Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Review: Making Comics by Scott McCloud

Even though this will eventually be an art blog, I'll be throwing in the occasional book or movie review and other commentaries from time to time. I just picked up this book last week, so I might as well review it now.

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels, by Scott McCloud
HarperCollins, 2006

McCloud's 1993 book on the subject of comics, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, was revolutionary, probably the most comprehensive examination of comics to date. Following in Wil Eisner's footsteps, McCloud analyzed and deconstructed comics as a visual art and a literary art, studying its history and its evolution, examining the psychology of how static symbols on the page are interpreted and understood by the reader. The book ended with an optimistic prediction about the future potential of comics as a popular and legitimate art and literary form.

Unfortunately, a variety of market and cultural forces prevented the kind of comics golden era McCloud and others were hoping for through the rest of the decade. McCloud's next book, Reinventing Comics in 2000, likewise was a bit of a disappointment. The first half of the book seemed like a somewhat bitter recounting of all that had gone wrong since the publication of Understanding Comics; the second half was very forward-thinking speculation on the future technology and economics of comics on the internet, interesting in theory, but most of it impractical or impossible in the present day.

The new book, Making Comics, falls happily between the two: Not as groundbreaking as the original book, but much more practical and optimistic than the second book. Like the previous two, this book is written as a comic book, but with extensive notes written at the end of each chapter. The first several chapters expand on some of the concepts from Understanding Comics, refining or updating ideas as it adds new concepts to the mix. Later chapters cover such practical matters as traditional and digital tools, the comics market, working as a professional artist ... but always with an eye on the abstract and intellectual angle.

This is not a "how-to" book in the traditional sense, like the scores of hastily put-together "draw comics!" or "draw manga!" manuals filling the shelves these days. McCloud seems to be not so much telling the reader "This is how you do this," so much as "This is how you find out how you will want to do this." He is giving the reader big thoughts to consider as they find and pursue their own unique path; and his explicit hope is to inspire the next generation of artists to push comics in all directions into a new era.

Overall I recommend this book, whether as a supplement to Understanding Comics, or as a pick-me-up after Reinventing Comics.

Now, to apply some of this know-how to my own comics ... :)