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Blood in the Gutter by Scott McCloud

December 24th, 2020
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Comics represent quite young yet popular genre in modern culture. It seems like there is nothing difficult in understanding comics, but Scott McCloud shows that under any set of still pictures, there is even more than one story: there is the whole world of human imagination.

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Understanding the text starts with understanding the title. We see a lot of titles every day reading a book, magazine, or newspaper and rarely think about the fact that the title of a great novel as well as of the smallest newspaper note is a kind of invention, a key that opens all the following text. It attracts the attention of the reader or viewer, summarizes the overall content of the work, and in the best case intrigues. The justification of the title Blood in the Gutter can be viewed from two perspectives. Closure for blood, gutter for veins (73) this metaphor was used by Scott McCloud in one of the panels. I believe that in this way, the author tried to show that the space between the pictures is the form, and the closure is its content. As well as blood fills the veins, the gutters are filled with specific senses. Thus, uncomplicated conclusions allow deriving the figurative meaning of the title suggested by the author. The second assumption, which came to my mind while reading the comics, is associated with the authors idea that the reader is a silent accomplice. We are the ones who shed the blood of the victims in these gutters.

When it comes to the approval that the reader is an equal partner in crime as well as co-author, I completely agree. Art, in my opinion, always leaves room for deliberation and for personal closure as well. It reflects not only and not so much the author’s ideas as the ideas of a viewer/listener/reader who perceives it through the prism of ones own reality. Therefore, many people prefer books to movies: books give space for the manifestation of ones own self. In fact, they create a movie in every persons mind, where the author of the book is a screenwriter, while the work of director, actors, decorators, etc. is the result of the readers imagination. Comics, in turn, give visual pictures: starting points, which person connects to each other in mind. Therefore, I agree with the authors point of view that the comic is significantly different in perceptibility and continuity.

It is proved that the mechanism of perception of each person is original and unique, but it does not mean that the ability to perceive the world in a certain way is given to person by birth. Perception is formed through active interaction with the surrounding cultural and natural environment and depends on a number of factors such as gender, experience, training, education, needs, etc.

One feature inherent in human brains is the ability or even the need to combine elements into a whole. This peculiarity can be explained through a simple example: each of us has blind spots in the visual field, where there are no sensory receptors. However, we would not know about them but for the biology course, because the picture in our minds is integral. Even if you close one eye, you probably will not see a hole. The brain fills the void as if we see it all.

The same mechanism of perception triggers in our brain when we read comics. Even seeing incoherent pictures, we try to build out a story. In childhood, we played games training our logic and deduction, looking for associations, connecting dots into a picture, and piecing together jigsaw puzzles. Now, our mind does the same making a general picture out of small ones. However, what this picture will look like depends on individual characteristics and experience of the person.

Scott McCloud presents us a classification of comics and gives examples of the use of the links between images in the works of different authors. It is quite predictable, but in my opinion, subject-to-subject transition is the most powerful and one of the most widely used (according to the statistics). This connection shows panels describing the same situation but different subject in it and thus, requires closure from the reader, which makes it rather interesting and dynamic. Aspect-to-aspect transition, as for me, is too static. It is good to use it to become familiar with the situation or the environment in which the characters happen to be, but it does not produce a powerful effect on the reader. Non-sequitur transition, in turn, may simply knock reader for a loop. Of course, this is also a kind of effect, but if such a dissonance may invite someone to think, the others may just pass by without going into the reasons for such oddities of the author.

Such an art of intervals as comics is the only one of its kind. Comics took a part from fine arts, a part from literature, and synthesized them into a separate art form. Of course, the intervals exist in other forms of art. In the movies, especially in cartoons, in particularly tense moments the screen gets black. After a few seconds of intrigue the action continues. This is also a kind of interval, but it bears a different function to pique viewers curiosity rather than give the opportunity to participate in the creation of the plot. Actors use pauses in their monologues, but, again, for dramatic effect.

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I agree with McCloud that what is not in a work of art is often as critical as what is in a work of art. In my opinion, art should be so. Sometimes, the less you know, the better, because in some situations, much more powerful effect is to leave the closure for the viewer/reader/listener. This is show-don’t-tell story model, and it leads to the idea that the best closures are those that can be turned in mind over and over, again and again reproducing the events. This is exactly what writers, filmmakers, and artists aspire to do: to make people think. Famous Black Square painted by Malevich is just a one big gutter, which is why it causes so many disputes, theories, and versions.

The closure is used in virtually all types of art. Even in the art of advertising such a feature of the human brain plays into the hands of producers. Jingles, characters or stories are so fixed in our minds that the passage of a song, an image, or even a combination of colors evokes associations with a particular product.

Speaking of the most powerful impressions of the closure experienced while watching a movie, I cannot but recall the mystical film The Sixth Sense. All oddities and inexplicable things that occurred during the action have finally found an explanation, which is quite unexpected and disturbing. Maybe, if I were more attentive watching the movie, I would gather all the irregularities that bothered me in a row of pictures and deduce their correlation. However, I did not, and only in the end of the movie, the jigsaw fell into place.

Thus, people perceive or do not perceive, like or dislike comics depending on their psychological characteristics, and especially the ability to dream. For a person with a vivid imagination, comics are the ability to know themselves and turn a set of still images into a real continuous story. People with a heightened need for closure prefer movies because they provide a sustained flow of audio and visual information.

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