Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud

I haven’t read the entirety of Scott McCloud’s career-making graphic nonfiction book, Understanding Comics, to which Reinventing Comics is a partial sequel. Fortunately for me, Reinventing Comics covers mostly different ground; unfortunately for me, it was mixed bag, due partially to its datedness at points--it was published in 2000--and its sometimes dry subject matter.

But first, the good: McCloud is a remarkably versatile artist who clearly loves the medium and is adept at communicating fairly dense information in an intuitive way. I’m not sure the information in this book could have presented any better without changing its format completely. The entire book, aside from the appendices, is written in comic book form which sometimes works great, such as when demonstrating various distribution models, and sometimes doesn’t add much, as during his discussion of diversity in comics.

The downside is that a lot of the material here just isn’t that novel or interesting. One only has to walk into a comic book store, or even look at recent comic book movies, to see that the landscape is dominated by superheroes, mostly straight, male and white. McCloud’s solution to this problem--that more women, minorities, and gays be promoted in the comics world--is sensible, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table. His discussion of genre is similarly circular.

The back half of the book mostly discusses the pros and cons of creating and distributing comics on computers. Since the book was written in a largely pre-broadband time, many of McCloud’s suggestions seem quite prescient--online distribution, microtransactions, experimental layouts and formatting--but they too suffer from a little bit of been-there-done-that in 2012 (although it is notable that DC and Marvel both adopted same-day-as-print digital releases this year). McCloud’s once-exciting predictions about everything being available everywhere have been tamped down by both real-world issues, such as the complex legal weaseling necessary to move “everything” online, and by the fact that the future he talks about is largely here and doesn’t seem to have increased mainstream acceptance of comics much. Online, there are comics about everything under the sun, instantly available, but if no one new is reading them, what does it matter?

I don’t mean to be hard on Understanding Comics. It’s very well put together and I enjoyed reading it, but I’d recommend Understanding Comics or McCloud’s Zot omnibus as an introduction--Reinventing Comics is a little depressing.

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