Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Scott McCloud on the Evolving Art of American Comics

Scott McCloud broke into the independent comics scene in the mid-Eighties with a good-hearted science fiction comic, Zot!, and in subsequent decades he became known for his books on comics theory and technique, Understanding Comics (1993), Reinventing Comics (2000), and Making Comics (2006).

He returns to fiction with his new graphic novel, The Sculptor, in which David, a young artist, makes a deal with Death: He gains the ability to sculpt anything he can imagine just by thinking about it, with the condition that in 200 days, he’ll die. Inventive and suspenseful, The Sculptor is an opportunity to witness one of comics’ finest educators putting everything he’s learned into the service of a story.

The character of David essentially has a super power albeit with a catch. Is it an outgrowth of your time enmeshed in superhero comics?

It was one of many random ideas I had in this big old three-ring binder I’d owned since high school. It’s a young man’s story, if you think about it. That’s the central challenge of the project for me, was coming to accept my roots as an American comics artist. In many ways I’d been railing against power fantasies for years, trying to convince people comics are much more than that – but at the same time, here was this old power fantasy that I had in my back pocket all those years. So yeah, acceptance seems to be a theme.

I’m writing about an artist who has to accept his own mortality, and being forgotten, and how small he is in the eyes of the universe, and I’m trying to accept that, yes, I am part of a culture, and yes, there is that little piece of the DNA of American comics embedded in this thing.

You’re often known as a theorist, so it’s great to see you flexing your storytelling muscles again.

If I’ve done my job right, I’ve obscured the theory to the extent that it’s a fairly transparent reading experience, where folks will be sucked into the story, but not necessarily overly aware of the mechanics. Even though it’s a very deliberately constructed piece of storytelling, it’s constructed with an eye toward vanishing in the eyes of the reader. I’d like it to be an intuitive, immediate, visceral experience.

I have a great love of surprise. It’s so hard to pull off in a way that doesn’t feel like cheating—they key is the relationship between surprise and inevitability. Something that takes the audience utterly unawares, but once the dust has settled, you realize it couldn’t have gone any other way. That’s what I was striving for, and there are a number of surprises in the book. Of course, I love my art form, but the one thing that I curse it for is the fact that it’s way too easy for my readers to pick it up on the shelf and page through it, and see all my surprises.

Was there a technique you worked through with Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics that you were dying to get into a story?

The research that I did for facial expressions and body language for Making Comics—those were absolutely essential. If there’s one thing I wanted to really ramp up, it was what my editor and I were calling the “human theater” of it. The rhythm of conversations, the importance of gesture. Those quiet moments in between. In comics, there was such a premium on saving space for so many years, when the standard format was only twenty-four pages, that there was a tendency to cram everything that you needed to know into a big, fat word balloon. And the word balloon might contain three or four different moods. You’ve got four different emotional ideas, but there’s no room, so here’s everything you need to know, and here’s a face, and the face is some sort of neutral, generic expression that can cover all these ideas. And that’s just such a missed opportunity. Because emotion is action. Emotion is story. When someone has a change of emotional state, that matters.

So when we first started coming out with these three- or four-hundred page books, many people thought, “Oh, that’s great, I can cram more story into them.” But it took people like Seth or Craig Thompson to demonstrate that this was also an opportunity to do in twenty pages what we used to do in two. And that there are solid narrative reasons to do that, to do what some writers and artists would call “decompressed” storytelling. Although I never liked that term because it presupposes that the compressed form is the natural order of things, which I never thought it was.

What do you hope readers get from The Sculptor?

I wanted it to be a page-turner, for starters. I want it to be an emotional experience, and I want people to be left with an impression that doesn’t fully resolve itself, because of the contradictions in the story. The story pulls in two different directions, but it pulls very strongly. I didn’t want the kind of ambiguity that’s just smudged and blurry and noncommittal. I wanted the kind of ambiguity in which great forces are pulling all the way to the ceiling and all the way to the floor.

How did you settle on the black and blue color palette?

Partially out of necessity. Full color is hard. It requires a lot of control, it’s expensive and labor-intensive, and in my case, it’s a deal-breaker because my color sense is not good enough that I could do it all myself if I was doing full color. On the other end of the spectrum, I think black and white can be really effective. There’s a lot in pure black and white to admire, but for me, the way I draw, I find that the form doesn’t necessarily come through. They eye can sometimes stumble over that jungle of lines, possibly because I don’t like to use too many spot blacks. By bringing in that second color, I can use it to clarify form. So when you open up two pages of The Sculptor, you’re less likely to see it as a jumble of lines, and more likely to see it as a collection of places, and people, geometry, space, and depth. Those things tend to come more quickly to the eye when you’ve used that second color to clarify, to show clear overlaps, or to indicate atmosphere, things like that.

What’s next for you?

It’s going to be a book about visual communication—not just about comics. I’m going to see if I can try to distill the principles of best practices for information graphics, data visualization, educational animation, educational comics—the ways that we communicate through images. Because I think in all these disciplines, people seem to be all trying to reinvent the wheel, and I’m pretty sure that most of them are knocking on the same door.


The Sculptor, published by First Second, hits stores on Feburary 3. Scott McCloud discusses the book and comics in general at the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Avenue, 212-415-5500, 92Y.org) at 8:15 p.m. February 3 in a conversation with Tim Leong, author of Super Graphic. Tickets are $30.

Categories
Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

KEANE EYES

If you’re doing makeup for a Tim Burton movie, you go through a lot of eyeliner. The Mad Hatter, Edward Scissorhands, and even some characters not played by Johnny Depp drape the windows to their souls in curtains of mascara or eyeshadow. It’s small wonder, then, that Burton collects Margaret Keane’s paintings of tots wide-eyed with the terrible knowledge of childhood. He’s channeled his enthusiasm into Big Eyes, a biopic of the artist; along with stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, Burton will be discussing his love of Keane’s work at the 92nd Street Y tonight. Don’t blink.

