Scott McCloud – Understanding Comics
Length: 216 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction; Graphic Novel
Started: 28 December 2009
Finished: 28 December 2009
Where did it come from? Borrowed from my father.
Why do I have it? I first remember hearing about this from Kim, and then I spied it next to my dad’s computer, and he said how great it was, so…
A comic comic
about comics and art. What
a great way to learn!
Summary: Understanding Comics is a comic… about comics. It sets out first to define comics, and then to explore some of their history. From there, it gets into the language of comic books – the power of the symbols they use, how paneling is used in conveying a message, the relationship (or lack thereof) between the words and pictures, how they use a purely visual medium to convey information to all of the senses, and how they use a static medium to convey motion and time. Throughout, McCloud treats comics as an art form, and argues for their potential as communication devices that create a detailed interplay between the imaginations of the author and of the reader.
Review: I am not a huge comics aficionado, but I feel like I’ve got a reasonable grounding in the genre. Enough so that while I didn’t recognize every one (or even most) of the examples that McCloud used, I was certainly familiar with many of the concepts. Or, rather, once he presented them, I was able to go “oh, yes, I’ve seen instances of that before,” even though I lack any kind of background in art theory. Where McCloud succeeds is in formalizing the language of comics and placing it into that kind of theoretical framework… and where he *really* succeeds is in making it readily accessible to novice readers. I’ll admit that there were a few places that got kind of dense, and a few ideas that probably went over my head. But, for the most part, ideas are presented in a clear and straightforward way, starting with the familiar and building it up to the more abstract, all while making excellent use of the visual nature of his medium, and injecting more than a little humor throughout.
The thing is, now I want to go back and re-read every graphic novel I’ve ever read to look for the concepts that McCloud talks about. How does the paneling in Sandman create a sense of time? What is it about the art in Fables that I find so appealing? How does the interplay between words and dialogue in Watchmen affect what the panels can show? How much of the action in Buffy is actually on the page, and how much am I filling in? From here on out, not only will I have the vocabulary to describe these things, I suspect I will also be much more aware of them. No more just reading the words and glancing at the pretty pictures for me! And, I suspect, by better understanding how comics authors and artists can use the medium, I will be better able to appreciate when it’s done well – that is, I will be better able to appreciate the comics as an art form, which seems to me to be the outcome that Mr. McCloud was aiming for. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Strongly recommended for comic book (or graphic novel, if you’d rather) fans, of course. I don’t know how good it would be for someone who’s brand-spanking new to the genre – it does assume that the reader is at least passingly familiar with the style. But, on the other hand, while McCloud focuses on comics, a lot of what he has to say is relevant to anyone interested in art, art theory, or art history, so I think even non-comics fans should open their minds – and their definitions – a bit, and take a chance and read it.
Links: Scott McCloud’s website
First Line: My old pal Matt Feazell called the other day.
Cover Thoughts: I like it. It feels nice and accessible and friendly, and the panels in the background all have to do with important points made throughout the book. I do have a little bit of a hard time reading “understanding” against the yellow background, though.