Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Drawing Words & Writing Pictures (Abel and Madden)

I've been wanting to read this book (by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden; First Second, 2008) since I first heard of it, and I finally bit the bullet and shelled out the $29.95 at my local Big and Nasty. Subtitled "Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond," this book is essentially designed as the textbook for a 15-week studio class in comics creation, complete with homework assignments, in-class activities, and so forth. It makes me want to both take the class and teach it, and I guess that's a good thing on both counts.

I'd be the first to tell you that I can't draw a lick, and although Abel and Madden start off at the very beginning of the book by noting that that doesn't matter (and giving some nice examples to support the claim), a good deal of the book is usefully focused on the troublesome mechanics issues, including what pens to use, when to ink with a pen and when with a brush, and how to use your scanner and Photoshop to size your drawings. With sections on these things as well as figure drawing and lettering to complement chapters on one-panel comics, strips, narrative construction, and characterization, it's a book that usefully works to address both the art and the story side of comics, which is valuable in itself (I was delighted to find a brief discussion of a panel from Harvey Pekar's brilliant "Hypothetical Quandary" story, drawn by Crumb, which I had always known had a different look and feel from most Crumb works, and Abel and Madden's discussion of how this story is inked by brush rather than pen perfectly explained the difference: a fine illustration for why comics critics need some basic grounding in the materials of the genre). And yet, at the end, I thought "Boy, I'd really need to be able to draw to do all that." Though the authors acknowledge that clip art, collage, and possibly other modes can be used to create comics, this book offers suggestions and guidance only for drawing them.

Since the book is printed in black and orange, I was a little surprised not to see any real discussion of color (a disappointment, considering my recent Villagegrouchy post on the issue), and really the discussion focuses on black-and-white comics exclusively, as far as I can tell, although that's hardly a problem for most beginners to the field. I can't say I know the field exhaustively, but this is the best book of its kind I've seen, and I suspect it could work very well with a group of students in a properly equipped studio classroom.

If I decide to work through any of the exercises as a "Ronin" (what Abel and Madden call anyone who works through the book solo), I'll post some of them here, perhaps.

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