Understanding Comics is not a new book. It was released in 93, putting it at fifteen years old this year (sweet holy god 1993 was fifteen years ago? S...moreUnderstanding Comics is not a new book. It was released in 93, putting it at fifteen years old this year (sweet holy god 1993 was fifteen years ago? So this is what aging feels like). Understanding Comics is a history, explanation, and exploration of art and art theory with a focus on the comic - told in the form of a 200+ page comic book. It took years for the book to pick up steam, but once it did it became a landmark in terms of comic books becoming more respected as a medium. It was showered with positive reviews both from the press and some of the most respected names in comics, and is one of only two comic books that I know of which is regularly studied in schools around the country (the other being Art Spiegelman’s Maus - a graphic novel memoir about the Holocaust which won a Pulitzer Prize). My first encounter with Understanding Comics was my freshman year in high school. I was flipping through my English textbook and noticed some seemingly random excerpt from this comic. I was not into comic books at the time (I had briefly collected, as much as a young kid could, some comics when I was in third and fourth grade but it never really went past that), but read the short excerpt and found it interesting. We never read it as a class, unfortunately, but for some reason I always remembered what I had read.
Cut to about seven or so years later, and all of the sudden I’m spending way to much of my time (and money) buying and reading comics. All sorts of comics. Independent comics, mainstream comics, local comics found in specialty art shops, classic comics, pulp comics, science fiction comics, and whatever other types of comics I can get my hands on… for a whole bunch of reasons. Comics for stories, comics for art, comics for sociological philosophy, comics for fun, comics for collecting, comics for political commentary, comics as something to do and talk about with friends, comics comics comics comics. Somehow though, in the midst of it all, I didn’t read this book until now.
I work in a used bookstore, and one day recently someone came and sold a copy of this book that had obviously been required reading for some college class; it had the universal “used” sticker that all colleges seem to use and the college bookstore bar code on the back. It was heavily used, but I bought it anyways partially due to convenience of it being there and partly because of the employee discount received, but mainly because I really wanted to read it and upon seeing it couldn’t figure out why I had never purchased it before from somewhere else.
I was cautious when first reading the book, careful not to simply buy into the hype, but equally careful not to dismiss it because of over hype, which is something I think happens a lot when a good book/movie/game/whatever gets a lot of attention. Anyhow, the book ended up being fantastic. It did have quite a few interesting ideas and theories about comics, but more than anything, it was the most interesting study of art history that I’ve ever read, seen or heard, regardless of the fact that it did have a focus on sequential art. Even if you don’t care about comics, if you have any interest in art history and theory, I simply can not recommend this book enough. Indeed my favorite parts of the book had very little to do with comics in particular but with art as a whole. Take for example what McCloud says is the definition of a “true” artist (remember he isn’t talking about himself. I clarify that now because otherwise the following sounds like he’s being a pompous ass).
"The “fine artist” — the pure artist — says to the world: “I didn’t do this for money! I didn’t do this to match the color of your couches! I didn’t do this to get laid! I didn’t do this for fame or power or greed or anything else! I did this for art!
"In other words: “My art has no practical value whatsoever!
"But it’s important.”
I know that’s basically the idea of art for arts sake explained in more words, but for some reason it had never been articulated to me in a way that has ever stuck with me as much as that has.
Since the publication of Understanding Comics McCloud has been advocate for the digital distribution of comics, for many reasons, one of them being that it gives artists new opportunities to play with the format of the comics themselves. He has many examples of experimental online comics on his website (some good and some bad), my favorite being his three part (still currently unfinished) story The Right Number.
Again, I really can’t recommend Understanding Comics enough if you’ve ever been interested in any facet of art.(less)
Some really fantastic essays in here. They're not all gold, but there's not much bad in here either.
The only bad thing I can really think to say abou...moreSome really fantastic essays in here. They're not all gold, but there's not much bad in here either.
