Do comics as criticism exist?

So I write about games, but not in a public way. It’s just something I do as a kind of exercise, and to get my thoughts out in a meaningful way. But, I’ve been wanting to change that. Obviously I’m doing the writing, so why not put it out there? I’ve gone through all sorts of different ways I could alter it to be delivered as just text, just audio, and even as video… but mostly still as audio because I don’t want to deal with Youtube’s bullshittery.

One idea I’ve had a long time is to deliver criticism in the form of comics. I used to make webcomics for quite a while, and I have a strong love for the medium, so it seems like it’d be really cool. Maybe not the most effective means of getting your point across, but I think it’d be fun and interesting. Unfortunately I can never seem to land on a good way to do it. The most common issue being that I always have so much to say, and no idea how to actually convey that within a comic. It shouldn’t be so hard, but it is. I try to be an optimist, so I continue to believe there’s a way, I just need to find it!

In the meantime, I was hoping maybe somebody else could offer help or insight? Are there examples of using this medium for criticism, or really just any kind of opinion or thought pieces? Something other than simple punchlines for what’s really just a joke comic.

I believe comics are capable of doing this somehow, and I want to figure it out… but boy would it be helpful if someone had already done it in some form :stuck_out_tongue:

Additionally, if anyone on here wants to attempt this kind of thing, that’d be really cool too. Artistic skill not required. If nothing else it might be a fun exercise for people to try to figure it out :]

Penny Arcade comes to mind. Alongside every comic, the author writes a “news” post that often goes more in depth than the punch line.

Comic essays have existed for literal decades. Persepolis is a historical critical work, as is Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. The comic web essay has been pretty popular im recent years, stuff like Ron Wimberly’ essay on skin colour have been popular online. There’s Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga which makes fun of the manga industry, the awful Scott McCloud books, Eddie Campbell’s Fate Of The Artist, Joe Sacco’s Palestine, the entire journalistic comics genre, etc. Etc…


thank you for the (indirect) recommendations. Persepolis is really good… (albeit i’ve only seen the film).

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This is pretty much what I was going to say, @Dante2k4 . Stuff like this has been around forever and comics are in fact an extremely effective way to get a point across, but you have to look outside of what would normally come up if you were to Google search for “comics” or “web comics” because there’s this very hard division between stuff that’s marketed to mainstream audiences and like, everything else even within the industry.

I’m going to plug my wife’s work briefly because it’s very relevant to what you’re asking, particularly her comic The Hookah Girl and her upcoming Voyage to Panjikant. She also does a lot of reviews of, interviews with creators of, and work of her own along these lines for Electronic Intifada if you want some examples.

But something else to consider is that if you’re thinking more of an essay with some illustrations you should create a zine.

Zines have existed are forever because they’re easy for anyone to make, and everyone should make one at some point because it’s a great raw outlet and they’re easy to distribute, and don’t have to look particularly “good” because they’re meant to be ephemeral by design (but it’s of course easy enough to distribute one online if you want too). I don’t know where you live but if you’re in or close to a major city, look into the the comic and zine scene there. The “season” is kind of over but go to whatever shows are happening and pick up a few random ones if you feel lost.

So when I say you should create a zine, I mean literally, you can create a small sixteen page zine (no really, just take a sheet of paper and fold it) in not a lot of time, so it’s worth trying as a warmup. :smiley:

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If you don’t mind my asking - what’s wrong with Scott McCloud? There was a “Comics as Lit” course at my community college that included “Understanding Comics” in its course material, so I assumed that there was some merit there.

Comic essays are a really fun, exploratory medium to work in, and have existed for a really long time.

The popular examples have been listed here. Maus by Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. A recent example in that vein is My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata. (It’s also worth noting that a lot of Speigelman and Satrapi’s other works are autobiographic, historic and critical.)

I would go see if you can find some local comic shops selling self-published work by local artists. Some of the more thoughtful, critical works exist in a less mainstream space and you may find something that will inspire you!

Also, just try illustrating your writing to start. Not in a traditional comics format. Less integrated images that can stand alone. It may be a helpful exercise in visualizing your thoughts that could lead to a more traditional comic down the road.

Edit: I’ve just remembered a some of interesting examples of comic essays/journals:

Jane Mai and An Nguyen’s So Pretty/Very Rotten is a collection of essays, illustrations and comics all revolving around lolita goth fashion and culture. It’s a really cool book and worth taking a look at even if you’re not into fashion. Fun fact! I didn’t buy anything at Jane Mai’s booth at TCAF this year and then she called me a “Dud” on Twitter!

