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Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art Paperback – April 27, 1994

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Editorial Reviews Review

A comic book about comic books. McCloud, in an incredibly accessible style, explains the details of how comics work: how they're composed, read and understood. More than just a book about comics, this gets to the heart of how we deal with visual languages in general. "The potential of comics is limitless and exciting!" writes McCloud. This should be required reading for every school teacher. Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman says, "The most intelligent comics I've seen in a long time."

From Publishers Weekly

This is a rare and exciting work that ingeniously uses comics to examine the medium itself. McCloud (who wrote a comic-book series called Zot! ) conducts a genial, well-researched and funny tour of virtually every historical and perceptual aspect of comics, which he calls "sequential art," that is, art that consists of sequences of words and pictures. Beginning in the 11th century with the Bayeux tapestry, he examines pre-Columbian picture languages and the printing press, presenting a quick survey of the historical development of early sequential pictures into the specialized visual language of comics. But it's McCloud's accessible and quite amusing discussion of realism, abstraction and visual perception that forms the heart of this survey. He dissects the vocabulary of the medium, cheerfully analyzing the psychological power of comics and their central role in our ultra-visual culture. McCloud attempts to place comics within the tradition of serious western art. His black-and-white drawings are a delight, ranging from simplified cartoons to parodies of classic comics and fine art, all the while manifesting every theory and comics trend discussed.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 27, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006097625X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060976255
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.6 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (308 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Scott McCloud has been writing, drawing, and examining comics since 1984. Winner of the Eisner and Harvey awards, his works have been translated into more than sixteen languages. Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) called him "just about the smartest guy in comics." He lives with his family in southern California. His online comics and inventions can be found at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

179 of 184 people found the following review helpful By Lawrance Bernabo HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
I like to take things apart and figure out how they work, except instead of doing internal combustion engines or pocket watches I like to play with books, movies and television shows. In "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art," Scott McCloud not only takes apart comic books, he puts them back together again. Certainly comics are a neglected art form. Put Superman, Batman, Spawn and Spider-Man on the big screen and there will be some cursory comments about the actual all-in-color-for-a-dime, and names like Stan Lee and Frank Miller will get kicked around, but nobody really talks about how comics work (the exception that proves the rule would be the Hughes brothers talking about adapting the "From Hell" graphic novels). Part of the problem is conceptual vocabulary: we can explain in excruciating detail how the shower scene in "Psycho" works in terms of shot composition, montage, scoring, etc. That sort of conceptual vocabulary really does not exist and McCloud takes it upon himself to pretty much create it from scratch.
That, of course, is an impressive achievement, especially since he deals with functions as well as forms. To that we add McCloud's knowledge of art history, which allows him to go back in time and find the origins of comics in pre-Columbian picture manuscripts, Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Bayeux Tapestry. Topping all of this off is McCloud's grand and rather obvious conceit, that his book about the art of comic books is done AS a comic book. This might seem an obvious approach, but that does not take away from the fact that the result is a perfect marriage of substance and form.
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Eric Lee Smith on December 22, 1999
Format: School & Library Binding
This is one of my favorite books and one of the most insightful, unique, and enjoyable books that I've ever read. I have recommended it to many people, bought copies for several of them, and own two copies myself so that I can lend out one. I recommend it VERY strongly to anyone who's involved with designing Internet sites. Although it's not about that subject directly, it has more wisdom about the design of sites than any Web design book I've ever read or seen. Afterall, the Web is basically a 'page' structure, with text and graphics, just like a comic. Also, you'll learn more about art history from this book than you will from most art history classes (I know, I went to art school...). And did I mention that it's funny too! -E
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77 of 85 people found the following review helpful By David M. Chess on March 3, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I expected this book to be a witty and well-done presentation of mostly stuff that I already knew; but it was much more than that. McCloud has a deep understanding of art and society and people, and a completely lucid presentation.
There are neat and useful new ways of thinking about comics here (his comparisons of American and Japanese comics, his theories of panel transitions and why comic characters are sometimes drawn more simply than the backgrounds, his comments on the psychological impact of color), and for that matter ways of thinking about art in general, and design in general. And he makes masterly use of the comic medium itself to present the material in a way that never drags or confuses.
I hope someone programs the Orbital Mind Control Lasers so that McCloud extends this book into a whole series on the theory and practice of comics, and another on general visual design. The world needs it!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Steve P. Maulin on July 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Mc Cloud writes and draws in such a logical, straightforward style that remains funny and entertaining. His research and organization show this to be a heavy book disguised as fluff. (not to say that all comics are shallow, but they usually do not give the first impression of "War and Peace"). I was visiting my daughter at school and saw this softcover laying on the coffee table. I thought it might be a counter- culture "People" magazine. I was sucked in to the light approach and funny quirks in animation. Soon I realized this was a serious topic and also impossible to put down. I had to have a copy of my own. (turns out it was being used as a textbook in an English/Writing class on campus). Scott is a genious if could reach me. I am a photographer and Scott opened my eyes to new visual logics.

Steve Maulin
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
I first read this book when it came out in 1993, I guess the demand was unanticipated as I could not find a copy to purchase for myself until the second printing was finished.
Scott McCloud brilliantly and thoughtfully examines not just comic books, but how we view ourselves, how society views comics (And how comics influence society!) and goes in depth into storytelling, form and substance.
I'd recommend this book for anyone who is interested in comic and cartooning as a profession, or as a passing interest, and I recommend it to those who are skeptical about the comic storytelling medium as it contains insights that I've never seen discussed so eloquently. All schools should have a copy of this in their library :)
Don't let the comic book format fool you, this is a great book! (My favourite chapter is the one on icons.. and how we see ourselves in everything.. :) )
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