Scott McCloud: The Visual Magic of Comics

In my tutorial with Kim, it was suggested that I look at Scott McCloud and what he has written on understanding comics. In searching for his books, I came across this Ted Talk and thought I’d take a look at this before purchasing books.

So, three types of vision, right? Vision based on what one cannot see,the vision of that unseen and unknowable. The vision of that which has already been proven or can be ascertained. And this third kind, a vision of something which can be, which may be, based on knowledge but is, as yet, unproven.

When McCloud started to talk about this in relation to inventions never realised in history, I could relate this to fibromyalgia to a degree. It is most related to the third kind of vision, something that is felt and experienced but with no visual evidence, is difficult for others to quantify.

…learn from everyone;follow no one;watch for patterns;and work like hell

McCloud talks about how working in comic books is him “embracing his nature”. If I am to consider my illness as a practice, to get the best from it I need to embrace it, which I think I am doing to a degree. I am channeling my energy into this research project that is not only helping me to understand who I am with my diagnosis, but hopefully will be able to educate others affected by the condition and reflect a shared experience for fellow patients.

One of the most important things about comics that I discovered was that comics are a visual medium,but they try to embrace all of the senses within it.

This makes complete sense and something I hadn’t really thought too deeply about before. Pictures, words, symbols, are all funneled through vision. Through visuals, comic books use text to narrate sound, but not only the text itself but the way in which it is drawn and typography, creating texture and definition. Also, composition plays a part in what is visible and what is suggested. The way in which panels are laid out can suggest distance or time. The sizes of panels and their placement create what McCloud calls a “temperal map”, a sense of time. If I want to tell stories of life with a chronic illness, I need to be able to embrace as many senses as I can, for a more immersive experience that can resonate and educate.

McCloud looks into the history of these sorts of frameworks. The Egyptians sequenced images in their decorative paintings, the same in the Bayeux Tapestry. This isn’t a new way of story telling; the patterns in comic books and ancient forms of storytelling are the same, just using the available technologies to create stories as visuals.

What is different to comic books as we know them and ancient comics is that ancient comics have a single, unbroken reading line, whether its a zig zag up the walls or one continuous line. Since print, we have had to adapt to the convenience of rectangles, something I could look into deeper based on Marshall McCluhan’s “The Medium is the Massage”, but will do this another time. Because of these new “restrictions”, the reading line was broken again and again.

What interests me is this in relation to chronic illness. Referring back to what Jennifer Brea talks about in “Unrest”, these illnesses are not triumphant or fatal. We are unlikely to be cured and it will not kill us, but we continue to exist with them. There is no real ending to it, just occasional points of feeling a bit better and feeling a bit worse. This is perhaps why I am having difficulty in accepting that this project could be presented in a book.

From my experience, this illness is a scrambling of experiences, that could well (or more than likely) happen again without being forecast. The same can be referred to treatments. There is no fix, so trying new ones, seeing them fail, then going back to where you were some time ago and having to start again. It’s repetitive yet fluid and sharp at the same time. It’s difficult to describe. I know I’ve not used the right words here but want to somehow convey that feeling visually, and I think it could work through a single line of reading.

McCloud proposes that if we use the computer monitor as a window, not a screen, comics can be read with a single line of reading in all manner of directions. This is something I would really love to explore. Although the line is singular and I am trying to deconstruct narratives through non-linear methods, through this method of story-telling, the viewer could become the illness, choosing the direction of the story against the will of the subject. I will have to look into this further, but I feel like this could be something to look at.



McCloud, S. (2005) Scott McCloud: The visual magic of comics [online] Available at: (Accessed 28 November 2017)



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