October 7, 2012

Who Is Waldo?

"If who I am matters less, maybe what I say will matter more" (McCloud 37).

Out of McCloud's entire chapter on the Vocabulary of Comics, this is one of the main lines that stuck out to me. This idea, that maybe if the speaker/character is less detailed (and therefore has a more amplified meaning), the voice or the idea which it symbolizes will have more of an impact on the reader. This concept is eerily similar to Barthes (who I am clearly obsessed with - I keep mentioning him in my posts!), who stressed the death of the author, or more simply put, a kind of simplicity and anonymity that is characteristic not only of writers, but also of cartoons. We often interpret cartoons or other icons in terms of what they represent rather than what they actually are. Take, for example, Waldo (as in "Where's Waldo?"). Waldo has a very simplistic look. He wears a striped shirt and hat, glasses, and blue pants. However, he represents a very specific purpose. His clothes are noticeable enough so that when you are scouring a page in a book trying to find him within a crowd of nameless characters, he will stick out just enough so as not to leave you defeated. Waldo's appearance may be simple, but his meaning is certainly amplified. If Waldo's features were more detailed and unique instead of so uniform, he may not be as popular as he is today.

The interesting part is that, as humans, I wonder if it is possible for us to keep someone like Waldo simple. With Halloween right around the corner, I think this is an appropriate example of how Waldo is beginning to lose his anonymity:

Here we have a Waldo Halloween costume, AKA Waldo lookalikes, who are no longer simple and unrealistic. They have real, human faces with multiple features all trying to represent a cartoon. Which brings up one of McCloud's questions, "why is our culture so in thrall to the simplified reality of the cartoon?" (30). These people, knowingly or unknowingly, are attempting to give Waldo an identity, a voice, a mass, a smell, a personality, and all other things that come along with having a physical presence. But the interesting thing is that these are 10 different interpretations of Waldo. Waldo certainly can't be 10 different people. Or can he?

I think the main takeaway from this idea is that we, as humans, are constantly trying to put a piece of ourselves into everything else. We are selfish in this way, as McCloud says, and because of this, I think it is difficult for something as simple as a cartoon to ever really be as simple as it claims.


Nicola Wood said...

I got my photo from this link: http://www.wtfcostumes.com/costumes/waldo-costume2.jpg

Bridgette Balderson said...

I think I agree with you and McCloud that humans are constantly trying to put ourselves into everything else. I mean, why would things like this (http://www.redferret.net/?p=28003) exist if we weren't so obsessed with the human form. Who really thought it would be a cute idea to "give your sockets an electric personality"? Why can't we just used plugs as intended? Or what about this? http://www.genuinetreepeeple.com/ It's a tree... why does this even need to exist? I mean if such kitschy stuff like this can be bought, I think it's pretty safe to say humans are pretty selfish and self-absorbed.

Huong Le said...

I'm not sure that it is entirely selfishness. There may be something about wanting, or even needing, to feel connected. There are some characters on TV/in books that have a huge following, and their fans want to be so close to them that they have to create additional details to form an identity for the character, hence fan-fiction. Or people that name their cars/computers/purses/etc. It is just a blank slate until you give it a personality, and that forms the the connection between you. I think that's why there are characters like Waldo that are simple. It makes it easier for us to shape them for ourselves, and give them the traits that we want to see.

tyreekminor said...

I thought you brought up and interesting point from McCloud's piece. It is true that humans look to identify with these very vague and ambiguous figures whether in a cartoon or in any other symbol. However, I take no issue with these actions. To me, that is a cartoon's or a symbol's purpose, to serve as a representation of something much greater than it actually is. Isn't that the purpose of all signs? These characters, like Waldo or the characters in which McCloud mentions, are representations in themselves. They are drawn out from the experiences of the artist that drew them. The artist has experienced the animal, the human, or any other figure and has simplified that figure to make the cartoon. What is wrong with humans finding themselves in the image if the image only exists as a representation of someone or something else that actually exists in the natural world? The image is a collective of several actual, or real, figures of images. Its purpose is to represent so I find it only natural for humans to look to identify with that image by finding similarities between themselves and that image.

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