Friday, September 05, 2008

Book 14 – Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

By Scott McCloud

Art Spiegelman sums up this enlightening book quite nicely in the rear blurb:

Cleverly disguised as an easy-to-read comic book, Scott McCloud’s simple-looking tome deconstructs the secret language of comix while casually revealing secrets of Time, Space, Art and the Cosmos! The most intelligent comix I’ve seen in a long time. Bravo.

Over the past couple of decades, comics of all kinds have experienced unprecedented cachet and commercial appeal. As a graphic medium, comics have been around since the dawn of civilization. Like painting, music and film, comics have their own language and modes of expression. But as a legitimate art form, recognition is still a long ways away.

There has been some recent progress with the publication of Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean and Thierry Groensteen’s academic tome, The System of Comics. But for aficionados and newcomers alike, what better way to explain the history and theory of comics than to convey the information in actual comic form? And to make it even more fun and personal, the self-illustrated Scott McCloud himself takes you on this magical mystery tour of the world of comics. What’s more, Understanding Comics came out at least a whole decade before Wolk’s and Groensteen’s work.

If you’ve had some background in art history, the first couple of chapters are familiar territory as McCloud covers the developments in drawing and painting. It’s important to note that he does this in order to contextualize comics’ place in the history of art, literature, photography and film, since the only thing missing from academic textbooks seems to be gasp comics!

McCloud helps put comics back on the map, and really deconstructs the medium down to its fundamental components of theory, vocabulary, time-spatial relations, and color in a way that is engaging and thought-provoking to readers of various backgrounds. That’s no small feat. For myself, I'd say I'm fairly new to comics, but I have a decently substantial background in art, photography and film and I found Understanding Comics really quite a fascinating, thoughtfully put-together book. I thought that reading this would be a breeze, but at over 200 pages, it’s actually quite wide in scope and jam-packed full of information. Of course, McCloud has some very strong opinions about comics that some may disagree on, but that’s to be expected for someone who’s become a kind of spokeperson for comics as an art form.

4 comments:

Doc said...

I found this book interesting but I had a hard time swallowing the tone. I hate it when a writer's voice imitates what he or she thinks a college professor should sound like. Yes, he is teaching something worthwhile, but I don't find his style very engaging. It's too didactic. I have heard good things about Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner, which is a predecessor to this work.

Doc said...
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Olman Feelyus said...

I read this book in or just after college and totally loved it, but I think I was more taken with all the cool, graphic techniques he used to demonstrate his ideas than the ideas himself. And of course that he champions comics as a subject for serious study. But I have little background in art history or theory, so I didn't retain a lot of his deeper theories. I should re-read this, but as Meezly said, it takes a serious commitment. It's basically a text book, really.

dsgran said...

Yes, it is a textbook, and as far as I'm concerned one of the best that an art teacher can have. I loved this book, not just because of the genius way he breaks down the specific ways that comics can communicate in a way that no other medium can alone - but also because taken apart, the pieces are so relevant to other forms of art making.

We're actually negotiating with McCloud to come to our school this year to talk to our teachers and students. It looks like it might be a go!