Monday, September 02, 2013

Understanding Comics and the Phantom Magician

I am starting to work on a Masters program in Library Science. Which of course means taking some basic level classes, explaining terms we use every day without giving much thought to, putting into words things we already think we know. Such as what constitutes information, knowledge, language, etc.

One of the books we're reading excepts from is Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics which does much the same thing. Deceptively simple, explaining stuff that we think we already know but never really gave much thought about.  Whimsical and really gets across the roles of writing, art, language and touching how we interact with information and art and the processes of absorbing as well as creating works. He touches on various subjects such as how most human minds are wired, in recognizing faces and patterns in almost everything.

A basic concept that the class and the book is getting across is that an information object (such as a book, paper, painting, even words themselves) is not the same as information itself. They are simply the representation of the real thing or idea behind it.

What was interesting was that a few days before reading the assignment, I was reading at Famous Funnies #32, 1937 by Eastern Publishing, specifically "The Adventures of Patsy". Famous Funnies is a reprint anthology, so the strips are a bit earlier than the book. In this, we see the appearance of the Phantom Magician, dated to 1935. Some consider PM the first original comics superhero, some Mandrake the Magician (1934), depending on the criteria and how you parse the definition of "superhero" and for that matter, "comics". Personally, if you'd consider either of those, I'd say that Hugo Hercules (1902) and The Handyman from Timbuctoo (which I don't have a date for but it's roughly as early). Regardless of the "comic superhero" debate, it's interesting to see that here in the early days of cartooning, the Phantom Magician touches on a similar concept!