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4.7 out of 5 stars
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
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Showing 1-10 of 25 reviews (4 star)show all reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This book is from the perspective of a serious critic. For the real inside stuff on technique, both narrative and artistic as employed in comics, check out the still-available instructional works of Will Eisner, who pioneered both the breakout from the tradiitional box and the long form graphic story with his weekly eight-page "Spirit" Sunday comics of the 40s and 50s, who expanded the form before anyone else, and who exposes his hard-won practical knowledge for would-be artists and storytellers in several books on the subject.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is not strictly a graphic novel, but rather a mostly serious, occasionally whimsical analysis of the artistic medium known as "comics", done, naturally, as a comic book. McCloud attempts to define the medium itself (starting from Will Eisner's notion of "sequential art") and then proceeds to define the language of the form, and examine its various facets. Contrary to my expectations, McCloud does not make any assumptions or assertions about the actual content of comics, which to some might seem a major drawback, nor does he try to evaluate the quality of any specific style or product. Clearly, he wants to transcend such notions altogether and define the parameters of what comics could be, rather than what they all-too-often are.

McCloud investigates what there is about the medium that draws us to it, without going into such story-centric concepts as plot or characterization. He really doesn't even try to establish critical standards for this medium so much as just delineate the issues, and point out some of the difficulties inherent in a form that combines both writing and pictures.

While this may sound like a dry textbook, it's really much better than that. I most appreciated those moments (and there were many) where McCloud points out aspects of the medium that I'd always taken for granted (the gutters, for example) making me really think about facets of comics that I never even realized I knew. Maybe this book isn't as much pure fun as the comics we're used to, and certainly some of the middle chapters seemed to drag, but anytime you get the chance to look at an old friend through fresh eyes, it's got to be worth the effort. A must-read for anyone serious about comics, and a virtual bible for those interested in working in the field.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud is a real eye-opener. I have spent as much time reading comics as the next guy, but I have never thought of the theories and principles behind the medium. The book takes the reader on a spectacular journey through the underlying structure of comics, and although I don't share all of McCloud's views I have certainly gained a whole new awareness of this structure.
One can always nit-pick, of course. McCloud seems to have a closer relationship to pictures than to words, and his analysis of the pictorial component of comics is much more thorough than that of the literal one. He also claims that no other medium makes its receiver into such an active co-creator, since the reader of comics must fill in the "blanks" between the panels, but I believe that the reader of prose is even more active - when there are no sounds or pictures AT ALL, the receiver has to imagine EVERYTHING himself. There are a few obscurities as well, as when McCloud says "language" but seems to mean "writing system". These and other complaints are all about details, however, and doesn't alter the fact that the work as such is very good.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This was required reading in the cartooning program at the School of Visual Arts and with good reason. Clear, informative and never dry, McCloud provides the best reference to understanding the principals of constructing comics without delving into drawing lessons, an area already sufficiently covered.
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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
I appreciate the innovation of writing a book about comics in comic-book style. It's a clever, winning idea. Perhaps it would have worked a bit better if McCloud himself were a better draftsman, or if there had been more (and better-quality) reproductions of other artists' work.
The writing here is uneven. Some chapters, including "Blood in the gutter" and "Time Frames," are very effective and very specific, with strong insights into the nuts-and-bolts of comic techniques. Another chapter, "The Vocabulary of Comics" -- which uses a big triangle graph to encompass the whole of range of comics art -- is quite insightful but, at the same time, oversimplifies a bit, I fear. I'm not saying McCloud's assertions aren't necessarily true, but he might have put himself on surer ground with some of the language/symbol ideas by getting more heavily into semiotics theory, etc. And maybe here is where the light-hearted tone and comic-book style starts to undercut his intellectual accomplishment. I understand the book isn't meant to be a doctoral thesis, but still, it has high ambitions, and the structure of the book must be subordinated to the loftiness of its aspirations. Chapter 7, which attempts to relate all of artistic achievement into a unified whole, is one of the least satisfying, because it is frankly pretentious and rather gooey, non-specific, in its assertions.
Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of good insight in "Understanding Comics," and I wouldn't debate that it's an essential read for anyone interested in the topic. But it also feels like sort of a primer, a survey. Each one of the chapters could itself be the subject of a whole book. In other words, "Understanding Comics" has impressive breadth but not as much depth as one might want.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
As previous reviewers have mentioned, Scott McCloud is passionate about comics; part of the purpose of writing the book, it seems is to justify the argument that comics are indeed art. I found this a moot point, although his evidence was interesting. Another reason behind the book, it seems, is to explain the message behind comics: the epistomological leaps we take when we read them, the artisitic decisions made when they are created, and the evolution the art form has taken. This was not only the strongest and most interesting part of the book, but also much less preachy.

I enjoy comics, from 19th century broadsheets to the Sunday funnies and the occasional graphic novel. Until now, however, I never really thought about the conscientious decisions the artist makes between realism and meaning when drawing them. Similarly, I had never critically thought about the fundamental differences between Asian (especially Manga) comics and Western comics. McCloud has shed much light on these topics, and explains these differences and decisions clearly, without pretense.

Avid readers of comics, aspiring comic artists and purists may find McCloud a bit pedantic - for the novice such as myself, I was fascinated, as a whole new world has been opened to me through his explaination. Why the four stars then? I took a star for his argument about comics as "art". I suppose there are those who believe comics are not art (or are "low" art at the most); while I disagree with this (and side with McCloud), I thought the argument was out of place, and ultimately moot. Still, a recommended read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Scott McCloud has written a 216 page comic book to explain comic books. The artwork, language, humor or social criticism of comics are obvious to most comics readers, but McCloud delves deeply into the underpinnings of this world--the technical, invisible paradigm that supports the creation and consumption of comics.

Understanding Comics is a comic appreciation book. I was impressed with McCloud's grasp of the discipline's history, the psychology of the art and his own creativity when explaining his topic. For me, entering into this paradigm was very much like Thomas Kuhn discovering paradigms, when he said, "The scales have fallen from my eyes."

Those familiar with comics have recommended a couple of alternatives in their reviews, but still end up suggesting that this book deserves a place among the serious works about comics. I agree.

Jack H. Bender, author of Disregarded: Transforming the School and Workplace through Deep Respect and Courage
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Scott McCloud puts into words (pictures) a standard methodology to looking at or creating comics. Its a great summary of the medium and gives great examples of the medium. He attempts to elevate the comic medium as more than just a children's entertainment with understandable connections. He takes his time to draw out what he means not only with words but images, that work along side each other. He also tries too hard to summarize a large medium, including American and European comics but even tries to explain manga (which he cuts a couple of corners on by adding in only a fraction of the discussion that can be made). But this is a great text to get a general sense of the medium for new time comic readers and even just simply put a logical standard for well versed comic readers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
The power of comics is the expressions packets it can deliver in few picture. I started reading about visual communication by reading books from Dan Roam Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don't Work. And later I wanted to move to finer art of bringing more expressions into my drawing. And this book on understanding comics gives a such a cool rollerskating ride into the science ( its art, but the author does the heavy lifting of making it easily understood ) of drawing and cartoons that I couldn't let it go. Awesome read. Thank you for the effort Scott. Highly recommended for beginners of comics artists as well as any one who wants to communicate with team visually.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book was published in 1992, so some of the discussion about where comics are now, happens to be twenty years old. That said, I really enjoyed this book and its insights. I think McCloud doesn't always give prose enough credit (he seems to think that only comics can evoke the five senses). That said, it's an excellent breakdown of comics for "newbs" and still very valuable to life-long comic readers. It certainly wasn't bad for a University textbook. :)
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