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Books–Making Comics (IV) October 19, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Books, Cartooning, Memory, My other blog, Other.

I guess I should mention here that McCloud is on tour with his family and blogging about the tour, and he has a nice website as well.  Anyway, his sections on facial expressions, body language, and emotion are the ones I have learned the most from in this wonderful book.  But again, the ones that I have found validating and the ones I find myself thinking about the most are concerned with rhetoric and consciousness. 

One of the primary difficulties everybody faces, and one that is getting much worse because of the internet, is the simple fact that we are drowning in information.  If you don’t find yourself constantly struggling to filter out superfluous information, you are doing it unconsciously. 

So to gain an audience, whether it is in some sort of writing at work, or performing, or gaining and keeping friends, you have to make sure that you don’t send too many messages that you don’t intend to broadcast, because these increase the ratio of noise to signal.  And they make everyone’s information management problems more difficult.

Think, for just a second, about how many Web 2.0 technologies exist only to help us to filter our information more effectively.  Bloglines (or other RSS reading mechanisms) allows us to take weblogs that may have radically different facades and make them appear more uniform so that we can extract the actual content from webposts, rather than getting distracted by the appearance of that post and that blog.  Google and other search engines filter out sites when we are looking for information.  Flickr sets up tags so that we don’t have to (mostly) look at thousands of pictures that we are uninterested in.

Or think about this:

“[I]t is possible to process at most 126 bits of information per second, or 7,560 per minute, or almost half a million per hour.  Over a lifetime of seventy years, and counting sixteen hours of waking time each day, this amounts to about 185 billion bits of information.  It is out of this total that everything in our life must come–every thought, memory, feeling, or action. ”  —Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990.

Or take it from Scott McCloud:

“Your readers are humans, just like you and me, and we all sort information in the same way.  Every day our five senses take in an overwhelming amount of information, yet we quickly sort out what we care about from the chaos and direct our attention toward it.  And at the end of the day, it’s the flow of selected moments that we remember–and all those other sensations are left on the cutting-room floor.”

So you are engaged constantly, as the day progresses, in creating a narrative of that day, a flow of events that makes enough sense to you that you will remember it as a story. 

For Csikszentmihalyi, this constant decision-making process is called “attention.” 

“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated.  We create ourselves by how we invest this energy.  Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it.  And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we pleasse; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.” Flow, pp. 33.  (This forms a part of the context for my other blog, in case it wasn’t obvious already).

McCloud’s advice about how to get rid of extraneous information from cartoons and how to think about composition in this medium is a better, more helpful guide to rhetoric in any medium than I have seen in books posing as guides to rhetoric.  And part of the reason he gets these messages across so forcefully is that he does it visually (a big part, too, is that he is passionate about the importance of this stuff.)   Whether you are constructing a comic book or making sense of your day, McCloud is in invaluable explainer.

I might have more to say about McCloud as I continue to ponder this book.  For now all I can say is, in the words of Patrick McDonnell’s cartoon dog(?) character in Mutts: “I bow to your wow.”


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