UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“My face! give it back!” : interrogating mask metaphors and identification in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics Chuang Xin, Sulynn


This thesis argues that one way to resolve some of the discrepancies in the theory of identification proposed by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics, such as his mask metaphor, is to approach his theory via theatrical conceits. By thinking of identification in the terms of an actor playing a masked character, in which to read a comic and identify with a cartoon character means to put on a mask and imaginatively play the character, McCloud’s contention of cartoons matching our basic mind-pictures becomes readily resolved by virtue of the fact that the mask is serving as a dramatic signifier of the reader’s inner reality. That is, by imaginatively bringing to life the iconic cartoon form, the reader mimetically becomes the character, hence making it entirely plausible for anyone to enter the world of the cartoon and see themselves in the faces of the characters. The mask thus becomes a logo that transforms the reader’s body into logos, granting access to the realm of the symbolic by covering up a reader’s personal identity such that he or she becomes a cipher, at liberty to see whatever he or she wants in the cartoon image. However, regarding the comics panel as a kind of dramatic stage in which the identifying reader is intimately involved as both actor and initiator of theatrical communication, raises other problems. It not only problematises the distinction between reality and artifice in an imaginative performance context, but also ignores the fact that masks are frequently used for purposes of preventing rather than promoting audience identification. McCloud’s theory, in attempting to circumvent the issues surrounding the fraught relationship between self and other that are inherent in any discussion of identification by applying the mask as a structuring term, raises new issues of its own.

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