Comics : Making Comics

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: Mar 2011.

Background...

Scott McCloud is (I'm sure few would dare disagree) the world's greatest living writer on the anatomy of comics. Sure, not all of his ideas and forecasts from the past decade or two have come true. But mostly that's a product of the sheer breadth and scope of the ideas that he has produced in that time.

"Making Comics" is number three in the modern classic trilogy of "Books About Comics" that began with Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. Now at long last, McCloud has produced the book to fill the gap left starkly vacant by his two preceding volumes. This is Scott McCloud on the subject of creating comics.

In Detail...

Making Comics
Year 2006 : Review (No SM)
Publisher:  Harper
Writer:  Scott McCloud
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Is this book any good? I'm going to spoil the surprise a little by jumping right to the conclusion. This book is "good" in ways that re-invent what "good" can possibly be. I could empty my entire box of superlatives over this review and still not do it justice. So I won't try. I'll just say "yeah, it's excellent" and move on to the "how and why" side of the equation.

Well... first and foremost, because it is so perfectly written. The entire book is written in comic form (with the exception of the "Notes" sections at the end of each chapter). Every page is a labor of love. Not that it's excessively "beautiful". Sure, parts of it are - when that's what's required. But in general it's more "incredibly effective" than "distractingly attractive".

Every panel, every sentence has been so clearly considered, refined and reworked to a dangerous level of conciseness and clarity. This care and attention to detail has allowed Scott to pack a huge number of ideas into the hefty 266 pages.

It would take me a couple of days to even write down all the major ideas that are raised in this book. I'm going to settle for listing the chapters:

  1. Writing with Pictures - how translate an idea into sequential art.
  2. Stories for Humans - how to create characters that connect with the reader.
  3. The Power of Words - different techniques for making words interact with art.
  4. World Building - how to build an environment around your characters.
  5. Tools, Techniques and Technology - high-tech and low-tech ways to create comics.
  6. Your Place in Comics - finding a genre, style or philosophy that works for you.
  7. Making Comics - steps towards finding success.

Look folks, I've read more than my fair share of "how to draw" and "how to create comics" books. They're all very well meaning, but few of them are particularly thorough or overly insightful. Take a couple of books like Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel or How To Create Comics, and "Making Comics" just puts them to shame. In fact, it makes them look downright embarrassing.

In fact, the only book to even approach Scott McCloud's works for completeness, clarity or mastery of the subject are the various volumes by Will Eisner, e.g. Will Eisner: Comics & Sequential Art. McCloud openly acknowledges Eisner's influence. I would go further. I would say that when it comes to writing about the wonderful world of comics, Scott has put on Eisner's mantle and wears it with pride.

In General...

This book describes more about the art (and science) of creating comics than any other single book even comes close to achieving. It is done with an unmatched degree of completeness and effectiveness, buy the man who has more to say on this subject than anybody else alive today.

Every page contains an important idea that deserves your consideration. It took me several reading sessions to work my way through Making Comics, purely because of the sheer number of concepts that were presented and the level of explanation. This is a book that demands, that deserves your attention.

Overall Rating...

Bottom Line. If you are even vaguely serious in wanting to create a comic, either as a writer or an artist, then you MUST read "Making Comics". In fact, you MUST also read "Understanding Comics" - the two of them fit together.

Let me go further. More than just reading these two books, you MUST own them both. You must have them by your side so that you can reach for them and refer to them again and again until you are familiar with all of the concepts by heart.

Over time, somebody will come along to build on McCloud's work here. They will extend his ideas, and maybe even refute one or two of them. But for now, this is THE best book about creating comics that money can buy. Five Webs. Fifty-Five Webs.

Footnote...

As mentioned, while "Making Comics" does stand very well on its own, I believe you will find it advantageous to read Understanding Comics first. That will give you a very solid grounding in the basic techniques of sequential art.

What's that? You say you already "Understand" sequential art just fine already? Well... maybe. And maybe not. I've read at least six or seven thousand comics in my life, but "Understanding Comics" still opened my eyes to countless new ways of appreciating the medium, and "Making Comics" added a whole heap more.

One final footnote. Reinventing Comics is kind of the poor relation of the three Scott McCloud books to date. It is far more speculative than the other two, as it deals with the future of comics (especially in the electronic format). "Reinventing Comics" is now over a decade old, and while much of it shows great foresight, there are also several predictions or suggestions that have yet to show sign of coming to pass. It's still a very important book if you're interested in where comics might go from here. But if your goal is to create a comic story right now, then "Understanding" and "Making" are where you need to start.