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Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

(The Comic Books #1)

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  116,738 ratings  ·  2,635 reviews
Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is a seminal examination of comics art: its rich history, surprising technical components, and major cultural significance. Explore the secret world between the panels, through the lines, and within the hidden symbols of a powerful but misunderstood art form. ...more
Paperback, 215 pages
Published January 1st 1993 by William Morrow Paperbacks
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Stian Drøbak You don't.
You buy the book somewhere, read it, and then review it here.…more
You don't.
You buy the book somewhere, read it, and then review it here.(less)
N You can and will certainly learn a lot about the craft of comic books, but it's more about understanding the medium, its history, and its potential. V…moreYou can and will certainly learn a lot about the craft of comic books, but it's more about understanding the medium, its history, and its potential. Very academic and also very readable.(less)

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Dave Schaafsma
I finished reading it for my comics/YA Graphic novels class this summer, 6/16/16 and now again, 8/8/17. I'll read this and use it to help people understand comics every year. It's the primary source though there are many good books coming out. What I have to add is that I had a fun conversation with my class about one insightful claim McCloud makes, that the simpler and more "cartoony" a comic representation is (i.e., a smiley face), the more universal it will be, the more we will say "that's me ...more
Jan 03, 2011 rated it liked it

Great book, but I'm too annoyed to give it four stars.

It's amateurish, but I believe if you're aware of how great a book is while you're reading it, it's not working at its best. You can go 'oh wow that's such a clever way to illustrate this idea, and the text is so effective', but it's a bit like reading an instruction manual, and nothing personal or particularly poignant. I guess the idea is to understand the basic structure and potential of comic art, but must it be so academic and dry? The
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, 2018-comics
Understanding Comics is a comic about comics by Scott McCloud.

I remember when this book came out in 1993. My fifteen year old self scoffed. "I've been reading comics for years. What can this book teach me?" Twenty five years later and a thousand comics later, on the heels of rereading Zot!, I decided to finally give it a shot. I was apprehensive at first since you really have to scrape to find a negative review of Understanding Comics. Did so many people like it or were they afraid to admit they
Apr 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Holy shit! I'm starting a graphic novel book club!! This is our inaugural book and I'm so excited!!!

We had our first meeting today, and in addition to saying terribly intelligent things about comics and eating mini-cupcakes and laughing at my dogs, we also picked a name for our (accidentally all-female) group: Jugs & Capes. I know you're very jealous.

Anyway, I was extremely impressed by this book. I can tell that Scott McCloud thinks that he is terrifically important and probably a genius, but,
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, comics
Scott McCloud's love and understanding of comics is beautifully and simply expressed here. So much so that it increased my love and understanding of comics I read in the past and definitely comics I will read in the future.

As I was reading other peoples reviews and discussions about this book I noticed that most people are intrigued with the idea that the simpler the character on the page is, the easier it is for the reader to identify with the character. This is something that I noticed myself
Eddie B.
May 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics
This is a book on art and philosophy disguised as a book on comics disguised as a comic book!
A brilliant must-read for any fan of comics, art, philosophy and beauty!

Ahmad Eddeeb
May 2016
Spencer Orey
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic. I learned a lot about comics but also about writing more widely.
Miss Michael
Aug 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
I really appreciate that this book exists. It's nice that something was created to help people understand the language of comics, what they are, what they can be, what makes them special, and so forth.

That said, there are parts which are a little convoluted (Chapter 2, I'm looking at you), and there are parts that are a little dated by now (such as the chapter on color, which I think has come a long way since the early '90s, particularly due to the use of computers). But there are so many parts
Jun 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
it's one of the best examples i've found of someone writing so specifically about a topic that the observations and implications become absolutely universal.

think about it: hamlet is completely consumed in his little world, and the stakes are all about what will happen to denmark and only denmark. and centuries later, we still perform the play and read it and think that that is us up there struggling with our problems, just with a different name.

this is what mccloud achieves here: he is so fixat
Sep 02, 2008 rated it liked it
I love the idea of this conversation more than I love the application--at least in this book. While I find the concepts themselves fascinating, I found the book tedious. The overall art and style employed by McCloud just wasn't compelling to me. I really struggled to finish this book.

