Scott McCloud Interview
Originally published August of 2001. I think this might have been the first interview I did over the phone. I did attempt to do this interview by e-mail but Scott wasn’t fast at typing, which was funny as he was really championing the internet and digital comics as the way of the future. Doing it over the phone did make for a better (and longer) interview. I probably should have done more interviews that way, but I really dislike transcribing.
An Interview With Scott McCloud
Over the last few months, Scott McCloud’s name has been all over the place. Mainly because of his book Reinventing Comics and the criticism that it has drawn. Within The Comics Journal issues #232 and #234 Gary Groth wrote a scathing editorial against McCloud and his views. Scott gave a reply in issue #235, but did not address all of the criticisms. In this interview he replies to those criticisms still remaining from Gary Groth editorials and to others in the industry.
Jamie: Over the weekend I read your response to TCJ’s Cuckoo-Land thing, so this interview will be a little bit shorter since you already discussed that.
Scott McCloud: (laughter) Right, yeah.
Jamie: I’ll start off with Understand Comics, one of the things you mentioned was Sequential Art. Obviously we know what that is, one after the other. But you didn’t talk too much about political cartoons or single panel cartoons, as if they are not comics. Any comment on that?
Scott McCloud: I think it’s misunderstood that I don’t see them as comics doesn’t mean that they’re some lesser form of art. I think cartooning has every bit as rich a history as comics does: I just see one of them as being a way of drawing and a way of seeing and the other a way of arranging what we create. So they are two different things. Now they intersect all the time, of course. There is a rich joint tradition of cartooning in comics. I just don’t think it’s the same thing. So Keith Haring was a cartoonist for example, but he wasn’t making comics. He did his cartoons on walls and whatnot. If he was doing, you know, the comics in the newspaper then it would be easier to think of him as a cartoonist but he still wouldn’t be a comic book artist. Or excuse me, he would be a *comics* artist. Of course, comic *books* that is a whole nother can of worms. So by making that separation, making a very small subtraction, from my general lumpy conception of what comics are, I was able to draw that boundary much, much larger for many other things, many historical precedence’s and many potential future forms. So even though I cut loose that one single panel exception, I was able to draw my map larger and able to include a whole lot of other things. Seemed worth it. But I think many people misunderstood that exception is somehow a demotion of single panel cartoons like The Far Side or political cartoons or caricature. And it’s not. Some of my favorite artists are single panel cartoonists. People like Steinberg or some of the great political cartoonists, they’re terrific. It’s just not comics, that’s all.
Jamie: Moving on to Reinventing Comics. There is a DC Disclaimer that you mentioned before about particular ideas giving some people problems. What particular ideas do you know that set some people off?
Scott McCloud: I think it was pretty clear. Towards the discussion at the end of the product of the book, was the chapter that was most objectionable to some people at DC was the business chapter. The 2nd Chapter of the book, I think, that some people up at DC and Time Warner found my projections for the future of comics distasteful on some levels. But it was really my view of the history of the business of comics that upset some people. To DC’s credit, they honoured the contract that I had with them and did not enforce any corrections for editorial reasons. And I appreciate that, I think they behaved honourably, but it’s not the history of comics as DC would necessarily like to see it.
Jamie: There are two versions of Reinventing Comics, one Perennial/Harper Collins and one that DC was publishing.
Scott McCloud: That was true for Understanding as well.
Jamie: Understanding, as well?
Scott McCloud: Yeah. It’s a bit of a long history, but in brief Understanding Comics was first published by Tundra. By the time it hit the stands Tundra no longer existed and had been swallowed up by Kitchen Sink Press. Kitchen Sink Press was the company that I first signed up with to produce Reinventing Comics. In fact. I did most of the work on that book while still at Kitchen Sink Press. And when Kitchen Sink Press underwent a great deal of turmoil and it floundered, Dennis Kitchen was forced out. I needed to find an escape route quickly. I didn’t trust the people that were running the company. I didn’t want anything to do with it. DC looked like the safest port in the storm and we needed to make a decision extremely fast. And DC was that decision (laughter). And when we did it, Understanding Comics came with us. As far as the book market, Dennis Kitchen had tried to market Understanding Comics in the book trade and in other comics, obviously. We found it was just not practical so we had partnered with Harper Collins and since 1994 both Understanding Comics and later Reinventing Comics appeared in bookstores under the Harper Collins imprint, specifically Harper/Perennial. So it’s a bit complicated, but basically one company handles it for comic book stores, another company handles it for the general market, the book stores and airports and everything else. And that’s worked out all right. Harper also licenses it to other countries and Understanding Comics is in about 14 languages.
