Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Years ago, I took a coming-of-age course in the summer as part of my MA degree. My professor and mentor, G, taught the memoir Fun Home and gave us a crash course in reading and understanding comics. Included in this lesson were excerpts from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. I purchased a copy and have taught excerpts when I taught art and comics to my own students, but I never fully delved into the text until now. It’s a wonderful and worthwhile journey. McCloud took an impossible subject and made it enjoyable, readable, and understandable.
Understanding Comics is not a mere “here’s how to read a comic strip” how-to guide. Rather, McCloud embarks upon the history of graphic media and then talks about icons, meaning, and the ways graphic novelists and comic writers play with text and images together to make a new genre of text. It’s a meta-text, if you will, in which we examine comics through the lens of an actual comic book. It’s witty and engaging while at the same time helping inform and defend a genre that has often been considered fluffy or juvenile. My favorite part is Chapter 3, “Blood in the Gutter,” in which McCloud discusses the gutter—the blank space in between panels. There is so much storytelling potential within these spaces that I never considered.
If you’ve tried to read a comic but have felt stuck, I would recommend giving this book a go. It might help you feel “un-stuck” and understand how and why you read a comic. It’s slightly different than a graphic novel (this book explains it more fully) and helps you understand what goes on in a text.