I just finished reading Scott McCloud's magnificent Making Comics, a comic book for people who want to write comic books, or for those of us who want to know about what goes into making a comic. In this, McCloud's third nonfiction book about comics, he was produced his most significant achievement to date, and that's really saying something.
Like many, I first encountered McCloud's books with Understanding Comics, a comic about what comics mean and how they mean it. It's a guide for readers who love comics, and for readers who want to know why they might love comics. It's incredibly lucid and inspiring, and it explains some of the fundamental ways in which stories happen and some of the fundamental ways in which we perceive them. Reading that book was a watershed for me, something that made me reconsider every story I read, watched or heard.
After that came Reinventing Comics, a highly speculative book about what comics might be on the Web. In Understanding Comics, McCloud was telling us something he really knew cold, these incredible insights he'd had about how comics work. In Reinventing Comics, McCloud is more making it up as he goes along, talking about how he thinks comics might be someday. Like many predictions about the Web, some of it was obsolete by the time it went to press, and some of it was shown up over time. Reinventing Comics is an interesting book, but it's not a book that inspires the way that Understanding Comics did (McCloud seems to know this — the third book contains some slightly wry jokes to that effect).
In Making Comics, McCloud presents a subject that blends the best of both of Reinventing and Understanding Comics. Like Understanding Comics, Making Comics visits territory where McCloud is a master. His explanations of how comics are made, the mechanics of the decisions that make a successful story out of words and pictures, are both theoretical and highly practical. McCloud is a great explainer, someone who makes the subject come to life — even for someone like me, who'll likely never draw or write a comic. The insights he offers into how comics are made touched me like those in Understanding Comics, making me re-think the way that I see the world and understand it — seeing how anything gets made tells you more about how to use it.
But there's some of the best of Reinventing Comics in this, too. Like any author, McCloud doesn't know exactly how he does what he does, and in the tradition of the best books about creating, this is a book where McCloud asks himself hard questions about how and why he tells his own stories. So he's not only visiting turf he knows intimately, he's also blazing new trail.
The book is in seven chapters, and each chapter ends with several pages of prose notes, which contain further explanations and exercises for the student comics-ist. It's a handsome, easy-to-absorb gift for the aspiring comics creator in your life. And it's a fine book for anyone who wants to understand how to take apart a comic and see how it works.