It’s easy to over-saturate any comic book conversation with McCloudian theories, so I’m semi-hesitant on spending more time on what he has to say for the sake of keeping variety in this blog. But when I was flipping through Making Comics I came across a chapter that very much added to my understanding of story telling in general, not just comics. In the chapter he breaks down the motivations, values, and goals of comic creators and organizes them into four categories: the Classicists, Animists, Formalists, and Iconoclasts. He summarizes it all at about the speed of light at this TED Talk(starting at around 5:52), but I want to spend a little more time on the subject in hopes to inspire new perspectives on comics. Below are the four categories and roughly what they are supposed to represent:
This group puts an emphasis on the mastery of craft and the pursuit of perfection. For them there can never be enough practice and bar for the quality of their performance is constantly a notch above their current level. This is the kind of stuff that aims to be timeless. I like to think of the Italian Renascence, or in the case of comics I think Alex Ross will suffice as an example(just to wet your appetite).
For these guys and gals, making the story come alive as much as possible is the number one goal. They want the characters to be real and to take on a life of their own, and for the story to build so much momentum that it exist on its own terms. They look beyond the craft and onto the content. These reviews of Batman: The Long Halloween ought to give you a few examples of the reaction an Animist might want to get from an audience.
Experimentation takes priority for the Formalists. They want to look towards the potential of comics as a medium and to explore just exactly where it can go by testing the boundaries. The actual quality of the craft and story is not what they are most conscious of; for them these can be put aside to achieve the different goal of truly gaining the fullest and deepest understanding of the medium as possible. Nowadays all you really need to do is google “most experimental webcomic” to get a taste of what this group is about, but I thought this one was pretty trippy.
This group sets out to be as honest and authentic as possible. Doing as much justice to oneself and the true reality of the world is what they want to accomplish through their story telling. They don’t necessarily care how perfect the form of the art is or if the story is engaging. Every other type of comic neglects the honest truth of the human experience, pimples and all. Maus is just about as classic an example you’ll get of the work of this kind of comic artist.