With the release of his new book, grounding-breaking comics theorist, creator, and rights proponent Scott McCloud sat down with the The A.V. Club to discuss, dissect, and celebrate the history and evolution of the comics form by looking at the top seven books that have inspired his own creative journey.
As someone who has worked in comics for an extended period of time, McCloud has been a first-hand witness to the industry’s change. From his early work in the mainstream at DC to his foray into independent publishing, McCloud has worked in real-time, identifying trends and adapting his talents to speak to the generation of the day. He has created books for entertainment, those for education, and those for creators’ fundamental rights, and through time McCloud has proven himself to be not only a voice of the day but also a progressive and optimistic voice for the future of comics. McCloud’s work has opened the door for the comics form to be seen as something respectable, unique, and revolutionary. Most importantly, though, he has celebrated the very humanistic qualities of the industry, demonstrating comics creators’ unique trust in the form and continual drive push the boundaries for where comics situate themselves in the world.
In his interview, McCloud not only pays homage to other revolutionary voices in the industry including Will Eisner and Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who both struggled during their time and made several personal (and often financial) sacrifices to continue producing works they wholeheartedly believed in, but he also points towards contemporary works like James Sturm’s Market Day to demonstrate just how much the artistic struggle still exists, but that within that struggle is a perseverance to survive and continue creating.
I have not had the same kind of pressures that Tatsumi and Eisner had because I just happened to come out of college with these various dreams, just as the comics industry was starting to grow and I grew with it. You can’t underestimate the importance of economy. The economy was on the rise, the independent publishers were starting to proliferate. The direct market shops were starting to grow. I grew as they grew. I still failed. Technically, I suppose most of my career has been failure. I had a series in color and it failed. It got canceled. Then I had another series in black and white, and it failed. It got canceled. Understanding Comics was the first thing I had that succeeded, and that was followed by projects of questionable value to the market. But somehow I could always do another one, is the thing. I always survived, and it was almost always entirely mine.
Survival and faith in the form is a consistent theme in McCloud’s interview and in the work of the creators that he highlights. Whether it be simple forms like Drew Weing’s one panel per page in Set to Sea, the alternative Marcel Duchamp-inspired Beanworld by Larry Marder, or the avant-garde and varying work of David Mazzucchelli, all of these creators have embraced their respective styles to tell their unique stories — for McCloud one of the most powerful aspects of the comic form: “Cartooning as a form of visual communication and education and all the different ways that cartooning can enter into different purposes.”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, though, along with his ability to adapt to and appreciate the art of the day, McCloud also holds a special place in the industry himself as a visionary for the future. Citing specifically the recent work of Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, This One Summer, McCloud points to an industry shifting to a space where the female creator’s voice can be more clearly heard — a shift that will bring about a whole new groups of creators and content that will once again push the industry both forward and more into the spotlight.
Along with honoring comics past and our comics present, McCloud ends his interview praising and encouraging comics future:
I think historically we’ll look back on this time as this in-between time, where there didn’t seem to be a lot of violent change going on, but where probably just the seeds of something genuinely new were beginning to take root but we couldn’t quite tell what they were yet.
There’s a rhythm to the generations. Out comes Maus, Watchmen, and Dark Knight [Returns]. And then it takes a little while for people to take the lessons of that period in the late ’80s and start to turn out the work of the ’90s. It takes a little while before you get Jimmy Corrigan. It takes a little while for people who have read Jimmy Corrigan to turn around and create their own masterpieces. But with each growing wave of substantial work, you have the potential for a new generation to come back with 10 times the tonnage of good work. It just takes them awhile. There’s a slight lag time. And I’m very hopeful for what might be on the drawing boards of artists we haven’t even heard of yet.
The level of optimism that Scott McCloud holds for the comics industry is infectious and a reinforces the idea that comics hold a respectable and important place in the world.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!