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Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art is a 215-page non-fiction comic book, written and drawn by Scott McCloud and originally published in 1993. It explores the definition of comics, the historical development of the medium, its fundamental vocabulary, and various ways in which these elements have been used. It discusses theoretical work on comics (or sequential art) as an artform and a communications medium. It is also uses the comic medium for non-storytelling purposes.

Understanding Comics received praise from notable comic and graphic novel authors such as Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Garry Trudeau (who reviewed the book for the New York Times), and was called “one of the most insightful books about designing graphic user interfaces ever written” by Apple Macintosh co-creator Andy Hertzfeld [1]. Although the book has prompted debate over many of McCloud’s conclusions, its discussions of “iconic” art and the concept of “closure” between panels have become common reference points in discussions of the medium.

In the book’s seventh chapter, “The Six Steps,”[2] McCloud outlines a six-part process of artistic creation (Idea/Purpose, Form, Idiom, Structure, Craft, Surface). He also notes that artists tend to fall into two classes, depending on which of the first two steps they emphasize more. Those who emphasize the second step “are often pioneers and revolutionaries–artists who want to shake things up,”[3] while those who emphasize the first are “great storytellers, creators who…devote all their energies to controlling their medium…to convey messages effectively.”[4] With these ideas, McCloud anticipates the artistic theory of David Galenson, which divides all artists into two groups with qualities similar to those McCloud notes.

Understanding Comics was first published by Tundra Publishing; reprintings have been released by Kitchen Sink Press, DC ComicsParadox Press, DC’s Vertigo line, and HarperPerennial.

The book’s lettering was done by Bob Lappan.

Cover of the original Tundra Publishing edition of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art


Scott McCloud has written two follow-up books in the same format: Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form (2000), in which he suggested ways for the medium to change and grow, and Making Comics (2006), a study of the elemental methods of constructing comics.


  1. ^ Understanding Comics
  2. ^ McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, Inc., 1993. 162-84.
  3. ^ ibid. 179.
  4. ^ ibid. 180.

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