This is a short story about how it is that I’m posting on this blog for Richmond magazine that connects to a free talk by cartoonist and comics theorist Scott McCloud on Monday (April 6) at 7 p.m. at the Grace Street Theatre.
“So what do you want to do for a living?”
I was maybe 17, and the guidance counselor at Lloyd C. Bird High School wanted to discern the plan for the rest of my professional life.
No immediate answer came, so the counselor pressed. “What do you like to do?”
“Well, I draw. I like that. I think I’d like to be an artist.”
I drew all the time. I composed “novels” of drawn panels involving round green antennae-sprouting Martians coming to snatch our class up for interstellar adventures. A friend and I on occasion collaborated; we had Jupitarians (friendly, purple, with football-shape heads) and Saturnians, too, who were hairy, yellow cycloptic creatures built like bowling pins, but with radar dishes poking from their heads. I also tried my hand at a serial about Hason Knix, a plodding schlemiel who just never could get anything right. He resembled a slumped, goateed Dagwood Bumstead.
The counselor knew nothing of my ambitions. He instead shook his head and may have laughed.
“You can’t make any money doing that. What else do you like to do?”
“Well, I write.”
“Good. You can be a journalist then. There’s a good journalism school right up the street, Virginia Commonwealth University. You can go there for that.”
And that is, more or less, how my adult life was planned, in the space of five minutes or less, because of not possessing the information of what to do with myself.
Scott McCloud didn’t encounter such a decision in quite this way, according to his TED talk. At about age 14, he was introduced to comic books and his life’s work appeared.
He’s written groundbreaking books about how the sequential art form works, the conventions it adheres to and the rules the style can break. His 1993 Understanding Comics is taught in college classes.
He’s just published a 496-page graphic novel titled The Sculptor, whose main character acquires the ability to make art from any material, except that he can live just 200 days. The reviews are, well, favorable.
McCloud is engaging, insightful and funny. He speaks of the merging of technology and narrative and how “immersive” environments are going to alter the concept of the comic. He calls this “the search for a durable mutation.”
Well. I went on to VCU, spent years in journalism. My first classes were with Dulcie Murdock in a dismal basement room of the Franklin Street gym. The class was on occasion canceled on the account of misery due to heat. In Joan Deppa’s course on feature writing, we used those electric roller-style typewriters that were so last word that little did we know, they represented a final evolution. Joan was a former UPI reporter who kept a brick from the Paris riots of ’68 on her desk. We loved her. In the late 1980s, she started thinking about computers and the department at the time wasn’t ready for such considerations. Nor was I – among other things. So I ended up after six years and Pell grants an English major with minors in history, philosophy, a concentration in journalism (they didn’t have minors then), and three credits short of a minor in art history. I might’ve taken a life-changing course from artist Richard Carlyon if it weren't for a physical education requirement (I took fencing and was terrible – I still don’t know how the credits were granted.)
So you know where this story goes. McCloud talks about the spaces between the panels of a comic that allow the imagination to fill in what has transpired. A good graphic storyteller is a combination of poet and filmmaker. So much of the beauty comes from the editing.
McCloud’s talk should interest anybody with even a tangential interest in the form. And maybe you can figure out then what you want to do when you grow up.