Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lines and Emotion

Scott McCloud draws attention to an interesting aspect of the illustrations in Chapter 5 of Understanding Comics. It is not uncommon to notice that drawings evoke certain emotions through the shapes and shadows that are created, however McCloud enlightens readers to an even more basic source of emotion—the line. Before the lines even join together to resemble something, they discretely emit emotions to the viewer.

The twelfth picture of “The Boy” depicts an embrace between the girl and boy. Before analyzing the forms created by the lines in the image, the viewer can gain significant insight by simply looking at the style of each line. Almost every line is thin and delicate as to accentuate the romantic feeling evoked by this young love. Although the lines create contrast, there is no sense of harshness or sharpness within the boy and girl. The “friendly” feeling of the lines is drawing a parallel to the love and kindness shared between the two of them. Similarly, there are very few places where there is a bold line piercing the image. On the left side of the picture, individual lines frame the couple but because the lines are so thin and compacted together, they provide a soft shield rather than a harsh barrier.

Now upon further analysis, one can look at the actual shadows and shapes created by the lines. One of the strongest elements that softens the picture is the way in which Lynd Ward decides to create shadows. Rather than continuing the pattern of thin lines, Ward begins to use dots or splotches. In doing so, he is able to create depth while also producing a comfortable, supportive halo to surround the couple. This passion is mimicked in the way that the two bodies gently merge into one. Ward intentionally used this splotchy pattern close to the bodies so that there were no severe lines splitting the two of them. This can especially be seen where her arm is touching his right shoulder, and around their legs—her leg seems to become part of the shadows and wrinkles in his.

This feeling is starkly contrasted by the first image of “Monday” where the boy somberly stands amongst the advertisements. Again, the first source of emotion in this image is in the simple lines. The sheer quantity of individual lines creates an emotionally strong and powerful image in itself. Having so many distinct visuals create chaos and harshness for the viewer even if there were no other elements to the image. Although there were individual lines in the previous image discussed, there is a huge difference in the emotion that they evoke. In the previous image, all of the lines had a source that united them, almost like the lines were pouring into the picture. In the first illustration of “Monday”, the lines shooting up from behind the building are missing this unity. Because of that they appear as cold splinters forcing themselves into the subject matter.

Again, applying these small lines to the big picture, more emotion can be seen in the image. The shadows and wrinkles of his clothing reflect his disheartened mentality due to his unemployment. There is a sense of chaos and desperateness in his clothing alone. Another specific use of dark shading, is the shadows used around the boy’s face. They are not only extremely dark but have glimpses of the lines that compose them. Breaking the shading up like this and the darkness of his face are more elements that evoke this feeling of overwhelming pressure that the boy has as he learns the reality of his world. Then when looking at the shadows in general in this picture, the viewer is presented with a much more harsh and cold feeling than in the previous illustration discussed. Ward replaces his use of soft splotches with a sort of grid work. When looking closely enough, the viewer can see the individual lines that make up the gradients for each shadow. With so many lines intersecting and weaving through one another, the image becomes more hectic and severe. Just as the world around the boy is desperately attempting to survive in this tumultuous time, every aspect of the image surrounding the figure is buzzing around him as he tries to keep his head above water.

McCloud’s commentary on the simplicity of a line reveals more than an artistic style—it speaks volumes about the power of an image. By only looking at the shadows and lines of two pictures in a series of 230 woodcuts, the reader is able to gain so much insight. Imagine the plethora of emotion and information that is hidden amongst the lines of the other 228 illustrations.


  1. I thought you effectively applied McCloud's theory and elaborated on it with an artist's insight. You presented McCloud's theory and chose solid examples to examine and apply that theory to. I especially enjoyed the part regarding the different directions of the Ward's lines presenting the image as chaotic. Overall a good essay and quality response to the prompt.

  2. I wish I'd written the last line in the first paragraph. Conventionally, I'd expect an argument here - but depending on your final direction, an excellent summary of McCloud's argument might be more critical. We'll see.

    The 2nd and 3rd paragraphs were highly effective. My only substantial question reading them was "how does this contrast with Ward's lines elsewhere?" which you then promptly answer. You seem, in fact, to have an answer to everything. My one point was going to be that the light shining on the embracing couple is defined by fairly heavy, clear lines - but here's what you say about the Monday image: "In the previous image, all of the lines had a source that united them, almost like the lines were pouring into the picture."

    So by this point, you're writing articulately, and in detail, about the source and origin, direction and thickness (maybe more about linearity/curvature?) of lines in the two images, and about what all of those things mean.


    Now, here's the question - given precise, focused, and very interesting work how does one revise?

    First, you need an approach. I'll give two ideas.
    1) First, you could think small - expand your understanding of the structure and meaning of Ward's lines to encompass more of the book. You might, for instance, include readings of images, or pairs of images, from one or both other sections in the book.
    2) Second, you could think big. Having really explained *how* Ward's lines are working in two important images, you might return to *why* (a transition which itself could be rationalized using McCloud's theory of art). Is there a way to understand the work as a whole through some aspect of Ward's lines? (without putting words in your mouth, my first idea is to go to the title - I think your "reading" of the second image, or of the transition from the first to the second, might almost give us a sensation of Vertigo).

    I liked this a lot - I'm trying to indicate some ways in which you might build upon it for a revision.