Introducing Scott McCloud

One of the best things about being a professor? Getting to meet scholars, authors, and artists you’ve long admired.

Cassie Hester: Scott McCloud Poster (based on art from McCloud's Understanding Comics)

Cassie Hester: Scott McCloud Poster (based on art from McCloud’s Understanding Comics)

Yesterday, the comics artist and theorist Scott McCloud was on campus, along with his lovely wife, Ivy. I was lucky enough to spend some time with them, and also had the honour of introducing Scott before his talk.

I thought I’d reproduce my remarks here.

Scott McCloud’s new and wonderful graphic novel, The Sculptor, follows the fortunes of David Smith. This is a David Smith who is not that David Smith–not the famous American 20th-Century sculptor whose works can be found in MoMA, the Guggenheim, and Tate Modern. Rather, he is just David Smith, a young sculptor who, it so happens, shares his name and vocation with that other guy. And, as we discover, they both share the name with a whole herd of other David Smiths. The phone directory, which David Smith consults, confirms the unsettling news.

You should, of course, buy a copy of The Sculptor after today’s talk, and immediately increase its value by asking its author to sign the words “Scott McCloud” within it. I am here to say a few words about this Scott McCloud. For he is not, let me be clear, the bassist-slash-musician Scott McCloud, or the Scott McCloud from Spring Valley High School, and nor is he Scott McCloud the tow truck driver from Accurate Auto Attention. (Thank-you, internet, for the research assistance.)

Today we will be lucky enough to listen to another Scott McCloud—one of the comic world’s foremost practitioners and thinkers. He is, among other things, the author of gripping and beautiful stories, like the Zot! comics and The Sculptor; he is an explorer and champion of webcomics and of the “infinite canvas;” he is one of the creators of the 24-Hour Comic, in which certifiably insane artists attempt to make a 24-page comic book in a day; he is the editor of the Best American Comics: 2014; and he is the author of the trilogy Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics, three brilliant and mind-opening books that use the language of comics to explore the comics world.

Understanding Comics turned me onto comics. It taught this art historian that comics are an art form, too, and that I should pay attention to them and teach them. In the book, Scott McCloud (and his cartoon alter-ego) provided me with a model for the kind of lecturer I wanted to be: instructive, philosophical, and serious, yet also engaging, funny, entertaining, and generous.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never managed to live up to this. But I did somehow persuade the authorities to allow me to teach a class on comics and the graphic novel. When I set my students Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, I know that this is a book that will speak to them. It’s a book they read and reread—a book that changes them. And many of these students are, I note, here today to experience, at long last, the real McCoy.

All the other Scott McClouds are, I’m sure, very fine Scott McClouds, but if you were to ask them today “Are you that Scott McCloud?” they would, I like to imagine, be obliged to say: “No. I’m here. And he’s giving a talk at Mississippi State.”

So without further ado, please join me in giving a warm welcome to Mr Scott McCloud.

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Photo by: Megan Bean

 

Suffice to say, it was a wonderful day and Scott’s talk left the audience buzzing and, as it happens, thinking about monkeys.

 

super professor monkey

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4/2/2015: Hels, from Art and Architecture, mainly, writes: “You acknowledged the issue with comics and academe clearly. “Understanding Comics turned you onto comics. It taught this art historian that comics are an art form, too, and that you should pay attention to them and teach them”. Even then you still had to “somehow persuade the authorities to allow you to teach a class on comics and the graphic novel”.

Has not it ever been so! Proper art history dealt with paintings, sculpture and architecture! Decades ago when I was wanting to write a post-graduate thesis on Huguenot silver art during the late 17th century, I even found it difficult to find a supervisor within the Art History Dept at my uni.

Comics? I think I would never have found a supervisor back then!