Lynd Ward’s woodcut novel, Vertigo, uses three individuals’ story from different perspectives depicting the great depression in 1930. Without the colors and descriptions of the images on woodcut panels, as a reader, one needs to connect each image from the novel. Readers need to find out the real meaning of the objects in the images. To advance the level of understanding the woodcut panels in Vertigo, we can apply the theories from McCloud’s book, Understanding Comics, in order to better interpret the meaning of the novel.
“Certain patterns can produce an almost physiological effect in the viewer.” (McCloud 132) Throughout the novel, the majority of the images that the viewer perceives are surrounded by shady atmospheres and stressful moods on people’s faces. Applying McCloud’s theory to the panels in Vertigo, Lynd Ward uses heavy black lines on the background of most panels. The main idea of the story is to depict people struggling for their life during the great depression. Since there is a lack of words to describe the condition of the novel, massive black lines are used in the background and dark shadows on most of the characters’ faces could produce the feeling of depression. “But For some reason, readers will ascribe those feelings, not to themselves, but to the characters they identify with.” (McCloud 132) In some of the brighter panels, readers can tell the characters in the images are in a positive mood. In one of the images from chapter 1929, the principal was on the stage holding hands at a 120-degree angle in the air and the sun is high in the sky. As the reader, one can sense the principal is trying to convey to the students that the future is bright and full of opportunities. There are not many lines that surround the sun, which creates a brighter atmosphere as opposed to the shadier ones. The lines are straight, and scatter in all directions, which could exude an encouraging and promising impression. The whole panel gives readers a positive feeling.
“Despite their superficial resemblance, these are two very different sets of lines. One represents a visible phenomenon; smoke, while the other represents an invisible one, our sense of smell.”(McCloud 129) McCloud uses the wavy lines above the pipe to represent the smoke, which can be considered as visible lines. For the invisible phenomenon, McCloud uses the lines above the garbage to embody the smell. This method is applied not only to smell, but also the sound and motion of objects. In chapter 1932, the girl’s father pointed a gun at himself and pulled the trigger. One can perceive a white spot surrounding the point of the gun with a straight line around it. As a reader, one can infer that it is the loud sound of a gunshot. Lynd Ward uses the same rounded white spot and surrounding lines to show the bright sun in the sky, when the principal was talking about the bright future. On the last page in Vertigo, the viewers can tell the rollercoaster is rushing downhill at an incredibly fast speed. The effect used to express this speed is caused by the combination of curved strong lines and the light short lines around the end of the car.
In conclusion, applying McCloud’s theories to the novel, Vertigo, helps viewers understand the deep meaning of the images. It also explains a plethora of phenomena that a reader might never have regarded before, like the invisible and visible phenomena of lines. The theory of the line patterns could have a physiological effect in the viewer, which is helpful in the interpretation of the stressful atmosphere of people trying to make a living during the great depression.