Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud writes about the structure, creation, history, and vocabulary (among other things!) of comics.  He does it, of course, in graphic novel form, with a little cartoon Scott McCloud telling us what is going on.  I love this because when he talks about a technique that graphic novels use, voila, he can show it to us too!  The book never becomes boring, which is partly down to the fact that it’s an interesting topic, but also partly because the form allows a lot of room for humor.  (I was going to write “and whimsy”, but I hate that damn word.  Though I like Peter Wimsey.)

I loved the section about the different transitions between panels.  Scott McCloud lists six categories of transitions between panels, and then does an analysis of how often different comic artists use each different transition.  He makes bar graphs.  I was so intrigued by the differences between how often American & European artists used each transition type, and how often Japanese artists did.  McCloud shows examples of each transition, and although he gives them a number, he keeps reminding you which type is which (through pictures!).  Fantastic.

My one little gripe was with the section on the (sometimes uneasy) marriage of words and pictures.  I am only griping about it because to me, the combination of words and pictures provides the most amazing and fascinating and incredible possibilities for comics.  (I like words.)  I just looked back at it, and that chapter is just as comprehensive as the transitions chapter; when I was reading it, I felt like there weren’t nearly enough cool examples.  I still feel like that actually, but you may want to consider the possibility that there are plenty of examples and I am just insatiable and can never have enough.

In other news, Scott McCloud referenced a painting of Magritte’s (“This is not a pipe”), which caused me to tell my sister “I really like Magritte,” which caused me to have to get up and bring her a book about Magritte because she couldn’t remember who he was.  And this in turn led us to find this painting, which is rather graphic so you’ve been warned, “The Rape”, which pleased me so much that I traveled back in time and thanked Magritte in pretty and fluent French for his getting a point about what it is like being a woman that people often seem to miss.

(No, you may not borrow my time machine.  I have destroyed it, along with all copies of the plans.  V. dangerous to have such a thing around the house.)

(I just found a woman called Eunice Golden who says she created (warning, this is fairly graphic too) this piece of art “in defiance of censorship (which I consider to be a rape of the mind), and as a response to Magritte’s mutilation of the female body in ‘Le Viol’.”  Am I misunderstanding her completely, or is she misunderstanding Magritte completely?  Or, possibly, am I misunderstanding Magritte?)

I have strayed from the Scott McCloud point.  I liked Understanding Comics!  I have Making Comics out of the library, and I want to get Reinventing Comics as well!  Other views besides mine:

Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot
Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness
1330V
Shananagins
Rebecca Reads

Let me know if I missed yours!

  • I think this book looks really good. I am going to try to get hold of a copy – thanks for a great review.

  • It’s wonderful! At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about having a little cartoon guy lecturing me, but it was a lot of fun actually. I like it when people break the fourth wall. 🙂

  • I loved the bit about the different kinds of transitions and how they’re used in Western/Japanese comics too. And hmm, I’d say she might be misunderstanding Magritte, but then again, maybe we’re both misunderstanding Magritte? Or misunderstanding her? Anyway, I really like Magritte too.

  • I have got to find this book!

    (It’s funny you mention Magritte in the same post; I have one of those enormous glossy books of his work, and I was looking at it the other day and wishing I could paint the kind of wood he does; but I agree, he is mostly unfathomable. My book says, for instance, that he picked titles at random and used the same twelve symbols over and over without identifying their significance, and he never gives a straight answer in interviews. But, man, his floorboards are nice.)

    Off to the library to find an ILL slip.

  • Nymeth – It made me want to read some Japanese comics! I’ve never really read any, because there’s just zillions of them at the bookshop and I never know which are good. Any suggestions?

    Ella – ILL slips, look at you. My library has an ILL program that I don’t think I’ve ever used. I just sigh sadly and wish they had the books I want.

    Oo, I want a book about Magritte now! I don’t know anything about his techniques or his life or anything…

  • I read this book recently and did a mini review of it today. =)

    I loved this book to the nth degree, but I had to take breaks in between, because the matter was so dense compared to what I’m used to in graphic novels. Too much and my brain just stopped absorbing. Did you feel that way too?

  • Added your link to my post! 🙂

    I did find it a lot to take in all at once. That’s a problem I sometimes have with nonfiction books – they overload my brain! In this case, it was so interesting I didn’t want to stop reading it. I expect there’s a lot that I missed or forgot in the book for that reason. Actually, I’m finding that density problem to be much more noticeable with the sequel, Reinventing Comics. With that one, I really do have to take breaks.

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  • I added yours to mine also. =)

    And I had no idea there was a sequel! I’m definitely going to read it, thanks for letting me know about it. =)

  • Jenny, I too loved this book!

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