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A Brilliant Look at the Psychology, Physiology, and Effectiveness of Comic Strips and Books
on June 24, 2008
This is an important book that everyone should read. I would give it twenty stars if I could.
I've long been interested in both art and comic books (I have collected them for over 50 years). While the library shelves are full of wonderful books that explain what traditional artists are trying to do and why they succeed, I've often found the books to be pretty boring. In recent years, such books have gotten bogged down into abstruse language that is much less appealing than the art which is the subject.
But in those years, I've never seen anything that was very helpful in discussing the rules of comic art, except some books about pop art when that was popular that examined how the pop art was different from comic art. Naturally, I was blown away when I found that Understanding Comics is a far more comprehensive, thoughtful, and accessible book about interaction with art than I have ever read. Although the subject is ostensibly comic strips and comic books, it's clear to me that that Mr. McCloud has a deep and powerful understanding of all art. Some of his conceptual displays of where different forms of art fall in different dimensions of choice (degree of realism, abstraction, and message) are unbelievably powerful.
I hope that some art historian will stumble on this book and recast the history of art to explain and relate different styles to one another using this book's methods. There would be a lot more art lovers if that were the case.
Ultimately, the book's main benefit is to help the reader appreciate that comic art can be a higher and more effective form of art than either pure images or written words by requiring a mastery of more elements . . . elements that are more powerful in grabbing attention and conveying meaning.
Yet the book stays in humble form, a comic book. The powerful ideas sneak up on you as Mr. McCloud deconstructs the elements of comic art expression into chapters on defining what kind of art comics are ("sequential art" for short); explaining where various comics fall on the spectrum of reality, story, and abstraction; the way we fill in the spaces around the lines and between panels with our minds, allowing us to participate in creating the story and the experience; how time is expressed in various ways; the role of lines in creating our understanding and responses; how words and images can interact; a conceptual look at creating comic art; the effect of color; and a synthesis of the book in historical and conceptual terms.
If you want to enjoy both traditional art and comic art more, read this book. It's the Rosetta stone for non-artists in appreciating the images, stories, and messages that artists want to share with us through these media. You'll never be the same . . . and the change will be good for you!
Bravo, Mr. McCloud!