Scott McCloud: I like what Harpers is doing.
Jamie: Still, with Reinventing Comics, you mentioned one of the drawbacks to self publishing, specifically mentioning Dave Sim, is doing all the business related stuff. Is that not similar to publishing your own web comics because you have to learn HTML and make sure everything works in both browsers and all the server-related stuff and so forth?
Scott McCloud: Those certainly are challenges for publishing on line but they are radically different in one respect, which is those are creative challenges; challenges in producing the work. The challenge of making that work available to the public is trivial in comparison to making it available in print. It takes enormous, constant, backbreaking work and a huge amount of money to get your work printed, or to print it yourself, to get it shipped, to deal with the distribution system, the retail system, and to get your work hauled all over the country just to make it available to what may potentially be a very small number of customers. If you have 3 people nationwide who want to buy your book, you’re going to have to ship 100,000 copies to make it available to those 3 people because you don’t know where they are. So self publishing is constant, extremely hard and expensive work; whereas the work of publishing on the net is primarily the work of learning how to produce the work. Once you have the business of uploading it to the website, it’s trivial. It’s one of the easiest parts of making a web comic. It’s simply uploading it. And at that point, your work is available to anyone who wants to see it… if they can find you, which is whole nother whole can of worms. Then the expense is 70 dollars to register a website domain for 2 years and on average, probably somewhere between 20 to 40 dollars to have that domain hosted somewhere, a month. And while I don’t want to downgrade the importance of that, obviously for some people that can be a hardship, but compared to self publishing (mutual laugher) those that can’t afford that I don’t see self publishing as viable alternative, either.
Jamie: Just out of curiosity, I know you were interviewed in the same Internet comic that Groth did . . . his first Cuckoo-Land piece. I was wondering when that happened, the interview?
Scott McCloud: Are you referring to the Internet issue of Comics Journal?
Scott McCloud: And the question was?
Jamie: How long prior to the issue did that interview take place?
Scott McCloud: That was done for that issue. Charles Hatfield and I had been kicking around the idea of an interview for a while. That one was set up with the implication that it would run in the same issue. As to Groth’s review, I should say to Gary’s credit he gave me fair warning that the review was coming and we had a perfectly polite exchange prior to it and although I haven’t spoken to him since, I expect to have a perfectly polite exchange after the fact. We live in a civil society (laughter), Gary’s opinions are as strong as anything you can find in the comics press. I consider him the loyal opposition and it’s all part of the debate and thanks to Gary that debate has become much more pronounced, much more public, and frankly much more interesting. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t consider some of what he wrote to be unfair, but I was given ample opportunity to call him on it and I did.
Jamie: My next question was: What was your general reaction to it when you finally read it?
Scott McCloud: It was a Gary Groth Review (laughter). I began reading the comics press about 25 years ago. The Comics Journal was on the scene about that time, maybe a little before. And every time Gary writes just about anything, he just about excoriates it (laughter).
Jamie: Scorched Earth is the term I hear (laughter).
Scott McCloud: Yeah a scorched earth review, and even jokingly said in the subject line of his original e-mail that there was a hatchet job on the way. Which ironically, he considered a serious review, but yeah, he’s always been like this. We would expect no less of him (laughter). I think maybe some younger fans that don’t know the history, might be a little appalled at it because Gary has been fairly quiet lately. He hasn’t really been on the rampage much but there is ample history of that sort of thing.
Jamie: Okay, I’m going to go through the nuts and bolts of stuff that I didn’t think you address very well or address very much.
Scott McCloud: Go for it.
