It’s nice to have categories. It feels safe because it appears as if there is nothing unknown beyond. It is naïve to actually believe this, but comfort is always running the risk of naivety. So we sometimes call ourselves ‘Post-modern’, sometimes ‘Socialists’, ‘Pacifists’ and ‘Occidentals’, ‘Dusky’ and ‘Introverts’. Sometimes ‘all of these’, and sometimes ‘none of these’.
Recently, a categorization of kinds of comics followers I came across helped me understand how different people might approach comics, and where a person might place himself/herself. It helps one prioritise and objectivise, and in turn hunt for elusive aspects of the medium. Here are the four broad generalisations, in the artist’s own hand.
Can you guess whose this is? It’s the person whose name is probably first on anyone’s mind when you think Comics Theory – Scott McCloud. He discusses comics culture in his 2006 book ‘Making Comics’ and he places this as a graphic essay at the end of the book.
The 4 approaches can be defined as follows:
- Classicist – People who uphold the craft and its principles above all else
- Animist – People who uphold the content and its connect above all else
- Formalist – People who look to possibilities and breaking boundaries in the form
- Iconoclast – People who look for honesty and subversion through the art
Some examples of these approaches are the following,
It goes without saying that none of these are water-tight, and overlapping of categories is natural and desirable. A multi-disciplinary, multi-influential approach to anything is good. A rapturous animist can be heavily classical, a bare-knuckles iconoclast can be a whirling formalist, and so on. What’s more, McCloud says that it is probably natural for one person to move along many of these classifications in their lifetime. For instance he takes the example of Osamu Tezuka, the revered manga creator, who dabbled in as many different styles as the number of stories he wrote, which is a helluva lot. Take this sampling,
So, really, the richest of comics work comes from the most varied approach that one can take. Even the formally straightforward, uncomplicated results (like ‘Maus’) can come out of a looong journey of making dozens and dozens of almost anything (see Spiegelman’s older work).
I find myself, at this point in time, to be a formalist. That’s probably a mix of scholarliness and wide-eyed-amazement. Maybe someday I can aspire to be an Animist, and even later an Iconoclast. I doubt, though, that I can be a Classicist, because I just don’t have the discipline. (And, please, this is not an order of difficulty, just the order of my difficulties.)
Categories, as long as we don’t swear by them, are really the building blocks of culture.