" I boarded Boston’s ancient Green Line train at its above-ground first station each week. In the dark winter months, I often felt the old sense of desolation rushing back. " That sounds familiar to most of us about now, and so would the accompanying image, of a Lechmere train pulling into an abandoned platform in a flurry of snow.
They’re from a panel in Scott McCloud’s on-line comic " My Obsession with Chess, " a story about his ambivalent passion for the game. It’s an autobiographical short story, but it’s also a convergent-media triumph. Apart from stretching the formal boundaries of comics with its panels’ interlocked chessboard pattern, the piece evokes a wintertime nostalgia for the city he grew up with. " I have fond memories of standing out in subzero weather at the Lechmere stop waiting for the T to come take me to the Boylston Chess Club, " he says, laughing, as he speaks from his warmer current home in California.
McCloud, who grew up in Lexington, returns to New England next weekend to speak on comics and digital media at Vericon, the second annual on-campus science-fiction convention organized by Harvard undergrads. He’ll be joined by fellow guest-of-honor Terry Moore, creator of the popular comics series Strangers in Paradise, and Professor Henry Jenkins, director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT.
McCloud is currently America’s foremost go-to guy for comics theory. He made his big impression with Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, a 1993 book that sought to illuminate both the history and the potential of the country’s most maligned artistic medium. His suggestion that comics is an art form like any other — with as much potential for use or abuse as, say, cinema or oil painting — remains a radical one. Even after taking a buffeting for some of the more controversial proposals in his latest book, Reinventing Comics (2000), he’s still one of the form’s most articulate and optimistic proselytizers. At this very moment, he says, " we’re on the brink of a tremendous artistic leap for comics. "
The focus of his interest these days is the potential of new media — that is, digital tools — to change the art of comics. " The key in digital comics is to treat the screen as a window rather than a page. Comics move through space, as they do through time, and if they’re not restricted to the specific canvas of the page, then they can grow to any size, any shape. " He puts his theories into practice in his own digital comics, many of which can be seen on his seductively multilayered Web site, www.scottmccloud.com. They range in theme from Chess to an adaptation of Robert Browning’s 1834 poem " Porphyria’s Lover, " which instead of running in left-to-right panels is laid out in luridly luminous images linked by a vinelike connecting trail as sinuous as some art-deco snake.
But will comics’ move on-line help solve the problem of their dubious public perception? " I think there’s not so much a split between those people who think comics are a valid art form and those who think they’re horrible as there is between those who think comics are a valid art form and those who don’t think about them at all. That’s the real enemy. There’s a reason the subtitle of my first book is The Invisible Art. "
Vericon runs Friday through Sunday at various Harvard University locations; visit www.vericon.org for a complete schedule. Scott McCloud speaks about comics and new media on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Sever Hall in Harvard Yard; also on Saturday, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., McCloud and Terry Moore hold a book signing at Million Year Picnic, 99 Mount Auburn Street in Harvard Square. Call (617) 492-6763.