Elanor Davis’ You & a Bike & a Road is a journal of Davis’ cross-country bicycle trip that she drew as it was happening.

Dustin Harbin does four panel autobiographic comics that are pretty interesting over at


I mostly just think McCloud is an absolute hack honestly.

It’s just a poorly written Structuralist analysis of comics where McCloud asserts a ton of “rules” about comics and then never expounds on them or backs them up or even explains them properly - the main examples being his definition of comics being completely arbitrary and the godawful double-page spread with the giant “style pyramid”. The layouts throughout are consistently boring and fail to do anything interesting basically ever. It’s arrogant, badly explained, poorly researched etc.

The entire work is largely him trying to cash in on this one idea he had of being the Marshall Macluhan of comics (which he practically admits on the first page). In the years since it’s clear he doesn’t even follow his own rules too so it doesn’t leave much of a good impression with that in mind.


A lot of people treat McCloud like he’s some kind of maestro of comics theory or something, but I tend to view his critical work as a stepping stone to people like Lynda Barry, Ivan Burnetti, or to Eisner’s books on comic theory and craft.

Edit: Added links to books by those authors for the OP.


ZEAL has some pretty rad comic essays.


I got to meet Lynda Barry a few times, she’s incredible. :smile:

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This post just saved my soul. I read his “masterpiece”, The Sculptor, and soured on it like I have no book before. But I don’t really have anyone to talk to about comics, so my negative opinion has just stewed and soured in isolation.

“The Secret Loves of Geek Girls” is a great anthology with a lot of comics (and just written essays) looking at the intersection of love and fandom. It might be nice for seeing a bunch of different styles of takes on a subject all at once.

The other recs in this thread are excellent too. I might add Bouletcorp as a great french webcomic that has some criticism/musings on art.

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There’s an excellent comic by Box Brown called Tetris: the Games People Play you should read. He not only writes about the history of Tetris but delves much deeper; why humans play games, how games effect our brains.

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The cover for the Sculptor is so bad that i know several people who call McCloud a “wallfucker” now


Holy shit.

This is one of the best things I’ve ever read

As others have said, there are a lot of non-fiction comics, comics journalism, comics memoir, comics essays, and comics about comics. But there aren’t a lot of what the OP wants to do, i.e. “comics as criticism.” One of the few that comes to mind for me is the recently published collection by Lisa Hanawalt, Hot Dog Taste Test.

Also, to add to the convo about Scott McCloud, as someone who regularly teaches comics at the college level, his super-formalist approach is really helpful for people who have little-to-no familiarity with the medium. In particular, I find his chapter on panel transition types incredibly useful in the classroom. Sure, it’s not great for comics veterans, but it isn’t meant for us. It’s a way into the medium for the uninitiated. There aren’t many other works like it since almost every other comic about comics is targeted at those already well versed in the medium. And, yes, his graphic novel The Sculptor is in fact dull as rocks. He’s much better at writing/drawing about comics than he is at writing a fictional work of his own.


Truth Zone by Simon Hanselmann did “criticism” in the form of comics: A lot of Hanselmann’s zines have done similar things.

You may also want to check out The Comics Journal,, for general criticism and to get a broader sense of the variety of ways that comics criticism is handled.

I think the context he was working in is incredibly important to consider, while I don’t think he’s the greatest, nor have i ever even felt even the slightest desire to read the sculptor, I think you might be jumping the gun on a lot of the intent of that work. I don’t think those “rules” are ever presented as actual hard-&-fast rules, or even just rules at all, it’s an attempt to establish a vocabulary for comics criticism, and even when he posits stuff as any kind of “rule” it’s always with exceptions and the idea that it can be broken successfully. I still think the pyramid is an interesting way to look at abstraction also.

Basically what that stuff was trying to be was less a deep dive and more laying the groundwork, if that makes sense? Also seconding conman’s post about who those books are meant for, I read them at like 17 & they were effective.

Anyway, in answer to OP, Zeal has a ton of great essay comics, some of them a bit more personal, and a lot of them about games!

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Hahaha, oh jeez that cover. I don’t have complaints about the art as much as I do the entire narrative. Really regret buying it at full price right after it came out thanks to a positive review in Kotaku