The Most Active of Readers

Sunday Letter | #351

I’ve been savoring Scott McCloud’s Making Comics, picked up on a recent visit to the truly excellent Between the Covers Bookstore in Harbor Springs, Michigan. I read McCloud’s Understanding Comics years ago (and am long overdue for a re-read). Sometimes when I don’t have the concentration to read (non-graphic) novels, I’ll grab comics instead, to get back that momentum of accomplishment—of breezing through hundreds of pages in one sitting.

Here, though, reading a comic about comics has slowed down, in a good way, my experience of other comics and manga. I also came across this short video, reminiscent of Every Frame a Painting, on how Akira Toriyama (of Dragon Ball fame)’s establishing panels allow him to forgo background details in subsequent ones. The magic of videos like this—and books like McCloud’s—are that they turn passive readers into more active ones.

I’d argue, though, that even the best criticism or elucidation on craft are no substitute for actually trying to tell those stories yourself. Only when you try to write (or draw) your own stories do you confront the thousand choices faced—and thereby become the most active of readers. Only then do you learn that every rule or theory has its exceptions; every motif has its edges. And those same exceptions and edges are the places where stories feel most fresh, and alive, and memorable. To me, a big part of growing as an artist is learning to better intuit those edges.

Anyway. I’m on a graphic novel (particularly manga) kick and welcome any recommendations. I’ll share a few of my own in a future letter.