Personality Tribing?

In several of his latest interviews, talks, and, I assume, upcoming book, Scott has talked about his “Four Tribes” theory that roughly describes different groupings of creative enterprise. His chart looks roughly like this:

Classicists are concerned with beautiful craftsmanship, Animists with the craft of the story. Formalists dissect the medium itself, and Iconoclasts rebel against the status quo in search of authenticity of message. I’m sure discussions of this will be all the rage soon enough, especially once Scott’s new book comes out, so I thought I’d add some thoughts.

When I was in college, a girlfriend of mine sucked me into her obsession with personality profiling (usually Keirsey or Myers-Briggs test), where individuals are measured by variations on four fields to create a “type.” For instance, Introversion (I) and Extroversion (E) lie on opposite ends of one type’s continuum. People’s behavior usually falls somewhere in the middle of these gradations. When all four of these gradations are mapped, it becomes a “type.”

At the surface, both Personality Profiling and the Four Tribes serve a similar fascination of “oh oh, I’m mainly this type!” It also gives light on how one type might view another (Classicists no doubt view other types as less graphically achieved, Iconoclasts view Classicists as surface and no substance). But, a little deeper, I think that Scott’s individual tribes also have some parity to aspects of the personality variables (at least, from a “creator” point-of-view).

Along the horizontals run the two variables of “Sensing”(S) versus “Intuitive” (N) cursorily glossed as whether someone experiences and understands the world more through their body/activity versus mind/thought. The top two (Classicists to Animists) reflect Sensing traits – those that are oriented towards some kind of activity – craftsmanship of drawing or writing. The bottom two (Formalist to Iconoclast) more reflect Intuitive traits – more mind oriented and “intellectual.”

The verticals also have another kind of variable, “Thinking” (T) versus “Feeling” (F), kind of the distinction between logical reasoning and gut instinct. Up and down the first column (Classicist to Formalist) would be Thinking, because they examine technical precision, either for craft (Classicist) or for the medium itself (Formalist). The second column (Animist to Iconoclast) has more Feeling traits – motivated by gut feelings for a story (Animist) or idea (Iconoclast).

Crossing these variables then gets you different combinations of traits, which I’ll leave up to the reader’s discretion to probe. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily think that creator’s personalities would identically align with the traits that they map to on the Tribes chart, but I wouldn’t think it outlandish either.

Incidentally, to those who care, in profiling I’m generally an ENFJ, and while most wouldn’t be surprised to hear I’m a Formalist, my roots/instincts are actually as an Animist (with a slight sidetrack in college as an Iconoclast). So, not a perfect alignment, but also not surprising that different traits of mine would dip into different squares.

[Edit 9/7]: I found this nice extended analysis of McCloud’s “Four Tribes” theory. I hadn’t realized that McCloud based his theory on the Jungian types to begin with, but perhaps that’s one of many things I’ll find once the book actually arrives at my doorstep.


  • This simple tribes conversation has done a lot to help me understand myself and others in this comic world. It’s put to rest many many arguements I’ve had in the past, and explains several contradictions. I’ve seen myself transition from Classicist to Animist in the last year, but I didn’t know how to explain it until I saw this diagram. Man, I can’t wait to read that book.

  • Interestingly, I’m pretty sure my placement on the tribes works out the exact opposite of personality profile. Though I make frequent forays into Formalism, I’ve always considered myself more in the Animist sort, which ought to map to SF. But from what I recall of my personality profile, I’m NT.

    Of course, I’ve been feeling more and more drawn to formalism, the more I work in comics, so perhaps it’s time I recognize some new truths about my own creative method.

    Never been much enamoured with Iconoclasm, though. Nor Clasicism.

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