Understanding Scott McCloud

That’s probably a better title for his most recent speaking engagement. I had been looking forward to this for a while. So quittin’ time rolled around, and off I jet. A quick hop on the subway-surface, and a block later, I was on Drexel University campus.

First, I gotta say this: Drexel sure seems to have changed since I last attended. It’s… well, cleaner than I remember it. And better lit. And the students are so young.

Okay, that last part is most definitely a matter of perspective. But the differences are far outweighed by the spooky familiarities. Drexel is, after all, a college. Pardon me; a University. So it benefits from all of the universally school-like things: Students hanging around, halls with lots of open areas for lounging, apathy, immaturity, energy, curiosity, as you can imagine. The Edmund D. Bussone Research Enterprise Center is a quintessential example of the modern college aesthetic: all glass, steel, and natural wood. It’s right off the main campus center, and is a newer building. It shows. Into this heady Ikea-like atmosphere strode our hero.

Ok, let me back up for a second and talk about the people.

The crowd waiting to greet Scott was oddly… un-stereotypical. Ok, they were young, but it’s a campus, right? And more than a few of them seemed a little geeky. Did I mention Drexel is an engineering school primarily? Geeks. But, oddly enough, there was a strangely artsy mix to the crowd. Women were represented in refreshingly atypical numbers. And that was just the vanguard. By the time the doors opened, the crowd became even more interesting. But for the moment, I sat alone watching and waiting. I was waiting on a buddy of mine, who unfortunately never showed, so I had that distracted quality that screams “does not belong here– yet”. This translated into — everyone tried very hard not to acknowledge me. S’cool.

So there I sat, scanning the crowd, waiting, wondering how, and why, when they unrolled a banner for table-dressing that put together the puzzle pieces for me: Drexel has a growing digital and new media design school! Mixed amongst the typical comic heads, geeks, and engineers, were designers! Or at least digital media practitioners aspiring towards being designers. So it began to make a bit more sense. Here we all waited, sprawled across the lobby floor and dotting the tables and study nooks.

Copies of his books were on sale as well Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and (the new one) Making Comics for about $25. Ahhh merch. Always a staple at gigs and speaking engagements. It was nice to see that Scott didn’t deem himself above such shilling. Honestly, I might have been disappointed. 😉

And while I’m talking about Scott, I gotta tell you. He was not what I expected. He almost seemed more hippy than hipster (which is how I somehow always pictured him). His demeanor was spot on, but he’s become a bit more the pseudo-boomer in his bearing. That might have something to do with having pre-teen daughters. Not to say Scott is old or anything, just a bit more professorial than I had pictured. And that’s ok. In fact it was extremely appropriate (given the venue, etc.).

Of course this I learn after they open the doors and let us all file into the auditorium.

BTW, I just have to interject a freakin’ “WOW!” The auditorium was freakin cool. I start to have a better appreciation for the pit that my money dropped into when I was a student. Apparently, the steep and persistent increases in tuition have been very kind to Drexel. They got bank, and they’re not afraid to spend it. It was a little smaller than it looks in pictures, but appointed. And all “new auditorium” smelling.

Anyway, I digress…

So, as I was saying, “in strode our hero,” who began…

…Well. Actually, Mr. McCloud had a cunning plan. Instead of bursting out of the gate with “comics, comics, comics”, and all the stuff he’d been peddling for going on twenty some odd years. He did what any good vaudevillian might do in his position: He let his kid talk first. Brilliant. Did I mention his kids? Probably not in enough detail. You see, they are traveling together, his whole family in fact, on a 50 state tour in support of this new book. Their speaking, blogging, and podcasting their way across the country. It’s a pretty cool idea for the family, and the beneficial fallout is unfolding in front of me, as his oldest strides confidently out onto the stage.

But Winter McCloud is no typical 13 year-old. Well, maybe typical if your dad is a man who makes his living writing about comics. Winter began with news about the trip. Stole the show. She chastised Dad for not remembering to turn his laptop on. She addressed the crowd in a natural and perfectly disarming manner. She was a pro. Her slide show (which she created, btw) was an excellent, fun romp through the details and rationales for the 50 State Tour and was, by golly, quite entertaining. Then she gracefully introduced her dad.

“And, funny thing, he included something I think no-one really expected: The story of his life. In under 4 minutes. With pictures.”

Back to the lecture. And what a lecture. If you have any interest in comics as a medium, you need to see this lecture. I hope he podcasts it in it’s entirety. He has it down to almost under an hour, and it’s the sort of engaging, earnest and immediate presentation (with a couple of “Aha!” moments) that leaves you with a fuller appreciation of the form. (And I thought I already HAD a pretty full appreciation…)

It was filled with passion, examples, and his hopes for the future relevancy and adaptation of comics. He slipped in references to all the quips and recent controversies that have plagued him to date. And, funny thing, he included something I think no-one really expected: The story of his life. In under 4 minutes. With pictures. Not just anecdotes about all the guys in his neighborhood (Kurt Busiak?). Or being a geek at heart. Or even his father and mother’s influence. But how he realized the path he’d traveled had led him to only one possible outlook on comics. An outlook that complements the other, perhaps more recognizable ones. And how he’s OK with that.

In the end, I almost feel like I learned as much about Scott McCloud, as I did about comics.

Of course, people asked him about his next projects,and what he thought of the traditional comics distribution system, and yadda yadda yadda… But the best bits of himself, he had already expressed. His wishful and earnest love for this medium infused everything he spoke about. And (surprise!), he’s busting at the seams to get back to it: his announced “next step” is actually not another book/talk about comics, but an actual graphic novel. THAT should be a hoot.

Shout out to Chris (who sat next to me) for sharing his favorite comic with me (Miller’s Lone Wolf & Cub). What a wonderful surprise when he saw the original flash by on the screen as part of Scott’s presentation!

Check back for dates on his site! He hasn’t covered the entire East Coast yet, and there are plenty of States (and Countries) yet to cover!

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