Understanding comics

understanding-comics-coverAs a lifelong comic book reader, I was curious to stumble across Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics at the bookstore one day. That was perhaps a year ago, but I never got around to reading it. Written as a comic book itself, I figured it wouldn’t take me too long to plow through it once I finally picked it up.

Well, confined to bed for a few days, trying to avoid anything that would tax my foggy and phlegm-filled head, I decided to tackle McCloud’s book.

Bad choice and good choice.

Bad choice because it looked deceptively light, but in fact, the book is a pretty heavy-duty, sophisticated look at comic book theory. Yeah, that’s right: “comic book theory.”

Good choice because McCloud is a brilliant theorist who explains a complicated theory in a lucid, engaging way. In particular, McCloud’s artwork continually refreshes itself in delightfully surprising ways throughout.

I learned a lot about art and a lot about comics. In fact, it was nifty to really deconstruct the craft and the art of comics, which I’ve always understood intuitively. I kept having lightbulb moments as McCloud explained the theory behind something that I recognized immediately from my own reading experiences. I knew it without knowing it, if you know what I mean.

The downside to the book is that it was written in 1993, and since then, comics have continued to undergo tremendous evolution, both artistically and in their writing. I would have been interested to know what McCloud thought of those changes and how they worked into his ideas about the medium. He’s since published two more books, so I’ll have to check those out to see if those books include responses to those changes.

Understanding Comics isn’t a book for everyone, but it is a book for more than just the comic book fanboy. Anyone with an interest in art theory would find something interesting in McCloud’s theories. It’s a serious work with serious ideas, told though a brilliant approach. Set aside the cough syrup and settle in for some serious thinking.

1 reply »

  1. Objectively, I believe that comic books and graphic novels may well obsolete the novel and perhaps deservedly so. Subjectively, with all due respect to the art form, I just can’t get on board.