Title: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Author: Scott McCloud
Release Date: April 27, 1994
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Nonfiction, Comics
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
In this book, Scott McCloud helps the reader understand how comics tell a story and how they function as a medium for delivering a narrative.
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art is an incredible resource if you’re searching for a vocabulary to discuss comics and want to understand how the different elements of comics work together to tell a story.
When you are used to reviewing in a certain medium, it can often be hard to jump directly into reviewing a different kind. For me, that’s (clearly) books; I feel confident that I know how to deconstruct a book and that I have the knowledge to really analyze and understand its different components. But when I started reading and reviewing more comics and graphic novels, I realized I was out of my depth. I didn’t know how to talk about comics; the art was always an afterthought in my reviews and I didn’t understand how everything came together in order to tell the story; I tended to just focus on the words. So when a friend recommended Understanding Comics as a way for me to find a vocabulary to talk about them, I knew this was definitely a book I needed to read.
I’ve been reading more and more comics lately (I’ll be writing for the site Panels when it debuts), but I didn’t quite understand how they affected me or how to really talk about them. Understanding Comics breaks things down to the most basic level, building them up with each page. And it’s so fascinating how McCloud uses art to do this; this book is itself a comic, and it’s not a book that really could have been written in narrative prose form. That, in and of itself, conveyed to me how effective comics are at telling a story, and how sometimes they can be more effective than a book-book (clearly I don’t have all the vocabulary yet).
There are many aspects of Understanding Comics that are valuable, but perhaps the most is the detail that McCloud goes into. As I mentioned, he breaks things down into their most basic elements, and then puts them back together. Readers can see how comics are constructed and brought together, and that makes a huge difference in comprehending how they function. Most of all, I began to understand how the layout of a page, the size of a panel, the shades of coloring (or lack thereof), and even the straightness of the lines the art is drawn with change the way I interpret the story. Rather than an afterthought I mention at the end of a review, the artwork is central to the narrative, just as important (or even more so?) than the words.
If you’re a casual explorer of comics and don’t really care to know the ins and outs of it, then Understanding Comics may be a bit much for you. But if, like me, you feel the need to understand things, especially if you’re a reviewer searching for the vocabulary to discuss comics, then this is an absolutely invaluable read. I originally got this book from the library but ended up purchasing it after I saw just how valuable of a resource it was.