Jamie: I know you went back and forth with Gary over this, but do you think you have been hyping the Internet and web comics a bit too much?
Scott McCloud: Hmm.. It’s problematic, because I think Gary is right, that I haven’t spent enough time addressing the potential for corporate abuse and some of the darker aspects of the Internet. So I think it’s correct that I haven’t done enough on the negative. I don’t think that necessarily means that I’ve done too much hyping of the positive. Because I think the potential of positive change is enormous. In our community, there are still a great number of people who dismiss the Internet out of hand. There are still many that think the Internet is about to destroy everything they love about comics and I can raise my voice to a thousand decibels and could barely rise above the barrier of cynicism or even of apathy. So I keep my voice raised to a high pitch on the issue, because I still think there is a great deal of work to be done on the issue. I still think that to this day, that I’m not done yet. The hyping is one of the unfortunate little coincidences of comics history, in that, since I became obsessed with the potential of comics on the Internet, at the same time, popular culture became obsessed. Well, actually a few years before that, there was a real frenzy of popular culture for all things with a dot in the name . . . probably began in 97 or 98. And it was pretty thoroughly entranced before that. But I would like to believe that my enthusiasm for the potential for the web has very little in common with what was actually being hyped on billboards and TV commercials and talk shows. I wasn’t telling anybody to invest in the stock market and I wasn’t telling anybody that AOL and Microsoft were going to save the world. I wasn’t telling anybody that if they just get a website, they would become a millionaire overnight. The message that I was trying to express and still am, is that there is enormous potential for direct communication between artist and the readers online and there still is enormous potential for creative exploration of comics out of boundaries online. I was writing about the future and I still am. I never promoted the idea that the future is now, the revolution has come, that this is the web today. What I’m promoting in fact, I am very explicit in Reinventing Comics, is that we can be misled by some of the drawbacks in the technology that exists today. I don’t have a product basically. The future I’m talking about is not shrink wrapped, you can’t go and buy it today. That’s not what I’m trying to say at all. One of the statements that I make in Reinventing Comics that Gary misunderstand is this idea: ‘If it’s about the present it’d probably hype, if it’s about the future, no amount of hype can do it justice’. Anyone who has something to sell you now, it’s probably hype (laughter) but the magnitude of the excitement is about the potential of the Internet itself. I don’t think it is at all misplaced and I still think the web is in it’s infancy and we have only seen the tiniest hint of it’s potential. So I’m still as excited as I was in the beginning. It just had nothing to do with the stock market, IPO’s or this week’s product.
Jamie: Moving on, Groth thinks you hate beautiful print drawing. True or False?
Scott McCloud: (laughter) False. Okay, one of the interesting fallouts of web comics and digital distribution is the fact that print is becoming visible for the first time. People are able to choose print in a way that my generation wasn’t. We inherited print. If we loved comics, print was the only way to express that. We now have to consciously choose print or the web and in either case, choose it for the properties that plays to their strengths. Now print has enormous strengths . . . it’s just that now we can appreciate it for what it is. It’s no longer invisible because it’s no longer ubiquitous.
Jamie: Your Adventures of Abraham Lincoln, you and Groth both admit that it wasn’t very good.
Scott McCloud: (laughter) Yeah. I believe Groth called it a widely derided train wreck.
Jamie: Did that give you a pause in using computer technology and comics?
Scott McCloud: No it didn’t, not in the least. How do I explain Lincoln? The best explanation I came up with for that at the time, when people said they didn’t like it: If you can guarantee the results in advance, it’s not an experiment. The notion that I should put it all on the shelf and forget about computers because I have this one disastrous failure in using computers, the only translation I can come up with for that is: if you first don’t succeed, then quit. And that’s not my philosophy. I assume when I fail at something that the failure is mine. That I failed to use those tools to their best advantage. You have to remember that Lincoln really began almost as soon as I had tools in hand and it’s the very first ever thing I did, using just computers to generate. And I choked (laughter).
Jamie: Some people think that Reinventing Comics was done just to capitalize on Understanding Comics and that it should have been told in an essay form.
Scott McCloud: That would be Gary.
