Saturday, October 2, 2010


Ellen Ma
Staff Writer

I relied heavily on Scott McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS in my Master’s thesis due to his impressive, thorough explanation of both the visual and verbal aesthetics of comics. It’s perhaps an old fashioned, naïve expression if someone says “comics are for kids” since the visuals in comics can be extremely complex and McCloud really shows just how complex comics can be.

UNDERSTANDING COMICS really breaks down the aspects of comics in comprehensible terms. Some of the chapters cover the vocabulary of comics, time frames, space, and sequential art. What I love most about this book is that McCloud explains many definitions used in comics as well as the elements of the visual and verbal aspects. McCloud also brings in a few examples on manga, fine art, and pictures to further his analysis. The most significant aspect I found was the visual grammar of comics, which was extremely helpful upon using a graphic novel in my classroom. Understanding visual grammar gives students a vocabulary in comprehending what the images are representing and why the images are more than “something pretty to look at” in comics.

I really appreciate McCloud creating this book as a comic because I’m no expert in art or art history. The images prove to be very helpful and a strong tool for explaining most of his analysis about comics, and I for one, am more of a visual learner. The black and white art is clean and easy to comprehend. There are a few pages that may seem overwhelming with very detailed images but there isn’t anything unnecessary or mysterious; the art is simple and straightforward.

My Rating: Middle School - College
Publisher’s Rating: Everyone

Even giving one chapter for students to read from UNDERSTANDING COMICS can save you a lot of pain from trying to explain the aesthetics of the visuals on your own, especially if you want to use a graphic novel for what it is: a graphic novel. If your intention for using a graphic novel is for students to do more than enjoy the images, definitely consider McCloud’s analysis and explanation of comics, particularly about visual grammar and how images can be significant and purposeful to the reader.
This would be a really great “in-to” activity with students before they actually start reading a graphic novel with just analyzing the elements and aspects of the comic itself. There is a reason as to why the artist chooses a particular perspective, decides on how much space to fill, what they intend the reader to imagine between the panels, and what effect the reader should feel from the images, is all explained in UNDERSTANDING COMICS.

Highly recommended

Author & Illustrator: Scott McCloud
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Comics & Art History
Format: Paperback
Pages: 224
ISBN-10: 0060976255
ISBN-13: 978-0060976255

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