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Scott McCloud Book Review

March 2007

Understanding Comics Scott McCloud shirt I present my detailed review of the Scott McCloud book 'Understanding Comics - The Invisible Art'. My focus is to present the theories McCloud has about the language of comics. This means I skip all the humorous asides and palpable enthusiasm that make McCloud a likable chap. I also skip most of McCloud's 'six step' creative process, to stay focused on the comic language chapters.

The selected chapters of the book are reviewed separately. To give a coherent description of each chapter I have found it necessary to rearrange the material. I believe the descriptions to be an accurate representation of what McCloud intended.

The review ends with my own conclusion for how McCloud's work may be defined. I present a number of advantages to my conclusion.

What is Scott McCloud's 'Understanding Comics'?

It is a comic book that presents a definition, a vocabulary then a grammar for comics. The grammar of comics is the reader's translation of the visual messages into something in their experience. McCloud explores the grammar used to represent time then emotion and sensation. He extends the discussion to how colour can represent emotion and sensation. McCloud presents a grammar for how words and pictures can interact in comics.

The Key is:

Setting The Record Straight

Chapter One

Understanding Comics Scott McCloud shirt

The Vocabulary of Comics

Chapter Two

Understanding Comics Scott McCloud shirt

Blood In The Gutter

Chapter Three

Understanding Comics Scott McCloud chart

Time Frames

Chapter Four

Understanding Comics Scott McCloud open panel

Living In Line

Chapter Five

Understanding Comics Scott McCloud expressionism

Show And Tell

Chapter Six

The Six Steps

Chapter Seven

I would like to smooth over most of this chapter in order to keep this review focused on McCloud's theories of comics as a language. This chapter is about "a general process of producing any work in any medium", which has, according to McCloud, six steps.

I think that the most interesting point in this chapter is the choice for an artist between "saying something about life though ... art" or "say[ing] something about art itself". Examples of artists who made the later choice to questions the art itself are:

Examples are artists who took the former choice to tell life through a medium they control to convey messages effectively are:

A Word About Color

Chapter Eight

Putting It All Together

My Conclusion

McCloud states "this book is meant to stimulate debate, not settle it". Here is my contribution to that debate: I propose that 'Understanding Comics' is effectively a piece of qualitative research concerned with the language of comics. In simple terms, qualitative research takes complicated sets of data, here that would be all comics as McCloud defines in his first chapter, and identifies patterns, in this case what comics are made up of and how they are able to communicate the range of things they do. Of course McCloud does not talk of the methods used to obtain the description of a comic language he presents. A qualitative research study would state the methods. Viewing the work as a report on some qualitative research has the advantages of:

[1] Roger Sabin. A History of Comic, Comix and Graphic Novels. 1996.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.