Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

The bestselling international classic on storytelling and visual communication"You must read this book." — Neil GaimanPraised throughout the cartoon industry by such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Matt Groening, and Will Eisner, Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is a seminal examination of comics art: its rich history, surprising technical components, and major cultural...

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Title:Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Author:Scott McCloud
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Edition Language:English

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art Reviews

  • David Schaafsma

    I finished reading it for my comics/YA Graphic novels class this summer, 6/16/16 and now again, 8/8/17. I'll read this and use it to help people understand comics every year. It's the primary source though there are many good books coming out. What I have to add is that I had a fun conversation with my class about one insightful claim McCloud makes, that the simpler and more "cartoony" a comic representation is (i.e., a smiley face), the more universal it will be, the more we will say "that's me

    I finished reading it for my comics/YA Graphic novels class this summer, 6/16/16 and now again, 8/8/17. I'll read this and use it to help people understand comics every year. It's the primary source though there are many good books coming out. What I have to add is that I had a fun conversation with my class about one insightful claim McCloud makes, that the simpler and more "cartoony" a comic representation is (i.e., a smiley face), the more universal it will be, the more we will say "that's me." In fiction classes I was taught to be as specific and detailed as I could be about characters and places. McCloud says that realistic depictions of characters such as in superhero comics are actually less relatable than simple characters such as Charlie Brown or Nancy, or most manga. Less is more, in a way. That's like suggesting that minimalism (something like Raymond Carver's stories, or Ernest Hemingway's stories) invite readers in more because we as readers have more space to "be" the characters, to connect with them. Maybe this is less true for non-comics fiction, though. But McCloud is interesting.

    Review from before: I've used this book many times to teach comics basics. It's the best book I've found for doing this, and it's in a comics format, with McCloud as the cartoony and erudite "narrator". While thoroughly practical, it's also the most philosophical and thorough and at the same time efficient guide to the craft. McCloud also wrote Making Comics, for comics artists. This book is one of the classics of comic history, one of its great books for helping you understand and appreciate comics for their potential complexity as an hybrid art form, without question. If you want to know how comics are made in all its range of possibilities, and if you want to take see why this interrelated telling of visuals and words should be taken seriously as art and literature and cultural commentary and entertainment, this is the book for you.

  • George

    Scott McCloud's love and understanding of comics is beautifully and simply expressed here. So much so that it increased my love and understanding of comics I read in the past and definitely comics I will read in the future.

    As I was reading other peoples reviews and discussions about this book I noticed that most people are intrigued with the idea that the simpler the character on the page is, the easier it is for the reader to identify with the character. This is something that I noticed myself

    Scott McCloud's love and understanding of comics is beautifully and simply expressed here. So much so that it increased my love and understanding of comics I read in the past and definitely comics I will read in the future.

    As I was reading other peoples reviews and discussions about this book I noticed that most people are intrigued with the idea that the simpler the character on the page is, the easier it is for the reader to identify with the character. This is something that I noticed myself long before I read this book, so it wasn't so revolutionary to me... BUT his chapter on time and expressing time in space in comics truly blew my mind when I read it. It made me see and truly understand so much about pacing in comics. It helped me form, what I like to call, my internal gear shift. As a reader I didn't focus on speed of my reading and over time the only speed for reading became as fast as possible, but in comics this can be a huge disadvantage especially when going through slower and more solemn scenes. Now when I see a comic page and take a look at the composition of the panels I know when the story demands of me to go faster or slower and I am grateful for this new found knowledge.

    This book is an excellent start for anyone who wants to learn about comics, and I certainly will continue my research on this topic.

  • Oriana

    Holy shit! I'm starting a graphic novel book club!! This is our inaugural book and I'm so excited!!!

    We had our first meeting today, and in addition to saying terribly intelligent things about comics and eating mini-cupcakes and laughing at my dogs, we also picked a name for our (accidentally all-female) group: Jugs & Capes. I know you're very jealous.

