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CCT 300: Critical Analysis of Media. Class 4: Representation in Comics: McCloud ’ s Take. Administration. Next week: Thanksgiving (no class – Monday December 3 is end of term as a result.) Last class before comic analysis assignment due – ask questions now!

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Cct 300 critical analysis of media

CCT 300: Critical Analysis of Media

Class 4: Representation in Comics: McCloud’s Take


  • Next week: Thanksgiving (no class – Monday December 3 is end of term as a result.)

  • Last class before comic analysis assignment due – ask questions now!

  • Final exam: Wed, Dec. 12th, 5-7pm, IB120 (room subject to change, check before.)

  • Cell phone policy – don’t become a statistic!

A quick first note
A quick first note…

  • Avoid “McCloud says A. Here’s an example of A.” So what? A recipe for a low B at best (worse if you get it wrong.)

  • Consider your comic as a designed text – everything is there for a reason.

  • Your own perspective on why is acceptable – outside research not explicitly necessary – but does it ever really hurt?

  • Analysis done by application of all rules = rambling and superficial – pick the highlights of McCloud most relevant to your own work

  • Feel free to critique McCloud – this book is nearly 20 years old, things have changed.

Comics as sequential art
Comics as Sequential Art

  • Historical emergence as“bastard child” of word and picture duality

  • An analysis of the history of sequential art and it’s relation to other similar media

  • (This usually isn’t a great way to start your paper – why?)

Picture reality meaning

  • Picture plane – representations of iconography, text and realism

  • A nice breakdown of potential options with a great (and quite historical) selection of cases

  • Again - simply noting that your comic exists in X space is OK, but why or to what good effect is more interesting

Comics as art form six steps
Comics as Art Form (Six Steps)

  • An interesting concept with considerable depth

  • Most people’s initial impression is surface – and many artists start there and work backwards (e.g., tracing and imitation to a better appreciation of the craft)

  • Exceptional work engages new ideas, new forms, expands genres, plays with structures in an innovative way

  • Hard to use for this assignment – why?

Representation in comics
Representation in Comics

  • Moment

  • Frame

  • Image

  • Word

  • Flow (McCloud’s 2006 work, Making Comics, re-presenting Understanding Comics well…)


  • Comics must represent transition among time visually

  • Comics must guide the reader’s sense of closure (i.e., leave the reader to fill in the gaps of the story…)

  • Saturation vs. interpretation similar to McLuhan’s notion of hot vs. cool media - comics generally as cool medium

Types of moment change
Types of Moment Change

  • Moment-to-Moment

  • Action-to-Action

  • Subject-to-Subject

  • Scene-to-Scene

  • Aspect-to-Aspect

  • Non-Sequitur

Differences in representing moment
Differences in Representing Moment

  • North American/European comics vs. Japanese - content analysis shows different ratios of moment transition

  • Experimental comics also break with “standard” North American ratios

  • Closure differs with each approach, as does the amount of moment transition


  • Comics focus reader’s attention on particular elements, creating sense of place, position, focus

  • Similar to other visual media (e.g., film, photography) - panels as designed, not accidental.

  • Even more so in comics– the frame is malleable, can expand, be misshaped, disappear entirely

Framing elements
Framing elements

  • “Camera” angle

  • Lighting (or lack thereof)

  • Closeups vs. wide shots

  • Distance and perspective

  • Symmetry and centering

  • The“gutter” – presence/absence, shape, colour affect both what is seen and transitions


  • Comics as iconic, symbolic medium

  • Often comics deliberately leave details vague to encourage reader participation in closure – e.g., our ability to see human faces everywhere

Image elements
Image elements

  • Level of detail - photorealism vs. iconography and effects of each

  • The role of icon in comics - simple comics often evoke interesting emotions (e.g., Peanuts)

  • Relation between background and foreground characters - (e.g., iconic characters and realistic background, e.g., Hergé’sTintin)

  • Expression (especially facial expression) and body language

  • Sound as image

  • Role of colour – colour as symbol and accent


  • Comics mix visual and literal forms, arguably more so than other visual media

  • A picture might equal 1000 words, but words can quickly contextualize and represent pictures in various ways

  • Words as sound effects – representation of aural channel in literal form

Word image interplay
Word/image interplay

  • Word specific

  • Image specific

  • Duo specific

  • Additive/intersecting

  • Interdependent

  • Parallel

  • Montage


  • Comics as sequential art - sequence of images becomes important in representation of time (e.g., photo of family gathering and reaction example)

  • Moment, frame, image, word choice work together to create (or sabotage) flow

  • How much of flow to show? Example of multi-panel comics on drunk driving - different stories are told, even with same beginning/ending points

Flow concerns
Flow concerns

  • Cultural norms (e.g., North American/European - left to right – manga flows differ, require instructions for non-regular readers)

  • Pace of transitions - Japanese comics and graphic novels spend more time for fuller exposition and slower moment changes

  • Breaking norms (experimental comics)

  • Extent to which creator guides flow - hot vs. cool again

Comic analysis xkcd
Comic Analysis: xkcd


  • Simple style, but subtlety complex – not “just” stick figures

  • Occasionally plays with webcomic convention

  • Occasionally very serious:

    • Money (

    • Fukushima (

  • What If? – new series

In class assignment
In-class Assignment

  • Apply one of McCloud’s principles to an XKCD comic of your choice (point form notes fine.)