Thursday, September 29, 2011

Simplicity in Complexity

“Vertigo” by Lynd Ward can appear to be a very complicated and confusing book at first glance with its complete lack of dialogues and the presence of highly complicated drawings. But if one looks closer and long enough, they will realize that what appears to be a really complicated piece of “reading” has been simplified by the use of some common comics themes. One of which was ‘Amplification through simplification’. Amplification through simplification can be taken in many different ways. One of which is to amplify a meaning of an image by simplifying it to its bare minimum.1 Another way, and the way that I think that Ward utilized most, is to amplify the meaning of the images by simplifying said meaning by using universal symbols, notions and structures.

Throughout the various stories, Ward stuck with one constant theme, the use of the railway bridges. Chicago is a city commonly known for railway bridges. Using that common knowledge of the readers, Ward easily solves a complex problem of establishing the location of the story. For a reader to understand any story, the location of the story is a key point in their comprehension. This is the reason that almost all novels always describe the location first before jumping into the actual plot of the story. When dealing with woodcuts, describing or even naming the location is impossible. By using such universal images to simplify the complicated task is very clever of Ward to do.

Another reason for which we can argue that a seemingly complicated book is simple is because no matter where we go in the world, facial expressions remain the same. Anyone anywhere can recognize that a smile resembles happiness; a tear is sadness, and so on onto many feelings. The seeming complications of his sketches also get across to us another main key point into understanding any story. The feelings of the character portray across a lot on the mood and the situation of the story. Since words could not be used to describe the emotions of the characters, Ward was very careful as to draw much detail into the facial expressions of the characters; for example, in ‘The elderly gentleman’ story, the anguish of the old man, the cunning, slightly evil looks of the co-board members, the bored carelessness of the employer, and the outrage of the workers were clearly shown with detailed drawings on their faces and worked to set the mood of the story being read. By using the simple commonly known expressions, Ward amplified the reader’s accessibility to the story within.

One final way that Ward tried to integrate a concept that normal people can project themselves or relate with is by making tiny symbolic representations of principles we all know. The heroic statue in the old man’s story, the really bright star that keeps showing up everywhere, mirrors, and roses are just a few of the things that are put in there to detach us from the realistic world that is surrounding us in that story. The statue of the hero gives us the confidence that not everything is individualistic, that there are things that not just the characters but we as readers can recognize too. Ward also uses a very sly trick to pull in the readers by using the star. The time at which the book was first published 1937; consisted majorly of a Christian audience. By making the star appear constantly throughout the book, Ward installed a sense of peace and faith in people that what the book was to impart on them was somehow related to the God.

Overall, even though the book is complicated and hard to understand, Ward somehow squeezed in some simplicity that is meant to guide and help us on our quest for understanding the book.

1 comment:

  1. Your first paragraph may be my favorite introductory paragraph so far this semester. It makes a clear and worthy argument, while accurately and carefully summarizing McCloud's central idea.

    The 2nd paragraph, though, seems to me to be almost the opposite of "amplification through simplification" - this is historical *context* which seems to me to be very different from the emotional impact of streamlined visuals (which is what McCloud is talking about).

    The 3rd paragraph, about the role of facial expressions, leaves me with mixed feelings. Are Ward's facial expressions amplifed/simplified? I think you could make that case, but you're not actually doing it.

    I loved the 4th paragraph, because I think, for instance, in the simple lines of the statue you're getting at what McCloud means by amplification through simplification.

    Then you're done.

    Overall thoughts: outstanding introduction, but it would have worked much, much better as a whole if you'd followed that introduction with a detailed aanalysis of a single image, or a sequence of images, or a pair of images. You're trying to cover too much, in a very short essay. I think the fourth paragraph could have been expanded into, say, five paragraphs detailed the ideas you mentioned - and that this is all you wanted/needed after the 1st paragraph.