Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels, by Scott McCloud. Harper Paperbacks, 2006.
In the 1990s, I was drawing my own minicomics and trading them in the zine world. When Understanding Comics came out in 1994, I found McCloud's analysis both insightful and evangelical: here was a voice not only explaining the medium I worked in, but spreading the word far and wide beyond the insular walls of comic book fandom.
However, McCloud's 2006 attempt to dissect the medium not only failed to inspire me, but nearly turned me against a longtime favorite-- partly for the same reason I never understood the point of
dissecting fetal pigs in high school biology: yeah, everything under
the hood was interesting, but my Visible Woman model had the same
stuff, and didn't smell as bad.
Mainly I'm offended by McCloud's choice to introduce the obvious, presumably in an effort to reach the fan who has picked up a pencil or ink brush for the first time. The opening chapters work from the assumption that you've never thought
about graphic design choices, or thought about how a director frames a
movie shot, or even paid any attention to the visual aspects of the comic books you read.
I understand the logic in this choice. When I started drawing my first comics, at the age
of six, I didn't know what graphic design was.
Then again, intuitively I was trying to learn: I
was slavishly copying the visual and narrative composition of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts. I
wasn't understanding what Schulz was doing and why, but in the very act of copying it I was learning design.
Later, when I went full bore into minicomics, after some prompting from
Jay Lynch ("Phoebe and the Pigeon People"), I became much more aware of
the intracacies of each artist's work. I learned to recognize if they
used quill pens or Rapidographs or brushes or computers. I paid attention to how artists broke up a page,
used lettering, and to the elements they chose to use to tell their story.
Depending on my mood and my own minicomic stories, I'd shamelessly
steal from artists. I can point to the pages I created then and say, that's an homage/ripoff of Winsor
McCay. That figure, lifted from Jaime Hernandez. There's Matt Howarth, there's Dan O'Neill,
there's Nina Paley. (I once showed Nina the crib I'd done from her work.
"That looks nothing like my work," she said. Thank goodness.) My zines were full of my
own versions of design tricks I'd seen in the works of Arnold Roth and Sergio Aragones and
Steve Willis and Matt Feazell and Chris Ware.
McCloud's book is a call to pay attention to exactly all that. And he
even breaks it down OCD style into lists, with definitions and names
for things I never named, so it's all there. All spelled out.
Takes all the fun out of it, if you ask me.
If this book were a cooking show-- it would not feature any particular dish, or even a chef with any interest in a particular cuisine, but a highly intelligent cook who felt the need to explain each tool and ingredient in the kitchen (and perhaps demonstrating how to use them in combination in various techniques), in an effort to edify the home viewer on what it is you do with a frying pan, or salt, or a carrot, but without ever actually producing a dish, or inspiring anyone to actually cook.
The biggest problem with Making Comics is that as
nonfiction, it's a terrible comic. There are some great nonfiction comics out there, but this
isn't one of them. It's a textbook, written not in the mode of a persuasive essay (as Understanding Comics was), but as a checklist.