Thursday, September 29, 2011

Woodcuts & Closure

A novel in woodcuts is not an easy task. Aside from the arduous, grueling work of creating the woodcuts themselves, there is the mission of developing a plot and the characters involved in it. This entire fiasco becomes quite more problematic when the author decides to use little to no language at all. Such is the case with Lynd Ward’s Vertigo.

According to McCloud in Understanding Comics, a sequential pictorial story, such as Vertigo, demands the use of closure to fill in the gaps between images and “construct a continuous, unified reality” (Page 67). The pursuit of closure becomes significantly more difficult when the majority of the work at hand employs what McCloud describes as “scene-to-scene transitions”, whereupon “deductive reasoning” is necessitated for the reader to understand the story (Page 71). With a minimal use of language, Lynd Ward employs symbols, concepts, and visuals which are universal in the world of his broad audience to ease this process of deductive reasoning for his readers and create an intelligible tale.

First off, Ward’s use of symbols in his images constructs a plethora of information for his audience to extract to learn more about his characters. In the story of The Girl, we see her being handed a scroll with a ribbon tied around it in front of an audience. We can infer this is a graduation as the scroll tied with a ribbon is a ubiquitous symbol for a diploma, albeit when it is handed in front of an audience. From this, we can be confident that the girl is around eighteen years old and is graduating from high school which, in addition, informs us she is intelligent and capable considering the year is 1929. The social status of The Girl can be inferred as well considering, as we discussed in class, poor families sent their kids to work during the Depression, and not to school.

When we first meet The Boy in The Girl’s story, he is talking to her in close proximity to her ear. Universally, we can deduce that he is whispering to her and due to the fact that her father is out of the main focus of the picture, we can assume The Boy does not want him to know what he is saying. Putting this all together, we can deduce that The Boy has an intimate interest in The Girl and that they probably have some backstory considering he is her classmate, as we can infer by his diploma. Everyone can understand the idea of a boy trying to keep a girl’s father unaware of his flirtatiousness. We can deduce The Boy’s intentions, his feelings about the girl, and about The Boy’s sexuality all from the illustration of this concept.

Finally, in The Elderly Gentleman’s story, there is an image of him entering the boardroom of The Eagle Corporation of America and all the people in it looking at him. The visual of him entering the boardroom tells us that The Elderly Gentleman has an important job at the corporation. Universally, we associate a boardroom with the zenith of responsibility and power at a company. If we further investigate the image, we see that all of these responsible and powerful individuals are standing and watching The Elderly Gentleman enter the room. Standing for someone upon their entry into a room is an action utilizing the concepts of etiquette and respect. From all of this, in addition to the fact that he’s older than most of the others in the room, we can deduce that The Elderly Gentleman is the most powerful man there, and therefore, the owner of the corporation.

Ward, for various reasons, chose to leave language to a minimum in Vertigo. In order for his audience to maintain focus of the plot’s evolution and understand individual images better, he implements the use of “visual clich├ęs, appealing to universality, while keeping his woodcuts from being hackneyed. He protects the novelty of his characters and story through his voice and style. To use McCloud’s language, Ward eases the difficulty of closure in a novel of woodcuts without words, but still appeals to the audience’s deductive reasoning abilities to figure the story out and, most importantly, interpret it for themselves.


  1. You make some really good points about how Ward uses symbolism in order to tell his story, but I think your essay could be a little more focused. It feels like you're jumping around a bit too much by talking about all three characters. In your second paragraph you talk about closure as a way “to fill in the gaps between images” and you mention scene-to-scene transitions. By describing it in this manner, I think it is important to show some actual scene-to-scene transitions. I think your essay would be more effective if you stuck with one character’s story and followed him/her for a few frames. For example, your start about the boy and girl’s relationship is really good, describing how Ward uses universal symbols to be descriptive (the diplomas show that they‘re classmates). However, I think you should take this and keep going with it, following a couple sequential images. That way you can discuss the closure between those scenes, like in the definition, and how we’re able to still follow the story even with the jumps that Ward makes from frame to frame.

  2. Nitpick: the first and second paragraphs could have easily been combined. On the plus side, I think your focus on deductive reasoning is an excellent idea, and should pan out.

    The next three paragraphs are based on an interesting choice: explaining how we make some easy and obvious interpretations based on things which are universal to Ward's implied audience. For exploring how Ward does something, of course, the easy deductions might be more suitable than the hard deductions - but something bothers me here. You begin by talking about "scene-to-scene transitions", but all of the deductions you're exploring so far emphatically take place *within* a single image, not in the space between.

    This makes me very unsure of what you're doing here. Are you interested in scene-to-scene transitions, or how individual images are interpreted? This goes to Katie's point - rather than jumping among all three stories, you would probably be better served at dealing with a sequence, especially since closure/transitions are seemingly your topic.

    Ultimately, like Katie, I found this unfocused. You choose interesting images and explain how easy deductions work in those images, but you aren't really dealing with *sequence* at all, even though that was seemingly the topic you began with.

    You're trying to do too much in a short essay - focusing on a single sequence, as Katie advises, would have served you better.