Jamie: Yeah, Gary. So why did you think that Reinventing Comics needed to be told in a comic book form?
Scott McCloud: Well, just about everything I wanted to say could best be said visually, especially when it’s about a visual medium. I’m a comics loyalist. I’m interested in the things can be expressed through comics. I think Gary is right in that there are parts of the book that don’t use comics particularly well. Maybe the parts should have been told in prose. But it’s not a comic because I wanted to capitalize on anything, it’s a comic because . . . because I’m me (laughter). Because I love comics. Because it’s the whole point for me, seeing what comics can do. In Understanding Comics it’s clear that it was the right medium for the book.
Jamie: For sure.
Scott McCloud: In Reinventing, it sometimes is and sometimes it isn’t. But I’m exploring the boundaries of non-fiction comics and the only way to find those boundaries is to stretch it. And some cases, to stretch it to the breaking point. I think in some places it broke and in some places it’s solid. But anyone that knows me know why I made Reinventing Comics as a comic (laughter). Because that’s what I’m about. That’s everything that I am, as a comic book artist, seeing where comics can go. I said at the end of Understanding Comics that I wouldn’t do a sequel right away. Understanding Comics was about 7 years of thinking about comics and 7 years worth of ideas. And so it just collected to a point where I needed to put them somewhere, so I put them into a book (laughter). I predicted that it would be another 7 years of ideas before I would want to write another, and that’s what happened. I think it’s clear that starting in ’94, I was heavily obsessed with computers. Anyone on the convention circuit knew that. Well, I had another books worth of ideas so I had to put them somewhere.
Jamie: You mentioned that the line work in Reinventing Comics wasn’t quite up to your own standards. Why was that? Was it because of the technology or . . . ?
Scott McCloud: It was my use the technology. It still not quite organic enough. I still think I have a ways to go. I’m still learning how to use a sable brush, too. I think it looks better than Lincoln (laughter). But again, are we going to project the message that I should just quit? Because it’s not up to standards? Because others are using digital technology in a very organic and convincing way? Between Kyle Baker, Demian 5 from Switzerland, all those people have used it to great effect. In fact, I think my work has a warmer organic quality compared to some of the online work that I did, which was done after Reinventing Comics. I never claimed to be a particularly exciting draftsman (laughter) and I really don’t know that anyone else has, either. That was never my strength to begin with, but I want to continue exploring and this is where my passions take me right now. I’d be an idiot just to stop right now just because of a few failures.
Jamie: Groth notes your bibliography didn’t include books that criticize the Internet and the possible future it brings. Why didn’t you?
Scott McCloud: Well, what can I say? Groth’s general criticism that I don’t spend enough time discussing potential for corporate abuse is valid. I think, well you know pretty much what I think (laughter). I think some of the objections to the bibliography are a bit silly, especially when he lectures me for not responding to books that were written 9 months after Reinventing Comics.
Jamie: Yeah, IBM and the Holocaust.
Scott McCloud: Yeah, IBM and the Holocaust. What can I say? I think he could have made a valid point about that, but he stretches it to ridiculous extremes. Whatever.
Jamie: Do you think computer created artwork will one day aesthetically surpass traditionally made artwork?
Scott McCloud: No, I don’t think so. I don’t see a world that would exclude one or the other. I don’t see aesthetics as some demolition derby where there is only one car left at the end (laughter). I would hope that there would be artists making significant and exciting work in all these mediums. I don’t see it as one or the other. For me personally, digital is the most exciting. But that’s just me, this is what I want to work on right now and I assume others will make that choice also. You know, I assume others will make that choice for now.
Jamie: One of the problems with your theories is that people will do what you want them to, in terms of either going out and looking for great non-corporate entertainment on the web and by paying micro payments instead of pirating entertainment. Why do you have such high amounts of faith in the masses?