    Anyway, I was extremely impressed by this book. I can tell that Scott McCloud thinks that he is terrifically important and probably a genius, b

    Holy shit! I'm starting a graphic novel book club!! This is our inaugural book and I'm so excited!!!

    We had our first meeting today, and in addition to saying terribly intelligent things about comics and eating mini-cupcakes and laughing at my dogs, we also picked a name for our (accidentally all-female) group: Jugs & Capes. I know you're very jealous.

    Anyway, I was extremely impressed by this book. I can tell that Scott McCloud thinks that he is terrifically important and probably a genius, but, as often happens to me, I was willing to believe that at least he was smart enough to have earned the right to talk about all of this. So while there were a few points when I found him a bit condescending, a bit cloyingly didactic, on the whole I learned a lot about comics and how to think about them, and that was great.

    I though I was going to write about some of the things I learned, but it's late and I'm tired, and honestly one of the things he does best is really use the illustrations and the text in the best symbiotic way, enhancing and augmenting one another throughout, and so it seems like it would be reductive and dismissive for me to try to summarize his points with words alone. So read the book! And then you'll get it for yourself.

    (Oh but except for one thing, which is so cool I just have to share it. He talks a lot about how the reader is complicit in the telling of a comic story, because so much happens between the panels -- in the gutter, where the reader has to invent what is going on to connect one image to another. He uses as an example a panel with an axe-wielding man chasing another guy and shouting, "Now you're going to die!" Then the next panel is the outside of a building, with only an "Aieeee!!" screaming out. Anyway [see my point, how much extra describing I have to do just to get to what he does with like two pictures?], he then says: "To kill a character between panels is to condemn him to a thousand deaths." See? Because each reader will make his/her own decision about when and how the axe falls, how much blood comes out, how many strikes are needed, the specific choreography of the death. Amazing!)

  • Dan Schwent

    Understanding Comics is a comic about comics by Scott McCloud.

    I remember when this book came out in 1993. My fifteen year old self scoffed. "I've been reading comics for years. What can this book teach me?" Twenty five years later and a thousand comics later, on the heels of rereading Zot!, I decided to finally give it a shot. I was apprehensive at first since you really have to scrape to find a negative review of Understanding Comics. Did so many people like it or were they afraid to admit they

    Understanding Comics is a comic about comics by Scott McCloud.

    I remember when this book came out in 1993. My fifteen year old self scoffed. "I've been reading comics for years. What can this book teach me?" Twenty five years later and a thousand comics later, on the heels of rereading Zot!, I decided to finally give it a shot. I was apprehensive at first since you really have to scrape to find a negative review of Understanding Comics. Did so many people like it or were they afraid to admit they didn't?

    Understanding Comics traces the origin of comics back to the ancient Egyptians and other pre-Columbian people. This might be a bit of a stretch but McCloud explains himself fairly well. More interesting to me was the explanation of the mechanism of comics and how they work on the human brain, like the gutter in between panels and the visual language of comics.

    While I found a lot of the book interesting, I think your enjoyment level of Understanding Comics will depend on why you read comics. If you read them because they fascinate you and you see them as an art form, this is your book. If you read them for escapism and entertainment, parts of Understanding Comics will feel like someone reading you the nutritional information of your food while you're eating it.

    Remember the part in the beginning of Dead Poet Society when Professor Keating has them tear a section out of their textbook? Some of the more analytical parts of the book feel like the good Professor would have turned them into confetti, like the three axes of The Picture Plane, Reality, and Meaning, or graphing scene transitions into Moment to Moment, Action to Action, Subject to Subject, Scene to Scene, Aspect to Aspect, and Non-Sequitur.

    All that being said, knowing why things are the way they are and why they work was more than worth my time. Not only that, it shows Scott McCloud's skill as a writer and artist that he took a subject that could have been drier than a desert and made it fun and interesting. I expect I'll be dipping back into it from time to time, along with How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Four out of five stars.

  • Mon

    Great book, but I'm too annoyed to give it four stars.

