Show vs. Tell

Words and pictures in combination may not be Scott McCloud’s definition of comics, but it’s safe to say most people would deem it a fair synopsis.

In any form of communication, there is a methodological spectrum within which one may communicate ideas, feeling, stories etc. McCloud demonstrates in his most well known work, Understanding Comics, how show and tell can be seen as equal and polar opposites; comprising the spectrum of communication. Within the world of comics, using words and images interchangeably, depending on their juxtaposition, will allow for the most effective and influential communication.

Here is an example demonstrating the same comic drawn from both ends of the communicative spectrum.

Image                                                              Image

Image                                                              Image

In chapter 6 of Understanding Comics, Scott generates six categories depicting ways words and pictures can interact.

(click on images to enlarge)

  • Word Specific

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 5.58.58 PM

  •  Picture Specific

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 5.59.03 PM

  •  Duo-Specific

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 5.59.12 PM

  • Additive

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 5.57.47 PM

  •  Parallel

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 5.57.59 PM

  • Montage

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 5.58.09 PM

Often times there is never one explicit way to define a single page or an entire comic using these categories. The range between show and tell is vast and muiltifaceted. This can make analysis somewhat difficult as the lines are often blurred between these categories. But these categories do help us to group the varying styles of communication well as understand the ways in which words and pictures complement one another. With this perspective we can begin to see how different artists use these principles to generate an experiential art form.


Scott spends a portion of the chapter discussing the evolution of show vs. tell. The ways in which language and graphic art forms have evolved, from the earliest cave drawings to today’s most progressive philosophical pursuits. The range of communication and artistic expression is vast! And the most exciting part I’ve taken away from McCloud is that in a complementary relationship, the two have an unparalleled strength for expression and communication.


Below are some of the works we focused on in class, divided into their respective polarities of show and tell.




Silver Surfer (montage)

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.19.31 AM

Tantrum (has arguably the most show)

Feiffer_TantrumScreen Shot 2013-12-15 at 6.34.50 PM

Future Day (Here, the innovation is arguably the images)

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 6.47.00 PM


Red Tide (This work has arguably the most tell of what we’ve covered in class. Here the highly detailed text allows the reader to truly appreciate the accompanying images)

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 6.50.03 PM

Epileptic (This work jumps back and forth quite a bit between show and tell. Within our group, we’ve collectively decided it is more tell than show.)


Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 6.57.01 PM

Contract With God

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 7.00.05 PM

Understanding Comics (This work is most definitely tell. It would be quite difficult to follow some of his ideas and principles without a textual explanation no matter the accuracy of his depictions.)



Next: Transition and Gutters 

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