This is as close as the Western world gets to a basic primer on the comics medium. Scott McCloud, a writer/artist of more than a decade's professional standing when this book was originally published, has devoted an unreasonable amount of his life to the analysis of the comics medium. As a creator of fictions, he has only occasionally been notable. As a teacher, however, he excels; like film's Robert McKee, he may not have a masterwork in him, but few understand the underpinnings of the medium like him.
UNDERSTANDING COMICS is a beautifully measured, accessible and involving work that introduces the roots and structure of comics in a way that provides fully for both the new entrant to the medium and the experienced reader. The central conceit of the book - that McCloud himself, in cartoon form, explains all while looking out at us and physically running around inside the medium - has more charm than you might immediately expect, and is itself explained in the way we relate to and experience characters on the page. It is also admirable for understanding that comics are not exclusively American (or English), and covers the differing forms found in Europe and Japan. As both textbook and entertainment, UNDERSTANDING COMICS is completely engrossing.
Warren Ellis has written around thirty graphic novels, comics, prose fiction, journalism, videogames and screenplays. Sometimes he take photographs. He also creates and co-creates websites, including this one. He has awards and stuff, he's been in big magazines and newspapers, and he's been published in Nature, which he always mentions because it makes him laugh. He's on the web at warrenellis.com and diepunyhumans.com.