Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

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...

Title:Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
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Edition Language:English

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art Reviews

  • Ryan

    it's one of the best examples i've found of someone writing so specifically about a topic that the observations and implications become absolutely universal.

    think about it: hamlet is completely consumed in his little world, and the stakes are all about what will happen to denmark and only denmark. and centuries later, we still perform the play and read it and think that that is us up there struggling with our problems, just with a different name.

    this is what mccloud achieves here: he is so fixat

    it's one of the best examples i've found of someone writing so specifically about a topic that the observations and implications become absolutely universal.

    think about it: hamlet is completely consumed in his little world, and the stakes are all about what will happen to denmark and only denmark. and centuries later, we still perform the play and read it and think that that is us up there struggling with our problems, just with a different name.

    this is what mccloud achieves here: he is so fixated and clear in talking about comics that the scope of his thought travels to all corners of creativity, art, and human endeavor.

    this is not only a testament to the validity of comics as an artform and mccloud's mastery of it, but also to the microscopic differences between the various supposedly discreet arts and vocabularies thereof when viewed from the vantage of a close and sensitive read of any one of them in particular.

    a book that renews your faith in people's ability to communicate with (and 'understand?') each other.

  • Shark

    FASCINATING book!

    I'd heard excellent things about this book ever since I got into comics way back in 1993, but never decided to sit down and read it until a few months ago. It took me a week to go through it (reading a bit every night before bed), but it's honestly a pretty quick read. Most people could probably get through it in a couple of hours.

    What I found in the pages of this book is an excellent explanation of what happens to us as we read comics, how our mind interprets information and th

    FASCINATING book!

    I'd heard excellent things about this book ever since I got into comics way back in 1993, but never decided to sit down and read it until a few months ago. It took me a week to go through it (reading a bit every night before bed), but it's honestly a pretty quick read. Most people could probably get through it in a couple of hours.

    What I found in the pages of this book is an excellent explanation of what happens to us as we read comics, how our mind interprets information and the effect it has on our consciousness. I also feel that this book makes an excellent argument to anyone who looks down on comics as "something for kids" or overly "nerdy." McCloud explains that comics are a much more prevalent part of our culture/society than we may immediately recognize, and what ensues is evidence of the medium as an art form, ripe with theory and rich creativity.

    I feel that anyone who has an interest in philosophy/theory, filmmaking, history, painting, photography, or literature/writing should read this book. It's not just for "comic book nerds" -- it's for all who appreciate the arts and perhaps could do with some more open-mindedness. It really changes how you look at visual communication.

  • Miss Michael

    I really appreciate that this book exists. It's nice that something was created to help people understand the language of comics, what they are, what they can be, what makes them special, and so forth.

    That said, there are parts which are a little convoluted (Chapter 2, I'm looking at you), and there are parts that are a little dated by now (such as the chapter on color, which I think has come a long way since the early '90s, particularly due to the use of computers). But there are so many parts

    I really appreciate that this book exists. It's nice that something was created to help people understand the language of comics, what they are, what they can be, what makes them special, and so forth.

    That said, there are parts which are a little convoluted (Chapter 2, I'm looking at you), and there are parts that are a little dated by now (such as the chapter on color, which I think has come a long way since the early '90s, particularly due to the use of computers). But there are so many parts that articulate things that we as readers may have never realized we were doing (such as reading between the panels, as discussed in Chapter 3).

    I think McCloud did a great job of including all kinds of comics, from Schultz to Spiegelman to Lee/Kirby to Otomo, without placing more value on one than another. I also liked the parallels he drew between comics and other art forms, although he emphasized visual arts far more than literature, which in some ways makes sense but I feel it neglects the fact that these are comic

    . Even in Chapter 6, which was dedicated to how language and words combine to form comics, I did not notice any analysis of how comics stand up to other forms of literature. However, in the chapter dedicated to the artistic process, I thought what McCloud had to say on the subject was so perfectly universal to all art,

    literature.

    Overall, definitely an insightful read for anyone who enjoys "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence."

  • Christy

    I love the idea of this conversation more than I love the application--at least in this book. While I find the concepts themselves fascinating, I found the book tedious. The overall art and style employed by McCloud just wasn't compelling to me. I really struggled to finish this book.

    But as I said, the conversation is a good one, and the concepts explored--particularly the role of the reader and the required brain work involved in reading comics--were interesting. I'm glad this book is out ther

    I love the idea of this conversation more than I love the application--at least in this book. While I find the concepts themselves fascinating, I found the book tedious. The overall art and style employed by McCloud just wasn't compelling to me. I really struggled to finish this book.

    But as I said, the conversation is a good one, and the concepts explored--particularly the role of the reader and the required brain work involved in reading comics--were interesting. I'm glad this book is out there. I just wish I personally enjoyed it more.

  • Imogen

    Well, I also think this book was brilliant, just like everybody else. I was like, 'how could he possible have two hundred and fourteen pages of things to say about comics?' but then I'd heard it was brilliant for so long from so many people that I gave it a shot. And it is just theory! It's like reading

    or somebody, but in comics, which makes it easier/more fun, which I think is in keeping with Mr. McCloud's idea that comics are the best thing in the whole universe. I mean, some o

    Well, I also think this book was brilliant, just like everybody else. I was like, 'how could he possible have two hundred and fourteen pages of things to say about comics?' but then I'd heard it was brilliant for so long from so many people that I gave it a shot. And it is just theory! It's like reading

    or somebody, but in comics, which makes it easier/more fun, which I think is in keeping with Mr. McCloud's idea that comics are the best thing in the whole universe. I mean, some of his theories are a little wingnut- he basically argues that comics are the simultaneously the culmination of human achievement and the basis of it- but y'know I love me a wingnut theory. So.

    So yeah! I am going to be on the lookout for the next ones AND for McCloud's non-meta (is there a prefix that means not-meta?) comics.

  • 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!)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Tristan

    McCloud surely must be smiling to himself every day to see just how far - in great part because of the publication of this endearingly idealistic visual essay in 1992- his beloved medium has come since then, both in terms of popular acceptance and artistic merit. Some respect at last!

  • 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.


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