A Seriously Comic Interlude

  Now this one may throw you for a loop. It’s a book about comics, about what they really are, what they mean, how great ones are created. But it’s also a book that does as good a job explaining its subject as any book I own. And, as you would hope, it’s done in comic format – although at over 200 pages it is a bit longer than the comics I grew up with.

For years I wondered why adult fiction almost never included illustrations. Yes, I know that fiction exercises our imagination, and lets us draw our own pictures. But did virtually 100% of it have to be devoid of pictures? How about an occasional map of that strange land the author describes?
I first went to Japan almost 20 years ago. One of the things I noticed was that everyone was reading illustrated books. The man next to me on the subway was reading a biography of Mr. Matsushita, the great founder of Panasonic, in a comic book format. It is such a wonderful way to communicate information, why don’t we use it more often? If you are my age, you will remember Classics Illustrated comic books, from which I learned a lot of the great stories.
But these days this is beginning to change. Graphic novel sections are growing in all the bookstores. Manga and anime boom in the video departments. There are even more books about how to draw comics, and some wonderful software like the Toon Boom products.
Nevertheless, the world has just scratched the surface in using this medium for communication. I spent the last few years studying the museum industry. In my visits to over 300 museums worldwide, one of the most remarkable things was their lack of use of comics to tell historic and educational stories. When we designed our prototype museum – we could not raise enough funds to open it – we included big beautiful backlit comics that stretched for over 40 feet on one wall, using the same printing and display technology for education that airports use for advertising and department stores use to sell cosmetics.
Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud (HarperPerennial, 1993) is one of the most interesting and amazing books you will ever read. Not only will you learn all about comics, you will learn a great deal about storytelling and about art, two things that will only become more and more important in the years to come. And you will have a wonderful time doing it. I can only hope that other authors, in many subjects, take a page out of McCloud’s book and figure out how to tell their own stories and convey their subject matter with such love, gusto, and …. art!