The “Understanding Comics” Book Review

May 23, 2009

mccloud understanding cmx

Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” is the best critical analysis of the comic medium ever written. Equally as  important, it’s also a very entertaining comic in its own right. McCloud points out that all mediums and art-forms have a long history of self examination and exploration from within the movement itself, yet comics have only done that very minimally, with the work “Comics and Sequential Art”  by the master of comics Will Eisner being a notable exception, yet that work was written a half century ago, leaving much room to be covered.

“Understanding Comics” is part history lesson, part art criticism, part psychology, part sociology and part science. He breaks everything down to the root, the origins and the methods. How do comics work? What differentiates them from every other medium? What are they capable of and what should they strive to be?

The art is tremendous here as well. It’s very simplistic and “cartoony” predominantly, McCloud notes later that basic, “cartoony” work is adaptable and perceived to be very relatable to a wide margin of people. In a sense, we can all place ourselves in the shoes of a more simplistic looking cartoon or comic character more than a very detailed realistic looking picture which will automatically exclude many people on physical matters alone. Yet in McCloud’s exploration of artistic styles and methods comics use, sudden panels will look photo-realistic, or impressionistic, or even of a “high art” quality. McCloud is seemingly capable of any sort of art style he should desire to use, which makes his use of more supposedly “simple” methods all the more admirable. In the chapter on motion, the art runs and jumps and spins through the pages like a film, and in chapters on layout and composition the material will slow to a freeze point so that every important matter can be dissected.

The entire work is highly readable, never does it become dry, dull or overly like a textbook. This book deserves to be used in art classes, literature classes and sociology classes across the board because it is very bright, very academic, very deep yet unpretentiously so. A critical analysis that is utterly entertaining, at times humorous and informative of many broad areas that can be appreciated by those familiar or totally unfamiliar with the medium, with pieces of information that can teach even the most sophisticated and knowledgeable fan a thing or two new, it’s hard to beat this book with any remotely similar.

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