Scott McCloud: I would turn that question around and I don’t know why Gary and some other people have such of an incredibly bleak view of people. In my experience, most people like to think of themselves as being reasonably honest people, reasonably honourable . . . when they’re faced with a very easy way to get something for free, that would cost them hundreds or even thousands of dollars, otherwise . . . That temptation is pretty strong, they usually go for it. I don’t see any system eliminating piracy entirely. One of the reasons I advocate micro payments should it ever become practical, is that I think that if the price is sufficiently low and it’s very easy to get something legitimately for that low a price, I think most people will go for it. Because, well, for a few different reasons. This is such a huge issue. Sorry. I’ve written whole essays about this and it’s hard for me to condense it down to one or two sentences. There are a couple of factors: one of them is the fact that if it’s just a little bit more convenient to get it legitimately, if it’s a little more difficult to steal it, and if it’s just a few cents more, it’s just simpler, it’s just easier and also because piracy to some extent, has a philanthropic character online. People that are uploading songs and making their computers available for others to get those songs, they’re devoting a certain amount of time and resources and they’re not getting rich off it, either. This isn’t like selling pirated CD’s in Times Square. This is something where you’re not making a cent, you’re actually devoting your time and computational resources to giving away this work. Well, if it’s work just available for a few cents and that few cents is actually going to the musician or cartoonist or writer you’re stealing from, then that whole enterprise just seems a little less interesting, a little less worth it for the pirate. Again, nothing will eliminate piracy completely but I think that there are some systems that could make the influences of piracy lower and allow people to look at themselves in the mirror and feel good about themselves and not go bankrupt illegally.
Jamie: Your history of the Internet stops just at the time it gets privatized. Why did you stop it there?
Scott McCloud: For one thing, it was pretty recent history when I began writing the book (laughter). It got privatized in ’93, late ’93, and the world wide web hit the mainstream, which would have been ’94, and I started writing the book in ’97. I was talking about the origin of the Internet, I hadn’t expanded from that since the last really big event. Now Gary is right that the Telecommunications Act of ’96 should have been mentioned at that point. I think it was ’96, pretty sure.
Jamie: Yes it was ’96.
Scott McCloud: I think he’s right. I think he’s right. That should have been included and I should have gone into a discussion of that. But . . . I think he’s right. Perhaps I should go into a discussion of that now? Maybe I’m a little tired (laughter) of talking about . . . I’d rather make comics for a change. You know, I never see myself as the only voice in this debate. That is one objection that’s subjected repeatedly, by Gary in particular. There is this notion that it is my responsibility to cover *everything*, I mean even Understanding Comics was criticized because it refused to indulge in value judgments.
Jamie: You mentioned specifically about not including a chapter on bad drivers.
[Note: This refers to Scott’s reply to Greg Cwiklik and Gary Groth TCJ #211. Saying “If I wrote a book about how cars work would I be criticized for not including a chapter on bad drivers?”]
Scott McCloud: Yeah, (laughter) and I think this is silly because I’m not the only voice and I never claimed to be the only voice and talking about the inner workings of comics is a voice all unto itself. Now, if you want a broad balanced education, you also seek out writers who are discussing aesthetic values of comics or discussing the political context of comics or the cultural context of comics. In the comics industry, all those things are important too. But I don’t think it’s my responsibility to put everything and the kitchen sink in that one book. In fact, I actually visited many of the issues that he felt were missing in Understanding Comics and of course he hated that even more, because they weren’t his (laughter). It’s little hard to win with that standard being applied.
Jamie: You also mention the limitations of print comics by having to turn the page and the square size. But how much is that because the industry tends to stick to the same format? Could the limitations be not be so limiting if they played around with different formats?
Scott McCloud: I think they are beginning to do that now, they are beginning to experiment with shapes but they tend to be low run, you know silk screen, fort thunder, things like that. The industry makes it very difficult to experiment with different sizes. I did a large comic called Destroy back in ’85 . . . ’86, excuse me, and most retailers just didn’t know where to put it. It wasn’t even that dramatic of a difference, it might have been 80% larger than your average comic, but this was deeply aggravating to the average retailer because they didn’t have a shelf that size. So it’s systemic, it’s not just a lack of imagination. If you’re a retailer, you’re going to have to build shelves that you can fit your product on . . . (laughter) and I think that’s reasonable and it’s a problem when somebody comes up with one that simply doesn’t fit on the shelves. Of course, that’s not an issue online.
