Is it me?

From the last post, (I didn’t want to make it too long) I wanted to bring this identity stuff round to illustration!

A brilliant book by comic artist, Scott McCloud Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art is, as I am sure it is for much visual art research, an inspiration for this research topic I am investigating.


“By de-emphasizing the appearance of the physical world in favour of the idea of form, the cartoon places itself in the world of concepts. Through traditional realism, the comics artist can portray the world without… and through the cartoon, the world within” (McCloud, 1993:41).


Here is the idea of the thinkers in the last post, that a person can see themselves both as part of society and outside it.  Seeing the simplified face, a viewer can identify with it more spontaneously: “The fact that your mind is capable of taking a circle, two dots and a line and turning them into a face is nothing short of incredible. But still more incredible is the fact that you cannot avoid seeing a face here. Your mind won’t let you” (McCloud, 1993:30).  McCloud states that, because you spend the most of your time looking and interacting with other people, you see a vivid image of them but also in your mind is a “sketchy arrangement… a sense of shape… a sense of general placement” of your own features. “Thus, when you look at a photo or a realistic drawing of a face, you see it as a face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon, you see yourself” (McCloud, 1993:35-6).


Questions arising for me at this point are: is this true of every culture or is it just Western cultures accustomed to comic depictions and the like… although, we all have roughly the same features, does every race ‘see’ themselves in inanimate objects as we do?* “We humans are a selfish race. We see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image” (McCloud 1993:32-3). This is actually something Elias touches on: “This self-perception in terms of one’s own isolation, of the invisible wall dividing one’s own ‘inner’ self from all the people and things ‘outside,’ takes on for a large number of people in the course of the modern age the same immediate force of conviction that the movement of the sun around an earth situated at the centre of the cosmos possessed in the Middle Ages” (Elias, 2000:294).

Which brings me in a round about way to children seeing themselves in picture books and parents using them as primers. British Illustrator Sir Quentin Blake asserts that through picture books, children “…not only learn to read but [they] learn to read experience as well” (Blake, 2009). One of the ways that children do this is to take depictions quite literally. When talking with a friend recently, she commented that her grandchild often asked ‘is it me?’ when reading picture books with her. A similar observation is commented on in Berger’s exploration into how art is ‘read’ in his book and television series entitled Ways of Seeing (Berger, 1972) which suggests that children decipher image by relating what is depicted directly to their own experience. If children directly relate to narratives, I suggest that to pictorially reference other cultures in picture books will allow children to understand that these experiences and emotions are common to people of all origins.

* On an aside, this reminds me of an anecdote I heard on the radio when there was a conversation about giving inanimate objects personalities. There was a call from a boy who said his Mum always had to put a bean back in the can before she threw it away, if there was one that just wouldn’t come out, as she didn’t want it to ‘be lonely!’



McCloud, Scott Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1994)  New York, USA: HarperCollins

Elias, Norbert Homo Clausus and the Civilizing Process in Identity: a Reader (2000) du Gay, Paul, Evans, Jessica Evans and Redman,Peter (eds.) London:SAGE

Berger, John (1972) Ways of Seeing Penguin: Great Britain

Blake, Quentin (16 March 2009) Teachers TV:The Power of Illustration [Online] http://www.
Accessed on: 21/10/2012


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