The cover from Scott McCloud's latest work, Making Comics.
Ladies and gentleman, Scott McCloud has returned. The cover of Making Comics proudly declares "From the Author of Understanding Comics". Notice it does not say "From the Author of Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics". And rightly so. Scott McCloud the comics-deconstructionist has returned. Scott McCloud the comics-theorist has moved to the background for this book. In a perfect book, this would have been the second book McCloud wrote, and Reinventing Comics would have been the completion of the trilogy, if it were written at all.
So let's forget about Reinventing Comics for the moment. Forget the bitter arguments about micropayments and infinite canvas and remember Understanding Comics, the one who made people realize the incredible complexity of comics and what an amazing storytelling device they are. The one that has become required reading for any serious art student and every comics enthusiast. That's the vein Making Comics is in.
Making Comics is an incredible deconstruction of the process of making comics. As McCloud himself says in the book: "There are no rules, and here they are." It takes you every step of the way, from creating characters (both in personality and in look) to writing stories to deciding how to break up the story and dialogue into panels. He even covers different art supplies for doing the actual drawing and the different effects they will give. I've never seen a book this complete on the process, start-to-finish, on any topic, much less comics.
Of special note are the first chapter and the special topics in the back. The first chapter talks about "Choice of Frame", meaning exactly what you want to put in each frame. In my opinion, this is ultimately the most difficult part of the comic making process, and the one which deep-sixes the most comics. You can have the greatest story in the world, but if choice of frame makes it hard for people to follow what's going on, they're not going to enjoy it. You may have well thought out, well developed characters, but if your choice of frame never highlights the unique aspects and quirks of your characters, your readers won't connect with them. It's a matter of choosing the camera angle, the exact moments of time, and the intensity level for every panel, and Scott McCloud covers the options for each choice in great detail.
As for the special sections in the back, they are the most likely to generate controversy and are the least useful for the actual process of Making Comics, but are still an interesting read. McCloud devotes one section to talking about manga and its influence on American comics. We are already seeing a lot of blending of manga with traditional American and European comics (especially in webcomics), and manga itself has become such a major industry outside of Japan that it simply cannot be ignored any more. McCloud also spends a section talking about different types of comics creators (perhaps you remember the preview of this section over at The Webcomics Examiner) in which he divides everybody up into four categories: Classicist, Animist, Formalist, and Iconoclast. Frankly, these divisions are probably too sharp, and McCloud himself admits it in the book, but it does give those of us who always thought R. Crumb was a nut some common ground for appreciation, which is always nice.
As for actual drawing tips, the book spends a great deal of time talking about making believable characters, good facial expressions, and what tools you might want to use, but doesn't really try to teach you how to draw. After all, there are already hundreds of books out there on that topic, and besides, it's the sort of thing you only learn with practice anyways.
Perhaps the best thing about the book are the extensive notes and exercises at the end of every chapter. After all, this book wasn't meant just to be a heady theoretical experience, it's supposed to actually help you make comics. Anyone looking to improve their skills would do well to practice all the exercises at the end of each chapter.
All in all, I'd recommend this book to anyone. It makes you think long and hard about how you make comics, and inspires you to make better comics. I for one was inspired to hit the sketchbook and really try to develop my drawing skills. Others might be inspired to go back through their work and think about how they could have framed it better, or to really rethink their storylines and enrich their characters. There's something for everyone to learn here.
And of course, Scott McCloud being who he is, he plugs quite a few webcomics in the book (even Templar, Arizona!). This book is going to lend a look of respectability to webcomics, and I'm all about that.
So why don't you go out and buy it?