But as I said, the conversation is a good one, and the concepts explored--particularly the role of the reader and the required brain work involved in reading comics--were interesting. I'm glad this book is out ther
Mar 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Well, I also think this book was brilliant, just like everybody else. I was like, 'how could he possible have two hundred and fourteen pages of things to say about comics?' but then I'd heard it was brilliant for so long from so many people that I gave it a shot. And it is just theory! It's like reading Roland Barthes or somebody, but in comics, which makes it easier/more fun, which I think is in keeping with Mr. McCloud's idea that comics are the best thing in the whole universe. I mean, some o ...more
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5★ rounded up with indulgence for its (possible) usefulness

If a book/work can be interesting and boring at the same time, than this was it! There were some fascinating parts, with interesting, new informations, but there were also enough parts that were boring, because of the too many details and obvious clarifications.
However, it seems to me like an excellent initiative, as it could be extremely useful for those who are just getting acquainted with the comics' universe or for those who want t
Lois Bujold
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A book that explains the forms and functions of the graphics media -- in the guise, naturally, of a comic book. A non-fiction comic book.

Everyone should read this elegant classic (and its two sequels), just for some basic 20th - 21st century cultural literacy. It does what the very best books do; makes you see the world differently, through changed eyes.

Ta, L.
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Don't gimme that comic book talk, Barney!"

McCloud surely must be smiling to himself every day to see just how far - in great part because of the publication of this endearingly idealistic visual essay in 1992- his beloved medium has come since then, both in terms of popular acceptance and artistic merit. Some respect at last!
Dec 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: comics
this book was intriguing, but also annoying. a comic book about comics! what a great idea! i wanted it to be better than it was.

ultimately, i'm glad i read it, but only to the extent it identified a bunch of interesting topics/themes that i'm now inclined to think about on my own as i read more comics (and reflect on the ones i've already read)--i.e. issues of time, motion, panel sequence, reader perception, artistic style etc. but on the whole i was not thrilled with mccloud's own exposition an
Dec 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing

I'd heard excellent things about this book ever since I got into comics way back in 1993, but never decided to sit down and read it until a few months ago. It took me a week to go through it (reading a bit every night before bed), but it's honestly a pretty quick read. Most people could probably get through it in a couple of hours.

What I found in the pages of this book is an excellent explanation of what happens to us as we read comics, how our mind interprets information and th
Aug 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
amazing homage to an art form as old as the carved stories on borobudur temples and the papyrus scrolls of pharaoh - the unassuming geeky guide dissects the media format (worthy of mcluhan) and history of comic and walks us through its tiniest elements to be able to fully appreciate it as an art form - down to the technical and philosophical levels - not just comic but also how human mind works to allow the storytelling to happen through sequencing, line, and meaning... all the things we take fo ...more
Sep 23, 2014 rated it liked it
I have been getting into comics lately and I am quickly discovering there is so much about this medium that I do not know. When trying to review a comic or graphic novel, I find it easy to talk about plot but talking about the art is difficult. I picked up Understanding Comics because there is so much to learn and I wanted a better grasp on the art form. And it is art, it might not be as highbrow as artists like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet or my personal favourite Michelangelo Merisi da Carav ...more
Jun 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps the best explanation of how a particular artistic medium works that I've ever seen. McCloud wrote this at a time when the artistic merit of comics/graphic novels was still in doubt in some corners, so clearly that animates a lot of the discussion. He really demolishes any doubt about their legitimacy, and in the process created quite a comic himself. Understanding Comics is one phenomenal piece of analysis and it's far more than just a treatise on one medium. His meditations on comic for ...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
Absolutely great. Informative, funny and interesting. A must-read for every comic books lover and a great introduction into comics for the hesitating non believers.
Sep 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-crit, batman
I found this book to be, in roughly equal measure, charming and irritating as hell. When McCloud was dealing with the nuts and bolts of how comics work, it was illuminating and the decision to write the book as a comic really came into its own. There were all sorts of clever ways in which he could use the very medium of his exposition to offer insight into comics. But when he launched himself into generalities about the importance of comics, the nature of artistic creation, language and meaning, ...more
Sep 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art, sequential-art
A clear overview of the form and structure of comics. Scott McCloud's deep understanding of the history and functions of art makes this an insightful and informative read. ...more
Apr 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is an indispensable and fundamentally exhaustive exploration of the comics medium presented in the medium itself. While it presents some fairly complex ideas of "how comics work" McCloud uses the medium itself to good effect to demonstrate his meaning.

