It isn’t a story, but rather an in-depth, humorous guide, done in comic book form, much like Understanding Comics. If you haven’t read Understanding, you should probably at least flip through it before reading Misunderstanding, as there are a lot of references. For instance, they refer to comics as “sequential art” throughout, which, while not originated by Scott McCloud, is the term he uses repeatedly while trying to attach a basic definition to the comic form. Even the name of the main character, Sketch McLoudmouth, is a thinly veiled reference.
In fact, the book is filled with references to just about every comic you can imagine, throughout history. Though it doesn’t name any names, it’s generally clear from the drawings and jokes who’s being portrayed, from superheroes to newspaper comic strip characters to webcomics, and many others. And, our hero Sketch is not especially kind to any of them. Every page of this book is dripping with cynicism, sarcasm, satire, and just plain snark. Some of it’s directed towards the comic industry in general, or the creators who are part of it. Other times, it’s to take a jab at the foibles of one character or creator in particular.
A lot of the comics that Sketch tears down are ones that I personally enjoy, some quite a bit, and in taking these jabs, Sketch makes a lot of very broad over-generalizations and over-simplifications. But, with a title like Misunderstanding Comics, it’s necessary to take these things with a grain of salt.
That’s not the real problem here. The problem is that all that cynicism and snark get overwhelming after awhile. There are a lot of really funny bits here, but as Sketch systematically lays siege to every single aspect of comic culture, it begins to sound more bitter than satirical.
That’s not to say this comic doesn’t make some very good points. It finds some rather unique ways to visualize oft-voiced complaints about shallow character development and vastly unrealistic depictions of characters’ bodies, both male and female. One of its more prevalent themes is that of sacrificing artistry, creativity, and innovation in order to adhere to a formula that sells to a particular niche audience. This is certainly an issue that merits discussion, and perhaps it can even motivate others to create something interesting and unique.
There are definitely a few things to like about this comic. Parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny. It also provides some great—though pessimistic—insights into the comic industry and how it works. If you’re interested in that side of comics, then Misunderstanding Comics is worth looking into, but it might be best to read it a chapter at a time, over the course of a week or so. Otherwise, you may end up crushed under an avalanche of cynicism.