Way back in time (like three months ago) I was complaining about what was a cliffhanger of a sort in my life – I’d been given a comic book with a vague statement on it being one of the best written comics, in the gifter’s opinion, and that opinion stumped me. It didn’t seem that great to me, but I’d lost touch with the giver, so I was left wondering, and it bugged me.

A month or so ago we got back in contact, and I was given a chance to ask my question. The answer was not precisely what I expected, and it lead to a recommendation of a book called “Understanding Comics.”

My library had a copy. I picked it up and began reading.

I’d been warned that I might find the beginning of the book, which went over the history of comics in quite a bit of detail, boring. Yet I didn’t. I was fascinated.

The entire book fascinated me. The connection to language, the way the brain works, the way the panels can be manipulated to create certain effects, the decisions the writers/artists are faced with, and various other aspects of comics…it was all in there, in the 224 or so pages of the book.

The book was itself a comic book, which makes sense – how better to explain aspects of comics than to write about them in comic format?

So. I’ve read only a very few comics in my life – Jar of Fools, Pride of Baghdad, one of the Sandman books, V for Vendetta, maybe one or two others, but I sort of doubt it. And “Understanding Comics”. It seems a bit backwards, perhaps, that I find myself fascinated by comics now, after reading about them, but in a way it is fitting, and it is a testament to Scott McCloud’s purpose in writing the book. He wanted to show that comics are more than a flashy picture book for kids, he wanted to show the worth, the potential, the artistry of comics. And at least for me, he did.

Now I’m left fascinated by comics and having no clue what to read. I don’t know what I’d like any better now than I did before. Or, rather, I have an idea of what I’d like now, but no clue how to find it. I’ll start by rereading the books I have – Jar of Fools, Pride of Baghdad, and V for Vendetta.

I started reading “On Directing Films” tonight, and I was not surprised at all to realize that some of the same concepts the author discusses are exactly what I just finished reading about in “Understanding Comics.” I’m hoping that they’ll both add to my understanding of how to put together collections of photographs. In the end, after all, images are images, regardless of their media!

portrait at the national gallery of art