It’s no secret that I’m a self-professed comic book nerd; my interests span from Alan Moore to Warren Ellis to the classic but still thrilling Stan Lee. Thus, reading Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics was particularly relevant to my interests. However, even if you only pick up the occasional comic to read, or even if you don’t read comic books at all, this book will have something interesting and important to say to you.
McCloud utilizes the comic book medium, or “sequential art” to create a meta-comic vehicle for his thesis that comics should be accepted among the other mediums of art such as film, television, literature, and theater. He makes a compelling case not only for accepting comic books as a legitimate medium of art, but also as a form of art that has the potential to be as influential as the television has been for human culture since its earliest inception. McCloud spends over 200 pages explaining his point, and uses examples reaching back through thousands of years of history to do so. From the comics created thousands of years ago by early man to the comics influenced by the more sophisticated schools of art such as Impressionism and Expressionism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, McCloud takes the reader on a journey through the rather unknown but nonetheless extensive history of the comic form. He references everything from art, to literature, to language, and each time lends even more strength to his already compelling thesis.
I’ve never been more thoroughly fascinated by a book on theory as I have by this book. McCloud breaks down the comic components piece by piece, showing how they fit together and why each component is important to the medium. His genius is that he does so while remaining relatable to the average reader with his rhetoric. While I clearly already have an affinity for the form, I would encourage any reader skeptical of comics as a legitimate art form to pick up this book. I would also suggest Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art for further reading.