Thursday, September 29, 2011


In one section of his book, Scott McCloud discusses the importance of line and the background. He tells us that lines can stand for more then the obvious. Artists can use tricks to make lines depict the invisible. Artists can use lines to add meaning and emotion to the backgrounds. Lynn Ward uses both of these techniques in his novel. Ward, as a master of storytelling through the use of images, knew and applied these tools to his novel.

In his book, McCloud discusses how lines can become symbols and in turn can become a language. This language, according to McCloud, can be used to “represent the invisible [and] there is a chance that it will be picked up by other artists” (McCloud p.129). He uses examples of lines over garbage to depict the smell and hearts over a smiling girl to show love. Ward also uses this technique. There is an image in the boy’s section of the book where a car is swiftly driving down the road. This image is a close up of the car as it whizzes past the boy. Ward uses line show the speed with which the car is traveling. There are lines that begin at the tires, follow the streamlined curve of the car, and then flow off the back. Ward is depicting the air displacement of the car and emphasizing the speed. This is not something unique to Ward. As McCloud says, artists use each other’s inventions. I doubt this is something that Ward invented, but it is definitely a stand-by method of depicting speed.

McCloud also points out the use of lines in the background. He says that backgrounds can be used to depict “the world of emotions” and a “distorted or expressionistic background will usually affect our ‘reading’ of characters’ inner states” (McCloud p.132). He shows different examples of how backgrounds can illustrate warped, depressed, or terrified emotions. Once again we see this in Vertigo. There is an image in the very beginning of the boy’s story where he is with the girl. This moment is arguably one of the happiest moments in the book and in the story of the boy’s life. He has his arm around the girl and they are standing beneath a street lamp. The only background the viewer sees here is a bit of ground and the illumination of the lamp. The light is pulsing out from the bulb and engulfing the couple. The light wraps around the couple as the boy wraps his arm around the girl. The use of line here is used to depict a joyous and illuminated scene. There are lines spreading out from the center of the bulb and over the boy and girl. Ward used lines as a background to show the emotional state of the couple. Since the couple is turned away from the viewer, he uses the pulsing light and spreading lines to show the joy and bliss they are experiencing.

McCloud’s book details the various tricks and tools that comic artists use. Ward may not be categorized as a comic book artist but he is definitely a graphic novelist. He uses the same tricks and tools because he uses only images to tell the story. He uses lines as a way to depict the invisible and he uses lines in the background to show emotion in the scene. He uses line, as McCloud says, to show the “landscape of characters’ minds” (McCloud p.132). Ward uses the basic artistic techniques to present and enhance his story.


  1. The first paragraph is completely superseded by the second, and could have been cut.

    While the second paragraph doesn't really have an argument yet (and it should), you are giving an excellent and observant example of how lines work in Ward. I missed this one, for what it's worth, and I'm glad you pointed it out to me.

    In the next paragraph, I have two thoughts. The first is that you are certainly right that emotion is being indicated, particularly through light. The flip side is a question - is this expressionism? McCloud defines expressionism, which is usually taken to be in opposition to realist/impressionist ways of working with light (see especially pg. 122).

    I'm not saying that you're wrong, exactly - it's just that in this short essay, which lacks a clear argument, this would have been a great place to find an argument - is this a realist moment? Is it an expressionist moment? Or is Ward somehow expressing emotion *through* realism?

    You needed an argument, this paragraph was a little simplistic when dealing with a complicated subject - it's the obvious beginning point for a more developed argument.

  2. I liked how you applied McCloud's examples to instances in Vertigo. I think it would be interesting also if you were to describe how his usage of mark-making was used to say something about the story's theme, or character development. You bring up good examples of how the lines create emotions, but I think they aren't cohesive because they describe such different situations. Paragraph two talks about the speed of a car depicted, but then the next paragraph goes on to talk about the happiness of the girl and boy.