Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Scott McCloud
Publication Date
April 1994
Harper Paperbacks
Photo Credit
Jeff Howard
In Understanding Comics, author Scott McCloud presents an overview of the history and craft of sequential art. The book is written in the form of a graphic novel, demonstrating the principles and vocabulary of comics by example.

The book is written for a broad audience. Some of the early chapters where McCloud explores the history and foundation of modern comics (going back to the Egyptians and Mayans) and where he argues for the appreciation of comics as an art form aren't directly applicable for service designers but later chapters focus on techniques that inform the design of storyboards and scenarios.

Understanding how sequential art can be used for visual narrative seems critical for service designers. This book is full of information about how the eye moves between panels, how words and images interact on the page and how time is represented in a static medium.

For example, in chapter three McCloud explores how time moves from frame to frame in a comic. He identifies six types of transitions: moment to moment, action to action, subject to subject, scene to scene, aspect to aspect and non-sequitur — and then shows examples of each.

The principles are well argued but what makes this book so engaging is the author's ability to demonstrate the techniques visually through his craft: showing rather than telling. The examples, some taken from existing comics but most created by McCloud himself, perfectly illustrate the lessons throughout the book.

There are three volumes in this series. Understanding Comics was the first, followed by the more obscure Reinventing Comics six years later. More recently McCloud has released Making Comics to wider acclaim. It focuses on the craft of sequential art and explores changes to the industry in the 12 years since the original was published.

If you can only afford one of the three, Understanding Comics is the most comprehensive in the series. But Making Comics is well worth checking out. Both should be in the service design library.

Understanding Comics Filed under: comics, sequential art, narrative, storyboards, storytelling, 24308.
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Two Comments
Nick Marsh on June 22, 2010 7:02am
I love this book! So inspiring, so intellectually rigorous but also so much fun! Ace.
Jeanette Leagh on May 3, 2013 3:22pm
Great book! Engaging, insightful and accessible across audiences.
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
By Scott McCloud
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  1. Setting the Record Straight
  2. The Vocabulary of Comics
  3. Blood in the Gutter
  4. Time Frames
  5. Living in Line
  6. Show and Tell
  7. The Six Steps
  8. A Word about Color
  9. Putting it all Together