Remember that values questions have a “you” in them. The goal is to involve people in relating what they see on the screen to their own lives, not to analyze the filmmaker’s technique or to engage in intellectual criticism. Allow the conversation to flow along a values and feelings track.
Scott McCloud is a comic artist who is most well-known for his groundbreaking work, Understanding Comics (1993), a 215-page comic book about the comics medium translated into over 20 languages. He also wrote Reinventing Comics (2000), a more controversial look at comics revolutions in art, culture and technology, and Making Comics (2006), an extensive exploration of comics storytelling techniques which also resulted in the Making Comics 50 State Tour, and the Google Chrome comic.
Scott McCloud taught me how to read comics and allow me to see what the medium can do. The amazing thing is that he showed the adaptability in work with his later updates of Understanding Comics which continues to show the skill that he has in the graphic medium and how it impacts how we see comics.
As someone who fell in love with comics in the 1970s, looked for ways to bring them into my K-12 classroom teaching when I entered the field in the late 1980s, and became a creative professional in the industry in the 1990s, I can recall that this outsider status occasionally served as a perverse badge of honor. In the long run, though, it became exhausting for me and (at the risk of making an outrageous presumption) everyone else who took comics seriously. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993) crystallized many things that longtime comics readers instinctively knew while simultaneously legitimizing the object of our love to those with whom we had longed to connect—tastemakers, academics, librarians, and that most elusive demographic of all, thinking adults.
In fact, it always shocked me that Understanding Comics wasn’t immediately considered a core text of the media literacy education movement in the United States. As proof of its merit in this respect, one need only revisit how the author outlines his central questions in terms that could not be more recognizable to the media literacy crowd: “[How] do we define comics, what are the basic elements of comics, how does the mind process the basic language of comics—that sort of thing” (McCloud 1993, x). Already, by declaring such straightforward objectives, it begins—that all-important process of focusing on how a given medium actually works regardless of what it ostensibly says. McCloud describes this as the “aesthetic surgery” that is necessary to “separate form from content” (McCloud 1993, 5). Moreover, and of special cultural import in the context of comics, the notion of value-free analysis was subtly introduced: marginalized content and highbrow aspirations alike were effectively rendered beside the point. Yet that didn’t mean readers were in for an arid exercise in pure theory. No, there was fun on every page, usually multiply so.
Did I not mention that McCloud’s seminal work was itself a comic?
I guess not. Moreover, because of this, it served as a prime piece of evidence in its own argument—the medium’s unique strengths to speak engagingly and lucidly to its audience. And make no mistake: “medium” was McCloud’s word, not mine, although it speaks to a distinction that I and countless others have had to make between the defining traits of all comics and their varied manifestations, both in genre and format (i.e., graphic novel, “floppy” comic book, newspaper comic strip, etc.).