Fri., Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m., 2014

Categories
Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

‘Soul Jazz Festival’

The inaugural two-day festival honors the rich interplay between soul and jazz, often called nu-jazz, showcasing the inventive sampling of DJ Logic, Hammond-B3 grease monkey Joey DeFrancesco, multi-reedist Brian Landrus, and bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding. A bandleader is only as good as his sidemen, and in this case, their respective groups are rounded out by consummate players, among them drummer Billy Hart, saxophonist George Garzone, keyboardists Leo Genovese and Ray Angry, vocalist Nadia Washington and bassist Lonnie Plaxico. Spalding closes out the festival with music from her forthcoming, as-yet untitled album, replete with soul covers, standards, and her earthen tones in the upper and lower registers.

March 14-15, 7:30 p.m., 2014

Categories
Healthcare Living NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

NO FEAR

This season’s five-week “Stripped/Dressed” series, curated by choreographer Doug Varone, opens with a sidelong 
tribute to The Rite of Spring, minus the Stravinsky score and the flock of pagan maidens. Zimbabwe native Nora Chipaumire’s rite riot addresses complex issues surrounding people in power gazing at women and Africans, the fickleness of American celebrity, spring rituals in Zimbabwe, and the sacrifices central to a dance career. The fierce Ms. Chipaumire, who holds a degree from Zimbabwe’s School of Law and advanced certificates in dance from Mills College, has won almost every prize the dance world offers in her 10 years stateside; she’s featured in several recent films, and has taught and performed nationwide. Now based here, she’s fearless, focused, and frightening.

Fri., Feb. 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 22, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 23, 3 p.m., 2014

Categories
Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

DON’T HATE

With the plethora of selfies and vacation and baby pictures all over social media, 
it’s become second nature to hate and criticize them. But know this: All the negativity is only hurting you. Tonight’s talk Love Your Enemies is a conversation with Robert Thurman, a Buddhist writer and academic, and Sharon Salzberg (Real Happiness — The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program), about how “anger and even hatred become addictive,” which leads to a vicious cycle of emptiness and unhappiness. They also explain why these emotions are “destructive and how to use our most unpleasant feelings to turn the key to becoming whole and happy — freeing ourselves to experience the joy that is inner peace.” Uma Thurman moderates.

Mon., Dec. 2, 8:15 p.m., 2013

Categories
Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

WILD LEGACY

“Children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile,” Maurice Sendak once said. “They have to be tough. Childhood is not easy.” Making it a little easier was Sendak himself, who expanded imagination’s map to include night kitchens where boys might be baked into cakes and islands where unruly Wild Things hold wild rumpuses. The late author is celebrated tonight at 92Y Tribeca by children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus, artist Rick Meyerowitz, and others. Farther uptown, the Society of Illustrators is exhibiting hundreds of original Sendak illustrations. Exhibit through August 17, Society of 
Illustrators, 128 East 63rd Street, 
societyillustrators.org.

Mondays-Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: July 16. Continues through Aug. 17, 2013

Categories
Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Jerome Kern

Jerome Kern wasn’t a lyricist, but he sure as shootin’ worked with some of the Broadway’s top wordsmiths during the several decades he spent as Broadway’s top composer. Oscar Hammerstein, Yip Harburg, Dorothy Fields, and Johnny Mercer all set words to the tunes he produced and then reminded his collaborators they weren’t to change a single note. Appearing, among other Kernites, in “The Song is You” are Barbara Carroll, Paula West, James Naughton, Jeffry Denman, and Karen Ziemba.

Sat., May 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 5, 2 & 7 p.m.; Mon., May 6, 2 & 7:30 p.m., 2013

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events FILM ARCHIVES Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

THE SOCIAL ARTIST

Queens native Jesse Eisenberg has had quite the couple of years—from a doubleshot Golden Globe/Oscar nomination for “Best Actor” in The Social Network, where he made good use of his uncanny resemblance to Internet mogul Mark Zuckerberg, to a quiet but successful foray into playwriting Off-Broadway (Asuncion). Now Eisenberg is returning to the Cherry Lane Theatre with his second drama, The Revisionist, in which he’ll portray a struggling science fiction writer who travels to Poland and meets his 75-year-old Holocaust survivor cousin, played by the legend herself, Vanessa Redgrave. Tonight, he sits down with novelist Thane Rosenbaum to discuss his career, upcoming projects, and, really, whatever you want—questions can be submitted online before the Q&A.

Mon., Feb. 11, 8:15 p.m., 2013

Categories
Healthcare NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Beats, Rhymes, Life

No matter what happens, no matter how many times he makes an “Oochie Wally” or an I Am . . ., New Yorkers will always love Nas, in part because there’s always a “Thief’s Theme” or a Stillmatic hiding right around the corner. His latest return to form, the summer hit Life Is Good, featured the city’s rapper laureate spitting over Salaam Remi and No I.D.–produced boom-bap, and launched a song about worrying over your daughter into Hot 97 rotation. Tonight, he comes to 92Y to discuss (with Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis) his youth in Queens, his early days in the rap game, and the real-life daughter behind his latest hit.

Tue., Jan. 8, 8 p.m., 2013

Categories
Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Dave Douglas Quintet

The trumpeter/bandleader gets noticed with every move, but the fact that the new Be Still features Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan upping the plaintive quotient with her vocals is especially buzzworthy. It almost makes an act of uniting tunes by Vaughan Williams and Ola Belle Reed seem like business as usual. Both are valuable gambits however: Team Douglas’s interplay has never had more heart

Wed., Sept. 19, 8 p.m., 2012