I chat with Scott McCloud

Some readers of peterme.com will know I’ve long had an obsession with Scott McCloud’s work. 15 years ago, I read Understanding Comics, and it was a bolt of lightning in my intellectual development. About 10 years ago, I had the fortune of meeting Scott, and maintaining a friendship with him.

(here’s a scary picture of the two of us in 1999. Scary because I look like a serial killer.

Since we’ve been hosting events at Adaptive Path, I’ve wanted to have Scott speak at them, but it never seemed to work out, either logistically or thematically. Well, that changes next year. For UX Week 2009, our theme involves “looking laterally,” and bringing in people who influence us from fields outside design, and Scott is on board.

To mark this, Scott and I recorded a telephone conversation where topics spanned influences, Edward Tufte, the rise of visual expression in every day life, crafting the Google Chrome comic, micropayments, and the basics UX designers should know about crafting comics. You can download the conversation as an MP3, or, soon, find it on Adaptive Path’s podcast stream (RSS, iTunes)

It’s worth noting that Adaptive Path is having a huge end-of-the-year promotion for all of its 2009 events. Sign up by December 31st, and use the promotional code FOPM (“Friends of Peter Merholz”) for huge savings.

Where’s the Lester Bangs of Comics?

(I started writing this before the birth of our son. So the timing is a little off)

This weekend I devoured Reading Comics, a book of comics criticism by Douglas Wolk. (Thank goodness for the library — I would have felt like a schmuck had I paid for something I read so quickly.)

It was: okay. Douglas makes some pretty good points, and clearly has pretty decent taste, though he is an admitted comics fanboy. I suppose my primary issue with it is that, with a title like “Reading Comics”, and a subtitle “How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean,” I was expecting something more definitive. There is some regard to comics formalism, but you won’t walk away with any better idea of how graphic novels work. Instead, it’s a fairly idiosyncratic and personal view of comics.

Which is fine, except that Douglas’ view isn’t all that interesting. It’s mildly engaging, and reading him gives me the sense that I might enjoy ruminating on comics with him. But he’s not a particularly probing, insightful, or eye-opening critic. He’s just a guy who likes comics and seems to have good taste.

In much the same way that Chuck Klosterman wondered about the Lester Bangs of Video Games, I wonder about the Lester Bangs of Comics. (f you don’t know who Lester Bangs is, may I recommend reading Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of his work.) What’s important about Lester Bangs criticism is, even if you know little to nothing about what he’s writing about, his style and prose are fantastic to consume, and you come away with a perspective about his subjects that you didn’t have going in. Anthony Lane is probably the closest we have to this in film criticism right now.

Reading Comics was perfectly good as a library read, and it did point me to some comics I just bought (I figure comics might be best for my increasingly sleep-deprived mind.) But seminal comics criticism still awaits!