Endless Possibilities

Andrew Edwards here.

In my ongoing study of comics I’ve come across many attempts to define comics and explain how they work. These include Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, both being popular, accessible and wonderful works, in my opinion. There are also the more academic works which are of great interest too, such as Thierry Groensteen’s The System of Comics, which is a challenging but ultimately rewarding read thus far  (I’m working my way through it at the moment).

However, my favourite definition and explanation is just one sentence long, and it’s perfect. Here it is:

“They’re words and pictures, and you can do anything with words and pictures.”

These are the words of Harvey Pekar, creator of the groundbreaking American Splendor series. Like most of the definitions of the form we can find, it can’t quite capture all forms of comics (such as mute ones), but it’s still close to perfect in it’s simplicity and adaptability.

I’ve been thinking about the function of comics, and Pekar’s belief that they can do “anything”. I think that there is a growing awareness of the potential of the comics medium to move beyond entertainment (as great as that is). In particular, I think that the potential for comics as a medium for instruction and learning is vast, and it’s an area I’m currently researching, and I’m finding it fascinating, being someone with a working background based in education and libraries.

One significant example is the work of Will Eisner. While his Spirit work and Sequential Art instruction texts are well known, his two decades plus work using comics as an educational tool are relatively unexplored. A great resource that contains lots of examples of his work can be found online via VCU libraries Digital Libraries– check it out to see another example of what comics are capable of. It’s a totally free and accessible resource, and well worth checking out. You can find it at

http://dig.library.vcu.edu/cdm4/index_psm.php?CISOROOT=/psm

I think that the future of comics lies in its acceptance by mainstream society and culture and the continued diversification of the functions of comics can only help to sustain the growth of the medium. I can’t wait to see what other areas will be enriched by using comics in the future!

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