Comics and happy problem solving

I am in Eindhoven doing CSCW, silly ideas and other things with the USI students here. On the book shelf here is Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” I picked this up last year and couldn’t put it down until I had read it all. There is another book on the shelves this year “Reinventing Comics” and I daren’t pick it up until I’ve done all the work I want to today!

Understanding Comics is both an apologetic for comics as an art form and also an exploration into what makes a comic a comic and how comics manage to captivate and give a sense of narrative and action through what are basically static images. As well as being a good read about comics and about art there seem to be many lessons there for other forms of narrative and animation especially on the web.

As far as I can see (without starting to read it and not being able to stop), Reinventing Comics seems to be about the way online delivery trough the web is giving new opportunities for Comic art … but maybe when I finish everything today I will find out.

Less graphic and less fun, but no less fascinating, I have been dipping into chapters of “The Psychology of Problem Solving“, which was also sitting on the USI shelves. I was particularly enthralled by descriptions of experiments where subjects were asked to accomplish divergent thinking tasks whilst either pushing their palms upwards from under a table, or pushing down from on top. The former a positive, ‘come to me’ gesture elicited more diverse ideas than the latter, negative, ‘go away’ gesture, even though the only difference was the muscle groups in tension. I’ve seen other research that shows how our brains monitor our body state to ‘see how we feel’ (like smiling therapy), but this was one of the most subtle and conclusive.

During the week I have had the USI students work through a design brief starting with silly ideas then moving throughΒ  structured analysis to good ideas. Perhaps I should have had them pushing up on tables in the first part and down in the second?

5 thoughts on “Comics and happy problem solving

  1. I remember that book! The Problem Solving one, that is. I believe it was Bob Spence who made us go through it, and report back on chapters. The chapter I was given as rather difficult and as I remember, showed that all the current research didn’t agree on anything quite yet. More research needed, and all that…
    Maybe next year you can have half of the USIs do the muscle-moving and the other half not and compare what happens?

  2. Hi Alan,

    I just stumbled upon your blog. One thing regarding Scott McCloud: Actually, he recently released a third book, “Making Comics” – it’s fantastic, just like the first one (I didn’t like the second one so much, though). It’s also nice that he ‘updated’ himself in the book by drawing ‘Scott’ a bit fatter. πŸ™‚ The third one is strongly about the narrative, I remember one chapter called “Stories for Humans”, very nice!


  3. oooh, are you a comic reader or was that just a random book you chose to read? i have “understanding comics” on my shelf, just not read it yet.

    btw, wish we’d done silly ideas.

  4. Not a big comic reader … unless I am given one by a journal to review … and yes occasionally … just was fascinated with the book. In particular the way with minimal strokes on the page a comic artist can create emotion, sense of movement, etc.

    … and silly ideas – I should do this as part of the MRes

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