The only bad thing I can really think to say about this book is that a lot of the essays try to condense too much information into too small a space. Still, it's a great introduction to a lot of important scientists and thinkers of our time.(less)
This is a fantastic book by Harvard professor of psychology Daniel Gilbert that attempts to explain why it's so hard for people to figure out what mak...moreThis is a fantastic book by Harvard professor of psychology Daniel Gilbert that attempts to explain why it's so hard for people to figure out what makes them happy. The title of the book is somewhat misleading, making the book almost seem like self help mumbo-jumbo. It's actually far from it (thank god). The book is an easy to read, funny and fascinating explanation of how the brain works.
There is a small section near the beginning of the book that explains subjectivity and the limits of cognitive science in general to help shore up confidence in the studies cited throughout the book. To me this was the only lull in the entire thing, and even then it might have been necessary.
For anyone interested in what makes human beings tick, give this book a try.
Easily one of the most emotionally effecting comic books I've ever read. It's at least partially autobiographical, but it isn't overly bleak or cheesy...moreEasily one of the most emotionally effecting comic books I've ever read. It's at least partially autobiographical, but it isn't overly bleak or cheesy. It feels real and I don't think I'll ever forget it.(less)
This book is 100% entertaining and does a pretty good job of exploring some of the wackier internet subcultures. The basic structure of the book start...moreThis book is 100% entertaining and does a pretty good job of exploring some of the wackier internet subcultures. The basic structure of the book starts with a (clearly) fictional story about the process of writing the book, then actual interviews with weird internet people, then back to the wacky pretend story about writing the book again. Both the real interviews and the fake story are amusing, but the mish-mashing of real life with fiction made it hard, sometimes, to know what was real and what wasn't. This isn't necessarily bad, but I would have liked to know at what point the absurdity exited the real world and entered into creative writing land.
Still, I liked the book and had a good time reading it.(less)
While Emma is certainly an interesting character, I couldn't help but feel bad for Charles. Sure, he's a little bumbling and ig...moreWARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
While Emma is certainly an interesting character, I couldn't help but feel bad for Charles. Sure, he's a little bumbling and ignorant, and certainly not worldly enough to fulfill Emma's more grand, unattainable desires, Charles is a good man who tries hard and loves his Emma. Even at the end of the book when he discovers Emma had cheated on him, he does his best to understand and forgive. Emma's longing for something more than a small town life is understandable, but her indulgent nature destroyed her own life, her husband's, and her daughter's. (less)
Like everyone else on the face of the planet, I read this book in high school. I remember enjoying it, but decided it was time for me to give it anoth...moreLike everyone else on the face of the planet, I read this book in high school. I remember enjoying it, but decided it was time for me to give it another go.
This book deserves every word of praise that has ever been spoken about it. It's a story of heavy themes told from the perspective of a young girl. This enabled Lee to give the reader an idea of how prejudices could be formed from young ages, though, of course, our hero avoids doing so. Lee also does a wonderful job using Atticus as a character to not only be the moral compass of the story, but also making him someone who understands his neighbors even at the times when their world views clash with his. He sees the best in almost everyone, even those who harbor racist tendencies. He understands that these tendencies are not entirely the individuals fault, but have been beaten into them by family and friends. The fact that Atticus can hate racism and love racists made him an incredibly interesting character to read.
I am extremely glad I picked this book up again. I couldn't help but devouring it.(less)
I didn't know this when I started reading the book, but apparently there is a lot of debate as to if Winter is as good as Steinbeck's best, or among h...moreI didn't know this when I started reading the book, but apparently there is a lot of debate as to if Winter is as good as Steinbeck's best, or among his worst. It seems as though the most common problem is the novel's obvious moral but complete lack of a real resolution. Personally I thought this made it much more interesting. To what extent is it acceptable to lie to survive? Is there a point you can pass before you become irredeemable? Is it even possible to be successful today without some amount of manipulative shadiness? I think I'm more interested in stories that ask hard questions without pretending to know the answers than I am stories which tell you how you should live. (less)