Jamie: You also mentioned the infinite canvas and doing web comics, a crazy example given, a comic the size of Europe.
Scott McCloud: That was just a . . .
Jamie: Yeah, that’s why I called it a crazy example (laughter). But if you did do a really large web comic, there is a good chance both IE and Netscape would crash, you know. I wonder how infinite is the canvas if you’re stuck to the limitations of the browser?
Scott McCloud: Well no, I talk about that in the book. What I’m proposing is not something that we can accommodate with today’s technology, with today’s browsers. Even with HTML itself, it has all sorts of limitations. I talk about a comic which you can zoom through, where each panel is embedded within the previous panel, you couldn’t do that in straight HTML either, you’d need something like Flash to pull it off. But we have an enormous canvas, so to speak, just as in the average computer game. If you have a comic the size of the landscape you roam through in Tomb Raider (laughter), you’d have a pretty enormous comic. So there might be other programming environments that are more appropriate for comics in the long run. The book about the future. I never claimed for an instant that you can do all these things in IE 5, in the year 2001. That would be absurd. Now there are some people working along those lines, who are doing beautiful concepts, shorter works that still point to the potential of that expanding canvas. And I think it’s on the strengths of those works, those creative explorations going on in even this limited environment, that speaks of potential of that expanded craft. The book is about the future, if it wasn’t about the future, it wouldn’t have been in the book.
Jamie: Do you think in the future Microsoft or someone will create a browser that can handle such a large webcomic?
Scott McCloud: I doubt it.
Jamie: You doubt it?
Scott McCloud: I doubt that Microsoft will (laughter). I don’t see them charging up the hill in particular. It could be some third party creation. It’s hard to predict. Some very important software has come out of just college kids. Or just working out of the garage, you never know.
Jamie: I know you discussed about bandwidth increasing and how that would help with the comics in terms of loading time and so forth. But won’t it eventually get to the point where it’s too powerful, where comics will be not so great in compared to how quickly movies and animation can load?
Scott McCloud: I don’t think I understand, if movies and animation are loading quickly then comics will load instantaneously.
Jamie: Yeah, but what happens when movies and animation load instantaneously as well? Won’t most people pass over the comics and go straight to those?
Scott McCloud: No, well I think that’s the great challenge isn’t it? It will take more convincing, personally compelling, especially unique to comics, so that there won’t be a reason to not read comics. And if we have all these movies and videos and animation, not to mention game and virtual reality environments. But that’s what all this is about, that’s what the entire book is about. I see comics as having unique aesthetic ideas to plant and if you allow that idea to grow in a digital environment, you can see something that’s uniquely comics: that is very exciting, something very new that’s very deeply tied to comics, to the original idea and not like movies, not like prose, not like any other visual art. Something that is completely new. I don’t know how to describe it exactly. It’s hard, words fail. It’s an idea comics that can scale. If you see comics as this temporal map, as this idea in equal, equal in time. It’s an idea of scale. The more bandwidth you throw on it, the more wonderful the new forms that can grow out of that idea. They don’t look anything like any other medium. When we begin to mix motion and sound with comics, I think we begin to hit that slippery slope and when we get enough bandwidth where it can all becomes a movie war. I hope it doesn’t turn into that.
Jamie: I read your Cuckoo Reply that is coming out in issue #235 of the Comics Journal. Is there anything in there that you now wish you said differently?
Scott McCloud: No, I’m pretty happy with it.
Jamie: Pretty happy with that?
Scott McCloud: Yeah.
Jamie: Your reply seemed like giving him a taste of his own medicine.
Scott McCloud: Although, well now, I hope it didn’t come across as giving him a taste of his own medicine because . . . I don’t . . . use the same medicine (laughter). I’ve tried to respond on point. I try not to make any ad hominem attacks. I’ve tried to be polite and reasonable and . . . y’know, I hope it doesn’t come across as just more of the same, but that’s up to the readers to decide.
Jamie: As of late you have been battling a lot of backlash, not just from the Journal but from Penny Arcade, Bill Griffith and more. Did you think your ideas would cause this much of a reaction?
