Saturday, 7 March 2015

Scott McCloud in conversation with Paul Gravett - Comica Festival at the British Library

Paul Gravett (orange shirt) and Scott McCloud with pages from The Sculptor.

Before last night the only pictures I'd seen of Scott McCloud were his representations of himself in cartoon form. I was aware of the high regard comics makers throughout the world have of his books on the subject. I was also aware, via his website, of his experimentation with the form - especially his mind bending webcomic work. It felt a little odd that I was about to see the person behind it all. I had, I think, assumed that he would be coolly pragmatic in his approach to his work and perhaps quite reserved with others. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Scott came across as a wonderfully warm person, passionate and humorous about his work, keen to promote a love of reading and making comics. The main focus was on his new graphic novel, The Sculptor, but the conversation with Paul Gravett ranged far and wide - helped along by occasional exchanges with Scott's wife in the audience.

One of the most interesting things Scott said was that he wrote about comics so as to teach himself how to make them and that he had relied on his own books when creating his graphic novel. He complained that he found he hadn't written enough on story structure - only 5 panels.

Paul and Scott discussed "being remembered" after death, which is a major theme of Scott's graphic novel. Scott said that very few are remembered for long periods of time "and who will be remembered in 1,000 years?". He spoke of the "second death of being forgotten".

Scott talked about his drawing style, saying that a friend had told him he was "tone death when drawing people" - in other words his drawn characters don't have life. He said that when he applied for an illustration course at college, he was told he was rejected because he couldn't draw well enough. He instead majored in painting but dropped out after one semester. I was interested in this because Emily Carroll spoke of similar experiences at college when she was interviewed in a Comica conversation last year.

Scott said that, when working on his graphic novel, he used photographs and films of actors he hired. He described searching through footage to find the moment that "makes a hug look like a hug". This process, he said, breathed life into his drawings. Scott spoke passionately about the background characters in the panels of his graphic novel, pointing out little sketched vignettes that were based on photos he'd secretly taken of real people in real situations.

While answering questions at the end of the event Scott was, I think (it's not in my notes), asked for advice about making comics. "Finishing comics is the most important thing" he replied and he advised working on small projects at first to ensure that they will be completed. He quoted Dan Berry "make it then tell everybody" describing Dan as a wonderful podcaster.

As much as I would have liked to I didn't buy The Sculptor last night. I could only afford one of Scott's books and I decided to get "Making Comics". When I read it I will remember Scott's warmth towards all comics makers and that he used the book to help him create his own graphic novel. We're all learning, all the time, including those perceived as experts. It's generous of someone in Scott McCloud's position to reveal this.

Paul and Scott discuss the meaning of the top panel.

If you haven't seen it before I recommend viewing Scott McCloud's 2005 TED talk in which he speaks about the early days of webcomics and the infinite canvas. Thanks to Candy Gourlay for letting me know about it.


  1. Thanks Amanda, it sounds like an inspiring night out.

    1. It was, Heather. I felt lucky to be there, I know that a lot of people missed out on tickets.

  2. Thanks Amanda. Really appreciate this report. Hey Scott did a fantastic TED talk a while back. You should watch it.

  3. Thanks Amanda. Really appreciate this report. Hey Scott did a fantastic TED talk a while back. You should watch it.

  4. Thanks for this - the photos Amanda make up for not being there! I used his book Understanding Comics for years when teaching sequential art - but never twigged how little there was about story structure in it. It was so good on things like the power of the simplified 'mask' to facilitate identification with characters and what happens in our minds between much there! I have Making Comics too but prefer the first book.