Scott Mccloud’s Understanding Comics breaks down the characteristics of the new genre of literature. He specifically describes the annotations used in comics. Images used in comics can spark up emotions and feelings in the audience. Expressionism, defined by McCloud, is an expression of the internal turmoil these artists just could not repress. Specifically, in Vertigo, McCloud’s explanation of the use of lines is clearly demonstrated.
Throughout the principal’s speech about the history of America, Ward has the image of smoke shown in multiple images. The smoke evolves throughout the history; at first, the smoke begins as a soft and more cotton-candy-like image; however, as time progresses and America becomes more industrialized, the smoke becomes more of threatening smog—very dark and smoldering. This image can be taken farther into a symbolic meaning.
Just like the smoke in Vertigo, McCloud refers to the same example in his book. He explains smoke can be drawn with wavy lines; these types of lines can refer to a bad odor or to the physical reference of being smoke. The audience is able to understand the literal meaning of the image—smoke does have an unpleasant odor and is not seen in straight lines. Moreover, the “stink” of the smoke can also be comprehended as the bad odor of the industrialization of American history. For example, on page 14 skyscrapers are being built. Along with the buildings, there is smog forming. This could represent the damage America is developing. The Indians were invaded and forced away from their land; however, when the principal is telling the story, he fails to mention any detrimental actions the Americans do. The first prominent image of a dark smoke is shown on page 13, where the men are working in an assembly line to form the railroads. All of the men working in a synchronized way resemble an engine. They must take orders and build what they are told to build; it seems that they are the parts of the machine that will build America up. There is no room for those who do not follow orders because then they will not be working like an efficient machine. It is possible that Ward was using the smoke to notify the audience that the promise of a bright America does have underlying downfalls as well.
The position of the principal also demonstrates McCloud’s ideal of lines in comics. On page 6, the principal is first observed. His posture is very “puppet-like”; his body, specifically his arm, is shown in very odd angles. Similarly, on page 15, the principal is in a puppet like posture again. He is very straight and up right. Straight lines are parallel to the strict orders the principal may have to follow. There is no room for him to explain a two-sided story to the graduates because he is not in a position to do so. The usage of these straight lines to create a puppet may indicate that the principal is a puppet of the American systems. It is clear that the principal’s story is one-sided and focused solely on the positives of what America is becoming. Having the principal as the puppet can be interpreted as a “brainwashing” on America’s future—the youth. These students listen to the principal who is in a position of authority. On the contrary, Ward uses many images that can be read as the dark side of what America is becoming.
Although Ward never specifically demonstrates America and its harmful actions, the audience is able to interpret the images through the depiction of comics by McCloud. The men working on the railroad and the puppet-like principal may be seen as the machines of the American system who must take orders. The prevalent smoke that is shown through the images of the creation of this bright America makes the audience question the sincerity in the progression.