. However, the sense of time is controlled by the reader’s capacity to read into the images within the comic frames and assess the time frame for every activity within the comic frame. Furthermore, it is imperative to note that in comics, the past, present and future are all displayed on the same page, and it is only the reader’s eye that can forward the narrative unlike other mediums such as films. This is based on the iconography, structure and words within the frame.

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In chapter four of McCloud’s Understanding the Comics, it is noted how the aspect of time can be manipulated and controlled by the graphic artist. The author starts by providing the reader with a quite large panel to display as an example that a single panel does not stand for a single moment in time, but stands for a number of moments within it. This has been brought out in a kind of metaphor to allow the readers to consider it as a rope, whereby “every inch corresponds to a second” (McCloud, 1994). Therefore, if it happens that the reader takes a rope and goes forward to string it through every balloon, while reading from left to right, a time line within the panel would be displayed.  The aspect of time has also been illustrated through the silent panels. However, this has been used to illustrate a single moment, whereby the silence is sued to denote the single moments, whereas the introduction of sound within the panels is a clear indication that it is no longer considered a single moment. In addition, the length of panels could also be used to illustrate time in the comics. After explaining the time movements through the panels, an explanation of motion and movement within the panels is provided. The aspects of time and movement are then linked to allow readers understand how time has been incorporated into the panels.

McCloud proceeds and highlights that multiple tricks have been provided to manage movements that take place within frames. For instance, one trick may generate a motion blur which is basically inspired by the moving subjects’ photography, whereas others may simply draw a line to indicate the movement both in space and time. In chapter three of McCloud’s novel, the aspect of time has been brought forward through the use of closure (McCloud, 1994). This has indeed helped to provide an understanding of time in comics. Observing a character going through a motion displays a variation of things, for instance, one panel showing one part of a movement and the next showing the other, whereas the set of lines illustrates some form of motion. However, every illustration represents a moment in time. What is essential to note is the fact that the author sheds some light on the path of motion. He points out that some artists have created “multiple images of the subjects” with the purpose of illustrating movement through action, whereas others have actually applied the “photographic streaking effects” which gives the readers an indication of the passing time in such illustrations (McCloud, 1994). Whereas the illustration of multiple images containing a single character doing a single action may imply multiple moments in time, and the streaking moments could only be taken to present a single moment and the previous moments depicted as a blur, it is crucial to note that both present the readers with the concept of motion that can only happen over a period of time (McCloud, 1994). This is what actually provides the difference between comics and photography, in that illustrations are applied in comics and the suggestions given to such illustrations could be used to represent the aspect of time. For instance, when we read about McCloud at the end of the frame, this has been illustrated to actually show that he is running, considering the fact that motion streaks have been shown behind him. This gives the implication that some form of movement was taking place. However, it depends on the reader’s frame of mind, hence creating an illusion of time more willingly than a single moment.

Comics are primarily static, but can move quickly just like the eyes of the readers, unlike movies and other films. The comic artist can make use of diverse techniques in order to enable the reader moving at the pace of a roper and prompt the reader in shifting to the next panel or idea. As McCloud (1994) highlights, it is highly possible to illustrate elapsing time by placing characters spatially to allow them to interact with one another from left to right in a single panel comic. Thus, as the reader shifts from the panel’s beginning to the left, the aspect of time is inherently created in a cohesive and logical order. However, in multi-panel strips, the aspect of time can be attained basing on the amount of space available between the panels, amount of panels containing stagnant objects or the panel’s size.


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