The difference between reading comics and creating comics is the same divide that exists between understanding Norwegian and speaking Norwegian. You might pick up a few things through some exposure, and you might understand the rhythms and know how to ask where the bathrooms are, but it’s almost impossible to really hold a complex conversation without hammering out a few fundamental rules and immersing yourself in it. Scott McCloud is here to teach us how to speak the language of comics, and to reveal the subconscious cues that those sneaky artists slip into their pages to make us think and feel different things.
I don’t want to say that McCloud’s various published analyses into the world of comics are beyond reproach, but I will anyhow. As both a skilled writer and a skilled artist, McCloud has an organic sense of what goes where and why, as well as the ability to explain the subtleties of these things. McCloud’s strength lies in the idea that while he expertly instructs us how to create a powerful visual narrative, he also acknowledges creativity and encourages the readers to punch holes in his lessons and redefine the language of comics. Nothing is presented as an absolute, and that’s the best kind of creative teaching.
I spent a year teaching comics at a private school before I decided that it wasn’t for me, but Making Comics was a constant crutch for me, since it provides many examples for the daily lessons that are appropriate for every age group. Making Comics is divided up into an obsessively detailed table of contents, arranged by the traditional order of steps in the comic creating process. One might think that a thick, analytical tome about how to make comics would be a bore, but McCloud’s signature “thing” is to instruct about comics using comics—and because McCloud is explaining the diversity of ways that comics can be expressed, every page is absolutely full of variety and amazingly interesting layouts and ideas. Open to any page and be visually arrested. Each chapter is recapped with exercises to try and a verbal summary of what had just been conveyed—but don’t worry, it’s still mostly pictures. Every nuanced line can have books written about it, but McCloud simplifies just enough.
I also appreciate the fact that McCloud, though a talented artist, accepts his own limitations when providing examples of comic techniques. McCloud made the effort to reprint exact examples from the material that he’s referencing, whereas the authors of some other books in the same genre of “teaching comics” try to emulate these examples—often unsuccessfully. If McCloud is talking about Frank Miller’s use of inks, he shows a Frank Miller panel, which is far more valuable than someone sloppily mimicking Miller.
Making Comics is the No. 1, absolutely essential resource for anyone who might be interested in making comics or anyone who’d like an insight into what those crazy artist guys are thinking when they’re tossing panels and angles around. Aspiring artists might think they know exactly what they’re doing, but there are always ways to do it even better, and a few more Norwegian words to bulk up the lexicon with.
Reviewed by Collin David on July 10, 2012