Scott McCloud: There were some surprises. I didn’t think certain ideas would get people as angry as they did. I misjudged which ones were the hot spots (laughter). Who knew that my little essay about micro payments would set off this scorching brush fire in the online comic strip community? Although really, there was a lot of different issues under the surface, that one wasn’t just about micro payments. That whole period was just over a one week period, most notably by Tycho at Penny Arcade and which was pretty personal and nasty. But I talked to Tycho, I talked to John Rosenberg who does Goats. I talked to Glitch who had written something on her strip, no stereotypes. And in all cases, we had a polite reasonable conversation. Tycho posted his thoughts on the conversation that he thought he misjudged me and it’s done. We’re done now, the flame war is out. Basically, there are no parts of the landscape still on fire, as far as I know. I think it ended pretty amicably. There were a lot of misunderstandings that went into that one, and we dealt with them as well as we could.
Jamie: Are you sick of defending micro payments yet?
Scott McCloud: No.
Scott McCloud: I will continue, but I am tired. I’m a little tired because the debate has strayed a lot from the central issues and much of the time I spend defending it, it is not really so much defending my ideas as it is trying to explain what people think I was saying and it is not what I was saying at all.
Scott McCloud: That can get a little tiring because that is wasted time. If I have to defend against things like ‘Well, McCloud thinks we should pay 25 cents every time we visit a webpage’ that’s . . . that’s . . . I never said that (laughter). And yet I’ve heard that parroted back to me a dozen times. So that part of it is tiring. But the actual discussion is worth it because there are people out there trying to make it happen, and keeping the public debate alive is one of the ways which that process can be facilitated.
Jamie: Yeah one of the people trying to make it happen is Javien?
Scott McCloud: Javien is a Canadian company that’s one of many that is trying to put together a workable micro payments system. I mentioned them recently because they had one or two good ideas that I liked. I can’t predict whether or not they’re the ones who are going to pull it off. I’ve always been careful not to back any one company because I have yet to see any one company that has all the answers. Believe me, I would (laughter,) I would if I thought one company had figured out all of the answers and I was very confident in them. I would back them and I would use their service.
Jamie: One of the practical problems I have today is whenever I go to the bank machine, I get dinged with a one dollar service charge. I’m thinking how anyone would make money charging 25 cents, even in the future, when the services charges are so high among the banking industry?
Scott McCloud: Well Amazon and Paypal charge a service fee in that realm and that’s why they are not micro payments (laughter). You can’t charge somebody 2 pennies if it’s going to cost you 25 cents for the privilege. But all along, that’s been the challenge of micro payments. If those transaction fees weren’t so high there wouldn’t have been a problem to begin with. That’s what the whole discussion is about.
Jamie: Do you think some company will come in and save the day for you? You know, making micro payments available for a very low amount of money?
Scott McCloud: I don’t know when it will happen and I don’t know who will pull it off. I think the ability to charge small amounts of money directly over the Internet is not an unsolvable problem. I think there are those who believe it will never happen. I think, having just finished the century which we landed on the moon, cured polio and sent our voices and ideas around the earth at the speed of thought, I think this idea that we will *never* solve the technical problems of charging small amounts of money over the Internet is just absurd. It’s not that hard, it’s not rocket science. We’ve done harder things than this. It just may take a little more time and I’ve never been good with deadlines, so (laughter) things never happen as fast as I want them too, but they happen.
Jamie: So when micro payments do happen, do you see yourself using them?
Scott McCloud: Sure, sure. Yeah, absolutely. But again, I want to make sure I don’t inadvertently wind up endorsing some particular company that doesn’t get it all right. I’m very cautious about that, because at this point who ever. I even mentioned Javien to Tycho in a phone conversation and now everyone thinks I’m endorsing them. You know (laughter) and that’s a good example of why I’m so cautious.
Jamie: In your second episode of ‘I Can’t Stop Thinking’ you mentioned a wide variety of things you can do on the Internet because shelf space is not as limited as it is in the normal store. At the same time, the Internet lets us go directly to what we want and we don’t get exposed quite so often to different things that we are not interested in. Is this a good thing?