    It's amateurish, but I believe if you're aware of how great a book is while you're reading it, it's not working at its best. You can go 'oh wow that's such a clever way to illustrate this idea, and the text is so effective', but it's a bit like reading an instruction manual, and nothing personal or particularly poignant. I guess the idea is to understand the basic structure and potential of comic art, but must it be so academic and dry? The

    Great book, but I'm too annoyed to give it four stars.

    It's amateurish, but I believe if you're aware of how great a book is while you're reading it, it's not working at its best. You can go 'oh wow that's such a clever way to illustrate this idea, and the text is so effective', but it's a bit like reading an instruction manual, and nothing personal or particularly poignant. I guess the idea is to understand the basic structure and potential of comic art, but must it be so academic and dry? The book doesn't limit itself to the conventional art theory, but rather ventures into fundamental epistemological and phenomenological debates. It's informative and eye opening, but not particularly relevant, like every single other art theory textbook. Except this one has pictures (or should I say, integrated with pictures?)

    is a misleading title, perhaps

    would suit the purpose of the book better. Majority of people (in terms of an audience that is likely to pick up a comic-related theory book) has little trouble understanding the intention of the drawing and writing - we can feel the atmosphere, be moved by the characters and thrilled by the action. Appreciating the history, concept and techniques that help build it up are, however, often overlooked. Much like film and literature, comics require a lot of conceptual and aesthetic decision to make it effective and communicative, and McCloud tries hard to evaluate the general methods that are used to convey these expressions. It would work better if he utilise more specific works rather than general 'rules', and most of them only applicable to mainstream comics. The last chapter goes on about the importance of 'understanding', and how comics can serve as a great tool of communication. Frankly it is a bit arrogant to me. No matter what your medium - ink and paper, music, written words, motion picture, performance, construction, we as the audience give ourselves far less credit when apprehending these art forms. We are subjected to arbitrary education, test and criticism that are meant to 'guide' our 'understanding' of the creator's concept and execution - how to read them, how to properly experience them, how to get the most of it like the artist 'wants' us to. I feel as though McCloud is saying, 'I'm the creator, and you are the reader. Through these lines and colour, I'm telling you what is being expressed. Do you get it? DO YOU GET IT?'. Fuck this I don't have understand everything in order to appreciate it, have you never read Pynchon or seen anything David Lynch?

    Comic art is merely another form of story telling, it is equally capable of being as representational or avant-garde as any other art form. 'Understanding comics is serious business' - why is it serious? why not just go out and say 'respecting comics is serious business'. McCloud also comments on how the merit of comics lies in its ability to convey 'individual voices' through mass production - really now? If you want personal expression, why not read a few blogs, talk to strangers in the park, speaker's corner, open mic, go to a concert, underground gig, restaurant, flickr, public toilet, open market, join whatever radical societies there are out there? It is almost ridiculous to have to remind people that comics are capable of being expressionistic, and please don't try to say your choice of material expresses something more profound, original than the others or with more efficiency. Why the fuck should it be efficient? Aren't you arguing that comics can be art too? Then why should it be readable, straightforward and commercial like everything else?

    GAH I'm angry!

    What McCloud is saying is that as an artist you have more control over the output. But at least for me, I don't care if you came up with the entire concept or worked in a team as long as the outcome is insightful and fun. And then he started talking about the human condition and how we can fix the world with reading more comics. YEAH. And then there are angels reading comics, statues of bullied comic readers, massive yin yang symbol! montage of great art works! The world map! Epic lightening! 'THE TRUTH WILL SHINE THROUGH'! (real quote)

    That goes on for about 20 pages.

    Dear comic art - Don't overestimate yourself, not because you're insignificant. Yes you have a long history indeed, and we 'understand' you're not just some flat tone sexist superhero adventure, and that you can be as postmodern as any other art school asshole graduate. Message received.

    *Picture above: single panel from Moebius'

    I don't get it, but it's awesome.

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