Part 20 of an intermittent series where I read or re-read the writing books on my shelf to see if they’re worth keeping. See previous part here
This time round (and next) I’m talking books about comics. It’s been a long-held desire of mine to write for comics (friendly editors take note.) Seven Deadly Swords first iteration was a comic script (and I worked with an artist, but nothing came of it.) So over the years I’ve accumulated a few ‘writing for comics’ texts. I’ve split them into two categories – for comic creators and for comic writers. I’ll cover most of the comic creator ones in this blog post (I have one more which is kind of hybrid between creator and writer that I’ll cover in the next review, as I’m reading it next)
First up are books by a giant in the field (There is an award named after him.) But he’s problematic. There’s a character in The Spirit (Eisner’s groundbreaking comic) that is, well, a racist stereotype – see here for some discussion on Ebony White (That particular article argues that Eisner was merely a product of his time. The Wikipedia article on the character I link to above says: “[Eisner] acknowledged that he was conscious at the time that he was using a racial stereotype but remained unapologetic about it”) Eisner is dead, and I certainly didn’t know about this before buying these books several years ago but I’d hesitate to recommend these books at all. Eisner in these rather academic books is speaking to comic creators and it’s a masterclass – i.e. a class for would-be masters – on comics. However as there are other masterclasses (see below) I’d skip these now. I only mention them at all to make you aware that many people will reference these books without mentioning the overt racist angle within.
Much less racist (as far as I know) is Scott McCloud and this is where you should start. McCloud offers a masterclass in every way in these two books for the budding comics creator. If you want to create comics these are essential reading. I prefer Understanding Comics to Making Comics, but purely because I’m not an artist – my interest in comics would be purely scripting, but to be a good scripter you need to understand the art process (imho.) Understanding Comics is a good intro to comics even if you don’t want to be a creator and will help you appreciate the comics you read to a whole new level. If you want the nuts and bolts this is it.
There is a third book by McCloud (which I don’t have) called Reinventing Comics which talks about comics history and the technological advances (web-comics, using computers to create art etc.) that have come recently. I’ve put it on my wish list.
A small picture for a large book. Drawing Words & Writing Pictures by husband and wife duo Jessica Abel & Matt Madden is a more pedagogical approach to making comics. It’s a 15 week Semester of comic tuition in book format, complete with homework and a supporting website. I’d say that if after reading McCloud you’d like to get ink on your hands then move on to this book and follow the course. They run you through how to draw 1 panel, 3 panel, 1 page, and mini-comics. They talk about the tools you need (down to nib type) – how to set up your desk, how to pencil, ink (with pens and with brushes), how to scan your work and lots more. It’s a real hands-on version of what McCloud discusses in Making Comics. There wasn’t very much on story, character and worldbuilding (a chapter on each) but their next book Mastering Comics (the ‘hybrid’ book I’m reading next) promises to be more for the writer although it includes mastering colouring, perspective and ‘harder’ comic techniques than in the first book. My only gripe about these two books is the format. They are long books that don’t fit a bookshelf and I’m not sure they needed to be. That’s a minor gripe – but worth knowing before you fork out any cash on them.
After that I’ll be moving onto the books I have which are How To’s on actually writing scripts. Having had a thorough grounding on what’s involved in drawing comics I’m hoping to get a lot out of them. I’ll be writing a spec script following this (when I can fit it in among the other creative work I’ve got going on.)
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