Understanding Comics is the only entry in the 1001 comics list under the Reference genre. It’s a bit of a weird genre to have in a list like this, but it’s a comic about comics which makes this a super meta part of the list and I’m really into that. In the end, it’s the equivalent of having a film about making films on the film list – which I don’t think is on the 1001 list as they didn’t include the very much acclaimed Histoire(s) du cinéma.
Anyway I digress. Being 80 comics in actually feels like an opportune time to be reading this. I’ve seen enough to get a boatload of the references that he makes – the fact that he regularly mentions my favourite painter (Kandinsky) doesn’t hurt either. It’s also really cool because there are comics he mentions, like Maus, where I am looking forward to reading them soon.
The best thing though is that McCloud has made the ultimate guide to how we read comics and how comics are able to convey different things like time, motion and the non-visual senses. How, so many things that we implicitly understand as comic language (such as motion lines) and just how those have developed. What I found especially interesting was when he went into how Japanese comics developed in isolation and actually how far back the history of comics extend.
In the end, if you are someone who enjoys comics and graphic novels, this is an essential read. Hell, it’s essential to have a physical copy in your bookshelf to use as a reference. Knowing what I know now, thanks to his easy to digest musings and explanations, I know that I am doing to appreciate my next pick from the comics list all the more. Even down to the use of guttering between the panels.