Scott McCloud (Boston, June 10 1960) is an American cartoonist and a comics theorist that has been writing, drawing, and examining comics since 1984. In the same year McCloud created the science fiction/superhero comic book series Zot! and in 1986 Destroy, a single-issue comic book, intended as a parody of superheroes fights. He is best known as a comics theorist following the publication in 1993 of Understanding Comics, a wide-ranging exploration of the definition, history, vocabulary, and methods of the comics. For Understanding Comics, which has been translated into sixteen languages, he won the Eisner and Harvey Awards, the Prix de la critique of Angoulême and a New York Times Notable Book. In 1996-1997 he wrote DC Comics’ Superman Adventures and in 1998 drew the graphic novel The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln (done with a mixture of computer-generated and manually drawn digital images). In 2000 he published Reinventing Comics, in which he outlined twelve “revolutions” that he argued would be keys to the growth and success of comics and in 2006 he released Making Comics. He created a comic book that formed the press release introducing Google’s web browser, Google Chrome, which was published in 2008. The next year he was featured in The Cartoonist, a documentary film on the life and work of Jeff Smith. The Sculptor, his new graphic novel was published in 2015. His online comic books and inventions can be found at scottmccloud.com.Lo Spazio Bianco met the author and spoke with him about his new book and his approach to comics.
How and how much did you look into the way New York art galleries approach young artists? Do you know the scene personally?
I did a lot of research about New York when I began the project. I made a lot of trips to New York, since I wasn’t living there at the time. I lived in New York when I was in my early 20s, but by the time I was working on the book I was living in California, so I had to make a lot of flights. I probably took about 10,000 pictures of the city on these trips. I talked to a lot of people about living in Manhattan and living in Brooklyn and I also conducted interviews about the galleries scene. My research wasn’t as intense about the galleries and the art museum and the artists in New York simply because my artist stays an outsider, he never quite breaks into that scene again. He only sees it from the outside. So, the story is less about that, but it was important to try to understand living in New York and, also, to portray New York as a landscape of architecture and as a landscape of people. Many of my pictures were of pedestrians, of the people who live in New York, and I was trying very hard to show the individuality of the people who walk down the street in New York. When you look at the characters who walk by, maybe only for one panel, I wanted you to think that they felt they were in their story and that they were the main character and everyone else was a supporting character.
In the afterword you tell us how much Meg, the female protagonist, resembles your wife. To what extent is The Sculptor an autobiography?
Well, there’s a little bit of me in David, there’s a lot of Ivy in Meg. Maybe two thirds of Meg is just Ivy. Some of it I knew was autobiographical when I made it. For instance, Ivy had similar struggles with depression that she’s talked about publicly. When Meg is depress, when she’s sad, she speaks in ways that I remember Ivy speaking in. Some lines come right from our life, when I was first with Ivy she said: “I’m going to try to push you away. Don’t let me”. She said those same words. Some of it comes directly from our life. In other ways it’s subtler and there are somethings that I didn’t realize were from our life until after the book was finished and people began talking to me about it for interviews. Then, suddenly, I realized: “Oh, there are other things too, but I didn’t even see them!”. Like, David is lonely and isolated when the story begins and Meg, she flies down and saves him in a lot of ways – from himself – and drags him back into humanity. I was becoming very isolated and lonely when I was David’s age: I was keeping to myself, I didn’t have many friends, I didn’t get out much… and Ivy came into my life and she saved me the same way, but this, I didn’t see. This part, this similarity, I didn’t even see until after the book was done, until people asked me.
Your work strongly suggests that man is not immortal and that if he pursues the illusion of immortality by making art, he will eventually just waste time. What kind of advice would you give to a determined and strong-willed young person such as your protagonist?
The balance between art and life, this is what my story is mostly about. I can’t be trusted to have any opinions on eternal life, because I have only believe in this one, I am not religious, I’m an atheist. Because this is a deal with Death, it’s different from, let’s say, the Faust legend: when it’s a deal with the devil, the closer you come to death, the more the afterlife grows, the more important the afterlife becomes. But if it’s a deal only with Death and there isn’t an afterlife, then the closer you come to death, the greater every minute of your life grows, the more important the life you live becomes. This is the story I wanted to tell. It’s really a story only about life in a way, and how we spend our life, how we spend our minutes. My character has 200 days to live. He has a limit on his life. Now, we see this is different from other artists, we see this is different from ourselves, the readers. But it’s not, because all of us have a limited number of days. We just don’t know what that number is. He knows that it’s 200 days to live. We have no idea. So, all artists make that choice, all artists trade their days, spend their days, for their art. They just don’t know how many they have. They reach into their bank account and they pull out their days, but they don’t know how many are left. All they know is that their art is worth spending their life on and so they do it. That’s really the story.
Many years passed since your books on making comics. Are you still interested in the theoretical side of it, in determining what a comic book is? Has your approach changed, in this sense?
For my whole career I’ve tried to do many different things. Each project is different than the last. So, I will come back to doing non-fiction, I’ll come back to doing comics that explain like I did before, but they won’t be like the others. My next project is going to be a non-fiction comic about visual communication and visual learning, the way that we learn through seeing. I’m going to be looking at many different kinds of visual communication, like information graphics, data visualizations, presentation software like Powerpoint, even facial expressions and body language. All these things, to me, have common principles and I want to explore those in a new comic form, in comics, through comics. It will look like “Understanding Comics” in that way, but it won’t have “comics” in the title (laughs).