Point Of Discussion

By | Tuesday, March 31, 2009 Leave a Comment
Scott McCloud's definition of comics is "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." Using that definition, does a rebus puzzle count as comics? We have images in a sequence which (at least in this example) is used to convey information. But it's hardly something most people would consider comics.

Other definitions of comics are around, certainly, and some have argued that comics defy a rigid definition. Derik Badman brought up a point to my attention from an article a little over a year ago that works discussing "novels" don't start by trying to define what a novel is. One just assumes that we're all on the same page from the beginning.

Neil Cohn has been wrestling with the vocabulary of comics and, more significantly, visual language (a distinctly different beast) for some time. One of his points is that "comics" are essentially what people call "comics." Meaning that, if you give Joe Average an installment of Family Circus and ask him if he would consider it a comic, he'll say yes. If you give the same guy the your-seat-can-be-used-as-a-flotation-device instructions found on the airplane and ask him the same question, he'll say no. Comics in that sense are defined in much the same way as pornography: "I know it when I see it." (Though Cohn freely admits that McCloud's definition has deeply permeated comics culture, and is frequently accepted as the only definition available.)

What piques my interest here is that, by McCloud's definition, the rebus is considered comics. But, by Cohn's definition, not only is the rebus not comics, but it doesn't really even qualify as "visual language" but is rather just of a hybrid of words and pictures, as opposed to a unique language in and of itself. At least, as I understand it in my limited readings of Cohn's work. I'd certainly be interested to hear/read his thoughts on the subject.

What I'd also like to know are YOUR thoughts on the subject. Does the rebus indeed defy McCloud's definition, rendering it invalid (at worst) or incomplete (at best)? If it's incomplete, what needs changed or added? If it's invalid, how does Cohn's definition hold up?

In short, what ARE comics?
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