Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1725- Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden: How to Read Nancy

For many (self-included), Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is the quintessential book on... well, understanding comics. Perhaps because of that I found myself, perhaps unfairly, comparing Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's How to Read Nancy to McCloud's book. They are very, very different beasts and whereas I think McCloud's book would be more beneficial to those interested in creating comics, as the title in Karasik and Newgarden's book states, theirs is solely meant for readers. Of course, even then there is some overlap with McCloud's themes but the approach is remarkably different.

Whereas McCloud draws on examples from an enormous variety of comics, Karasik and Newgarden focus entirely on a single Ernie Bushmiller comic strip. You might think from the title it would mean all Nancy comics, but no, it's very specific to one somewhat random (but still representative) strip.

Curiously I didn't find this approach tedious. It reminded me of some of my better English teachers and the way they could analyze the heck of a poem, word by word, line by line, even dissecting the punctuation, and so forth, not only keeping the initial appeal of the poem but miraculously making it even more interesting. Though, like I felt in those classes, sometimes I was skeptical that the poets intended all that. To their credit, at one point these authors concede that "it is doubtful that Bushmiller spent more than a moment or two consciously [applying a particular technique]" adding that at this particular point in his career, he was "likely on automatic pilot". I suspect a lot of artist get to this point and/or get lucky that certain appealing features find their way in, but knowing the right things to at least consider is a step in the right direction for both creator and consumer alike.

One of the best things about Nancy to illustrate certain techniques is the supposed simplicity allowing the strip to be edited to show each element or approach no matter how minuscule.

Apparently this book is an elaboration of an essay originally written in 1988 and while I'd say the additional information and discussion are largely successful, the build-up to the actual analyses is too long. An Authors' Note, Foreword, Introduction and Preamble? Whereas I'd defend the tedious approach to their analyses, the filler at the beginning of the book was just overkill and took a lot of patience to get through.

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