In 1993, I published a book titled UNDERSTANDING COMICS. It was revolutionary, because it, for the first time except for the other books that preceded it, examined comics as a form, and what comics mean and why, and there was some stuff in there about the Aztecs, too. THEY knew how to support their cartoonists. The editors back then were very strict, though. A simple misplaced Snake God could get you eviscerated and your whole temple wall cancelled.
One of the things I set out to do with that book was DEFINE comics. What IS Comics, I asked a lot of people? One guy stabbed me with a pen. If we make a chart of the responses to my question “What IS Comics?”, it would look like this:
What we see by this chart is that there is a wide
What do we learn from this? That my definition of comics, “JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE” didn’t catch on like I thought it would, as catchy as that phrase is.
Anyway, that tells me that I need to do a book to help people understand my other book. But I’m tired of drawing that little me. Just imagine that the little cartoon me is saying all this. And don’t skimp on the imaginary backgrounds!
In a perfect world, this would be a typical conversation between kids:
KID ONE: Hey! Let’s go to the JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE store and get some JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE!
Both kids are wrong, of course. The best JUXTAPOSED PICTORIAL AND OTHER IMAGES IN DELIBERATE SEQUENCE is Zot. I can’t believe this didn’t catch on…but in the REAL world, it’s much more common to hear conversations like this one:
KID ONE: Boy, these electronic, soul-destroying “video games” are sure fun!
These kids are headed for a lot of trouble, and all because they didn’t read my book carefully enough. But here’s the catch: They’re not real! They’re just drawings I would have done if my hand didn’t hurt! Ha! Comics can FOOL you! Man, if you could see the look on your face right now!
This is why a second book. So no one gets hurt.
UNDERSTANDING A METAPHOR FOR UNDERSTANDING
Apparantly, some people were left befuddled by the in-depth analysis in my last book. If you imagine my book as the top half of a bikini and the cups are filled with Sharkleberry Kool-Aid, one of the cups would represent people who understood the book, and the other would represent those who didn’t. And that cup would hold about three gallons.
That’s not a very good metaphor. Imagine two fat guys with cowboy hats on scooter bikes. The one that is going downhil hits a homeless guy, then comes back and runs over him again and again…
No, that’s no good.
Got it! Imagine a pie, a nice Dutch Apple pie, and cut a teeny slice. Those are the people that understood my chapter on Time Frames. Now eat the pie. Tastes good, doesn’t it? HA! FOOLED YOU AGAIN! There IS no pie!
NOW do you see why you need this book? Safety first, I say. Understanding Comics is harder than it seems, isn’t it? I’m glad I decided to write a book to help people understand the first book that was supposed to help people understand comics. Everything is crystal-clear now for you, I bet.
AGAIN WITH THE “WHAT IS COMICS?”
To understand comics, first we must UNDERSTAND comics. What are comics? Jeez, PAY ATTENTION!
Comics are drawings. But what ARE drawings?
Drawings are lines.
But what ARE lines?
Here is a typical line:
There are MANY kinds of lines. This is just one of them. The best one.
Some comics have way too many lines. These are called “AWESOME COMICS.” While other comics may have only a line or two per issue. These are called “SIN CITY.”
Many people think that lines originated in 1937, with the advent of DETECTIVE COMICS #1. These people are hopeless. Ignore them. They’re the ones who insist Zot wasn’t the first superhero. They’re big meanies.
Lines go back quite a bit further than 1937. In fact, lines have been with us since at least 1200 B.C., as evidenced by this lavish illustration I’m too tired to reproduce. See? See the lines? So, does this mean the ancient Mesopotamians had comics?
I guess so. But they probably had a lot more stories about milling wheat and fishing than about superheroes. But wouldn’t it be cool if some Neanderthal had done a cave painting called “Understanding Cave Paintings?” There’s really no end to how much I could talk about the history of comics, if I liked research more than just fevered introspection.
Still, what if the problem of Understanding my book is more simple than that?
READING UNDERSTANDING COMICS
I’m going to take a different approach here. In response to my last book, here are some of the fictional letters I received:
Dear Mr. McCloud,
Yes. Keep it to yourself, like the dark, dirty secret
Dear Mr. McCloud,
To answer your letter, first we must UNDERSTAND your letter. And I’m too busy. But if I DID understand your letter, I might do a scale like this:
INFINITY, INC.—> SPIDER-MAN—> SPAWN—> BARBIES FOR FANBOYS
From this scale, it’s easy to postulate a possible future, as evidenced by this second scale:
BARBIES FOR FANBOYS—> VENEREAL DISEASE —> BRAIN ROT —> INSTITUTIONALIZATION
And finally, of course, a lonely confinement, purchasing invisible baseballs from “space athletes.”
He should have bought my book.
UNDERSTANDING TODAY’S COMICS
Maybe this would be easier if we tried to actually apply the principles learned here to some current popular comics. Let’s take a look at some of these books, and really UNDERSTAND them.
Okay! Using the things we’ve discussed and a game-master’s screen with all my charts, let’s look at:
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA
Maybe it would help if I make a chart. Let’s call
Hmm. On second thought, maybe this current comics thing was a bad idea. I think maybe I’m over-analyzing. That’s what my ex-girlfriend used to say when we would argue. I still have a scar where she hit me with a shovel.
Maybe today’s comics aren’t WORTH understanding. Maybe they’re just for “collecting.”
UNDERSTAND COPPING OUT
Okay, it’s obvious by now that I used up all the good stuff in my first book. Anyway, it’s been great undestanding comics with you all.
Um. Thanks for reading. And understanding.
I hope you’ve found it enlightening, and I hope you
Go forth and understand!
Other books by Scott McCloud…
And a big YABS thanks to Scott McCloud for the use of his logo and illustrations. Visit Scott at http://www.scottmccloud.com/