Scott McCloud: No, I think we do get exposed, we get exposed by others letting us know about things. We want to dwell on one particular area of interest, we can. But the Internet is such a riot of other options of links, to links, to links, to links. And the opportunity for dozens or even hundreds of acquaintances over time to send you links to interesting works, that I think there is a counter-active trend to that tunnel vision tendency. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a certain vulcanization on the web, I think there will be, but I think within any given community, let’s say the comics community, I think that diversity has the upper hand in the long run. I think that right now, diversity is so thoroughly discouraged by economic systems that we have and by the dynamics of shelf space, that the web has already shown it’s ability to show its direction. The best web comics today are remarkably diverse, compared to what’s on the average comic store shelf.
Jamie: In Reinventing Comics, you use that one symbol, the eye open and the eye shut a lot. It’s even on your main webpage. Why are you so fond of that symbol?
Scott McCloud: I just had to pick something (laughter.) Having finished Understanding Comics, I realized I didn’t really have a symbol for comics itself and the little guy with the hat, you know that fellow raising his hat seemed a little bit overly specific. In the end, I decided that, to me, would be the essences of comics; two images of comics first of all, any two images in sequence but in particular the eye open, eye closed because I thought the balance between the visible and the invisible and I don’t know, it just seemed like the best single image I could pick to represent the form because I was going to be using it. I had to use something (laughter) when I was putting together all those diagrams there . . . there needed to be a symbol for comics itself and the tubed hat seemed a little specific to Understanding Comics.
Jamie: Are you planning on doing a 3rd ‘Something’ Comics book?
Scott McCloud: Yeah, not right away.
Jamie: Not right away?
Scott McCloud: Probably in another 7 to 10 years.
Jamie: Do you know what that will be about?
Scott McCloud: Yeah, I pretty much do, but I’m not telling anyone. Or at least not right now (laughter). Because the 3rd book is different from the first two just as the 2nd one was different from the first.
Jamie: Is that going to be done through print or is that going to be on-line?
Scott McCloud: I don’t know.
Jamie: Have to see what it’s like 7 to 10 years from now.
Scott McCloud: Yeah exactly. I don’t want to predict.
Jamie: Are you still open to doing any print comics in the future?
Scott McCloud: Sure, I think there are all sorts of things that are interesting to do in print. But generally speaking, I like to do it for one or the other. If I’m working for the web I want to do something that’s designed for the web. Perhaps I could only work on the web, but I don’t like this idea of repurposing, I don’t like this idea of holding yourself back because you might reuse it in some other form. Only working in black and white, for example on the web because you’re hoping that King Features will pick up your strip. That’s just sad. You’re on the web, use the web. Or if your in print, use print (laughter) to speak to those aspects of print that are most exciting, use that dative quality. You know, use that high resolution and the ability to produce fine line work, use it. Do something that print can do best. I just hate repurposing, I hate castrating your work so that it would be suitable for a variety of platforms.
Jamie: Do you have any print projects in the near future?
Scott McCloud: A couple of magazine pieces. I’m doing a 6 page original comic in Wired Magazine, for example. But they’re piecemeal, I don’t have a graphic novel in the works at the moment but I may at some point. If I could just work online for the next two years I would. But I can’t. I have many things I’d like to do online but not because I hate print or anything, but because I’ve been working in print for how long is it now? 17 years? And I’m ready to do some . . . well I have a long list of online projects. I could easily go two years with it, but unfortunately I don’t have that option because the economy that works online is just not mature yet. Maybe someday.
Jamie: Do you think because of Reinventing you’re constantly talking about online comics, this hurts your ability to get print books?
Scott McCloud: Mmmmm… No, I don’t think other things have to do with it (laughter). I never really tested the waters that way, couldn’t say. But no, I don’t think a publisher would particularly care one way or another. I mean, if I expressed an interest in doing a book in print then I obviously have nothing against print as far as that book goes. I’ve never told people to stop making printed books. That’s just another weird, distorted version of me that people are trying to sell.
You can get more news and updates on Scott McCloud at ScottMcCloud.com