Book Review: Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud

WORDS + PICTURES purposefully arranged in sequences produces a powerful affect that has exponential benefits.

Understanding Comics: Scott McCloud

Understanding Comics: Scott McCloud

The book

Scott has single handily changed the way I see comics now. I’ve always considered comics juvenile. To support my view I decided to visit a local bookshop (WHSmith) to see if they sold comics and if so, which shelf. I wasn’t surprised at where I’d found it (see photo below), but rather that they’d even stocked one. I noticed too that it was buried amongst the children’s magazines.

Spiderman Comic on WHSmith shelves

Spiderman Comic on WHSmith shelves

Scott uses the comic medium to great effect – communicating the meaning of comics with comics. His narrative is personal and engaging. I often felt part of his world and character. I found myself empathizing with the apparent lack of definition, understanding and industry recognition.

In the first chapter Scott tells the scene of him addressing an audience where he invites feedback on a suitable and all-encompassing definition. I found myself drawing comparison’s with recent discussions in the IxDA community when pontificating around the job description discussions. Unless you’re in a well established profession people are desperate to define their titles – professional survival.

There were occasions where I felt he harped on about a specific issues (for example, his use of different personas coming to grips with their personal degrees of success and understanding of comics – chapter seven, page 173-180)

Scott’s ‘The Six Steps‘ path of understanding was insightful. The six steps path is common across many types of crafts in my opinion.

Comics – my view after reading Scott’s comic

Using comics is an extremely powerful way to telling a story. Scott has shown me – both through his passion for comics and his book – that I should not ignore this form of visual communication. I’m now interested to learn more about creating comics so I taken some steps (or paths) as Scott puts it to:

  • read the comic, 
  • read and truly digest the content – not just the form, 
  • ‘look’ for comics/identify comics,
  • buy a comic book (Spiderman above) to understand it and 
  • invest in an instruction manual – ‘How to make comics’ by the very man (Scott McCloud).

A feature of a good comic, which I now realise, is it seems that comics has the ability to add far greater meaning and depth to a story in areas difficult to achieve in other mediums. For example, ‘space’ – the invisible part – between frames adds further dimensions and context to the juxtaposed frames.

Comics – for UX story-telling

We cannot deny that good story-telling is important in interaction design/user-experience design. Comics provides us with a good medium to tell stories. I’m, however, not totally convinced using a comic for IxD is a good idea? Unless you’re an expert. Comics IMO are synonymous with fiction or super-hero fantasy stories – stories that just won’t be taken seriously. Real-world business ‘stories’ sits awkwardly when used as comics. If, on the other hand, the audience you are communicating to’ understands by separating content (the story) and form (the medium) then I cannot suggest a better way of delivering a story. This is perfectly illustrated by Scott’s comment:

Never mistake the message from the messenger
Scott McCloud, Ch 1 pg 6.

Practice – my attempt at a comic

My attempt at a single rectangle comic

My attempt at a single rectangle comic


Buy the book from
Listen to Peter and Scott McCloud talk about comics. (audio MP3 file)


4 thoughts on “Book Review: Understanding Comics

  1. Interesting comments Rob, and fun to see the journey you’ve taken into understanding comics as an art form. There really is so much more depth to them than people realise.

    In terms of how they can be used to put over messages in the online medium, the best example I can think of is Google explaining it’s Chrome browser, a few months ago. Simply by creating an online comic, they rendered a highly technical explanation of their new product’s advantages interesting and engaging enough to keep me reading. Something I really doubt could have been achieved with a plain piece of prose.

  2. Rildley Scott produces a comic of his films to convey to the crew exactly what he wants to achieve. His sets Achieve a perfection others can only aspire to. Perfectly following Robs example and Scott rules. Google chrome would be clearer with single messages in a box. Its nothing new. We call it a story board. The old adage “a picture tells a thousand words” . Think of a primal human trait and combine it with current technology. We recocognise images far quicker than the text it takes to communicate the same concept. I need an etchasketch in my phone. A next iphone app?

    • Interesting comment Dave, and I concur that a ‘picture tells a thousand words’. We, our UX (user-experience) London bookclub group, reference the ‘amplification through simplification‘ notion. Moreover, ‘great’ story telling is often achieved using supporting words – cleverly placed and constructed words – ‘around’ a picture.

      We can draw analogies from other sensory examples – augmentation and amplification examples: colour over black & white TV, surround sound over flat sound, stereo over mono, movie sound over sub-titles, a words-only news article over supporting photos/video.

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