I, do however, have to take issue with his strangely vociferous insistence that one panel cartoons are not comics - while I loathe the Family Circus as much as the next thinking person, I think McCloud is too hung up on the literal need for se
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I have used this with my English 4 classes and will be using it next year with my Intro to the Graphic Novel course. This is a wonderful study in how the comic form of writing works. I think the graphic novel is going to become a more and more important form of literature. Just look at the movie scene lately and check out how many derived from graphic novels, and that is not just the superhero movies from Marvel and DC Comics.

McCloud deeply and thoughtfully explores how sequential art works on o
Himanshu Karmacharya
Understanding Comics is a comic book that explores comics to its core, and has tons of cool concepts and ideas. It gives the readers a different perspective to view comic books. It certainly made me appreciate the medium much more than I did before.

While the book did fascinate me, it also bored me at certain points. Scott McCloud has unnecessarily overcomplicated a lot of things, and at times it even feels like a chore to read.

If you want to know more about comic books, then you should definite
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfic, indie, comics
Every few years I find I must return to McCloud's famous essay on the ultimate art form, and seek inspiration. Rereads very well.

Recommended for any and all fans of every medium of art, visuals, storytelling, and humanity.
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recs
As you may gather from the title, this is less a history of comics (although there is some of that) and more a thesis statement about what they are and how they work. McCloud is an engaging narrator, although the first chapter is a little dry. He's defining what comics "are", so that probably can't be helped.

As some other reviewers have noted, the technology has advanced since McCloud wrote this in the early 90's (particularly, I'm guessing, when it comes to color), but the ideas are still cont
Myke Cole
Jul 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous and totally unexpected delight. I came to this book after reading McCloud's The Sculptor, so I already knew that he had a firm grip on how to produce an outstanding comic.

I thought I was getting an Eisner or Kirby style How-To guide for the craft and business of comics writing, and instead was treated to a brilliant treatise on art history, human perception, the role of symbols in communication, and how we use art to communicate with one another.

Understanding comics *is* a How-To gui
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Understanding Comics is a pretty clever book, using the medium of comics to talk seriously about comics -- which is very likely to be dismissed by those who either insist comics should all be fun (and therefore if they're not interested in this, it's no good) or all comics are fun (and therefore have no serious value). That's a mistake. I hadn't heard of this before I started the Coursera course I'm doing on comics, but I don't need any prompting to take it seriously.

Possibly my favourite insigh
Apr 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics
Really enjoyed this, especially the bits interlacing philosophy and art history!! I feel like I learned a lot but there's some I still wish was explored, and I think a second installment of this would be fun to explore webcomics and the way the internet generally has expanded comic production and spread, esp. regarding the chapter about colour. (guess i should read Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form.) I do wish the etymology/linguistics aspect was ...more
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Scott McCloud (born Scott McLeod) is an American cartoonist and theorist on comics as a distinct literary and artistic medium.

Other books in the series

The Comic Books (3 books)
  • Reinventing Comics: How Imagination And Technology Are Revolutionizing An Art Form
  • Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels

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