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A Couple Helpful Books for People Interested in Drawing Comics or Graphic Novels

February 17, 2017

This post was originally published on January 25, 2017 during my site transition.

Above: The above image hasn’t got anything to do with today’s topic. I don’t do comics and am not working on a graphic novel. But this is the last painting I did at the end of 2016 and I really wanted to post it before the end of January. It’s a gouache painting of my friend Roseanne on a textured background. It’s in the largest of the Hahnemuhle Nostalgie Sketchbooks, something like 8.5 x 11.75 inches—I have to write this down and have it handy by the computer! I’d been working on textures for an art journaling class I’m working on so I had lots of prepainted pages to work on, and I just wanted to PAINT. And I love Roseanne’s nose, which this sketch doesn’t do justice. (She’s also got paler skin.) The background is acrylic paint and rubber-stamp ink. I had been going to the Bell Museum a lot during the final months of last year and using fresh gouache and real brushes while painting there. But I was unable to go on the December 31 but wanted to paint. You can read about it if you click on the image to see an enlargement. Painting always makes me happy. (You can see another sketch of Roseanne here.)

Some of my “By Design” students have expressed interest in drawing comics or creating graphic novels and graphic memoirs.

I’d recently reorganized (well that’s not the right word because if anything things are less organized, but reshuffled) my bookshelves and I came up with some books I thought would be helpful.

On the top of the list are a few books I wanted to share with you too in case you have similar interests.

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: A Definitive Course From Concept to Comic in 15 Lessons, by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (First Second, 2008), ISBN 978-1-59643-131-7

This book is exactly what the title says it is, a course—there are exercises, and questions, and reading lists, and examples galore. They talk about tools (what to get, how to use them, and how to take care of them). They discuss layout and have homework and extra credit assignments. They talk about story structure and creating characters. 

But wait, there’s more… 

Mastering Comics: Drawing Words and Writing Pictures Continued, by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (First Second, 2012), ISBN 978-1-59643-617-6

This book has all the same features that they had in their first book—the syllabus feel, the homework and extra credit, instruction on using tools, more suggested reading, etc. But it builds on all that with discussion of setting up point of view and using perspective, and how to think about layout and flow for online vs. print comics, and hand coloring, and self-publishing. You get the idea. It’s a very, very useful book that at the very least will lead you to many more useful books. But if you spend some time thinking about the concepts they present you’ll have a better understanding of what it takes to make a comic or a graphic novel and how you’ll need to go about developing your skills to achieve that. Go for it.

Foundations in Comic Book Art: Fundamental Tools and Techniques for Sequential Artists, John Paul Lowe (Watson Guptill, 2014) ISBN: 978-0-77043-696-4 Lowe teaches at the Savanna College of Art and Design. His book is much more compact. It stresses all the drawing skills you’ll need to be a successful comics artist. He breaks down how to create complex drawings with simple shapes that you create in perspective. He writes about the tools you’ll need and gives you exercises to practice using those tools. He’s got lots of cool illustrations that will inspire you. I enjoyed this book a lot. There are some points in his drawing exercises where the language might be a little confusing to newbies, but you’ll work it out.

The Drawing Lesson: A Graphic Novel That Teaches You How to Draw, by Mark Crilley (Watson-Guptill, 2016) ISBN: 978-0-3853-4633-7

I’m adding this book to my recommendations today because I was just charmed by the idea of it. A young boy meets a young woman sketching in public and asks her to teach him to draw. She does this in the story of their relationship. It’s a fun way to present drawing concepts—drawn as explained by an artist who is drawing and teaching a young kid to draw. I love the bit where she teaches him to squint and see values. I won’t spoil it by telling you any more, especially the ending. While it isn’t about how to craft your graphic novel and have flow from panel to panel, reading it you’ll get some inspiration in that as well.

A Little Bit About “By Design: Creating the Intentional Page”

“By Design: Creating the Intentional Page” is my ongoing design class in which you can learn about page layout for hand work in your journal and the printed page. If you want to know how to use borders, and color, and columns to tidy up your pages, or learn ways to compositionally create more interesting pages which lead the reader through your journal or printed piece, you’ll find the information in this class.

It’s a self-guided class so you can join any time. And you’ll have access until December 31, 2020. There are over 7.5 hours of video instruction and demos in this class. Even though it’s self-guided you still have the opportunity to ask me questions. I pop into class to see what people are up to and answer questions.

And the great thing is that when I have so much fun pulling books on a topic like this I can make new videos to discuss them with this class. That’s exactly what I did. I made one video about instruction books on drawing for comics and graphic novels and a second video listing my favorite examples of comics and graphic novels. I discuss and show examples from over 40 books. It went up in class yesterday.

Sometimes I share ideas with the students in this class through live webinars which are taped and available permanently in class (in case you can’t attend live because of the time zone you live in). If you register today, you’ll have access to pass webinars and all the additional notes and information I have already shared with the class. 

I hope you’ll think about joining the class.

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