Today, I have another book review to share with you. There’s a lot of texts out there about making comics. Most of them are basic and cover drawing, character design, differences in drawing males and females, basic gags and story writing, etc. The keyword here is “basic”. Many of these books do indeed cover just that – the basics. Someone interested in creating their own work may not have much to go on other than these basics. So what books are available for you if you want to learn to make comics?
Not just any book will do. It’s best to have a qualified professional behind the book to instruct you. Look no further than the incredible Scott McCloud. If you are even somewhat familiar with comics, he needs no introduction. While he is noted for the creation of the manga-influenced superhero series Zot!, McCloud is far more renowned for his groundbreaking books on comics, Understanding Comics and its sequel Reinventing Comics. So you know that McCloud definitely knows what he is talking about. So how does this book stack up?
Making Comics by Scott McCloud (Harper Collins, 2006) is a paperback just a little over 264 pages and is divided roughly into seven chapters, with each one supplemented by notes at the end. In addition to these notes, there’s a handful of exercises at the end of each chapter – these you can do designed to sharpen your comics drawing and writing skills.
The book is much like Scott McCloud’s two previous books. It’s in the form of a graphic novel with McCloud’s cartoon self explaining and illustrating the principles he reviews. The first chapter reviews the choosing which moments of the story to feature and the concepts of clarity versus intensity. The second goes into depth on making characters.
This second chapter is worth the price of the book alone because it goes beyond what the typical “how to make comics” books will explain. In addition to visual appearance, McCloud illustrates the importance of body language, facial expressions, and most of all, what’s on the inside. He explains why internal factors like a character history, defining moments, relationships with other characters, and their wants are every bit as important. These are absent from many other instructional texts and is worth its weight in gold.
This chapter turned out to be instrumental in the development of Rusty and Sam. Prior to reading McCloud’s book, my characters lacked “heart” – they didn’t have some sort of internal desire that drove them. They had personalities, but no heart. It was only after reading this book that something clicked and I understood what Scott McCloud was trying to say. From there on, I defined a character’s want and would use it as a guide when doing my writing.
The third part of the book discusses words, sound effects, and their use in a comics story. Chapter four of Making Comics goes into the basics of world building and why it’s important (most notably why many neophytes skimp on details). The fifth part goes into detail on tools, both traditional (like paper, pens, brushes, etc.) and digital (computers, tablets, and so on). Chapter six discusses finding one’s place in comics – exploring the concepts of genre, manga, and different ideas within comics culture. The last chapter wraps up the book nicely and is supplemented by a bibliography.
The book is very informative and fills in many of the gaps that the aforementioned books leave out. In fact, that’s the only downside of the book – and even then, it’s a small one. Anyone looking for a basic drawing book will not find what they need here. This is a bit more advanced and I recommend any novices should brush up first on their basic drawing and writing skills first before tackling this book or any of its exercises. Fortunately, McCloud clues you in on some of his recommended books for drawing, writing, perspective, etc.
While it’s not absolutely necessary, it’s a good idea to read his two previous books mentioned above to understand some of his concepts better.
The verdict? This book is a must-have in any cartoonist’s library. It’s worth the price and then some. Make sure you pick up a copy of Scott McCloud’s Making Comics – you will not regret it.