Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Creating Comics: A Recommended Reading List

Like the 61 Awesome Online Comics blog I posted the other day this post springs out of a few conversations I've had recently where I was asked to recommend some good books on how to write comics, how to draw comics and how to create better comics. Now I'm no expert at making comics or breaking into the industry obviously (Duh! Where's my publishing empire?) and there are a squillion-and-twelve books (I counted) on drawing, writing and creating comics, but for those who care here's the short list of the books I've read that I think are especially good.

Caveat: The best way to learn about making comics is to make your own comics. The best way to get published is to make your own comics. The best way to make great comics is to keep making comics. But I reckon some instruction along the way helps, right? And some very wise people wrote their advice down into books what you can read. So....


Entry Level 

How to Draw and Sell Comic Strips - Alan McKenzie
This is where you start. This book. This book is your one-stop shop for all the essential information on every step in a comic's production from the bare basics on up. How to write a script, how to translate that script into drawings, how to tell a story, what tools to use, how to letter, how to colour, how to pitch and get published, how to self-publish. If you want a solid foundation in comics history and creation this it. 

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way - Stan Lee & John Buscema
Now if you're an artist who wants to know how to draw comics then here's your perfect Beginner's Guide. Now this book is somewhat sneered at ("Fmeh! Who wants to draw comics the Marvel way?") but imagine the book was called "How To Draw Comics The John Buscema Way" and you'd be a fool to turn your nose up at a masterclass by a class master of comic art. Yes, its basically written for kids and yes written to encompass those who can't draw (yet) and those are its strengths as it takes you from the bare basics of shape and form all the way up to dynamic storytelling and composition through anatomy and perspective and all points inbetween.

Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels - Peter David
And here's one for aspiring writers. David's writing - both in prose and comics fiction - is gripping, entertaining and funny and so it is equally here in the realm of non-fiction. in this superb book he covers generating ideas, creating characters, conflict and themes, plot and structure and scripting interspersed with anecdotes, tips, exercises and illustrated examples and all presented in a very entertaining and readable way.


Intermediate Level

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art - Scott McCloud
Reinventing Comics - Scott McCloud
Making Comics - Scott McCloud
McCloud's three books here really are as good as you've heard. With Understanding Comics he dissects the art, form and psychology of comics; with Reinventing Comics he plots their evolution, revolutions and future and with Making Comics he details the principals, process and techniques of creating comics - and its all done in the form of comics not as text books. Brilliant, fascinating and essential to anyone who reads, creates or studies comics. To be honest if you're reading this and you've not read these yet then you really are failing at being you. You're dead to me. *Fredo kiss*  


Advanced Level

Comics and Sequential Art - Will Eisner
Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative - Will Eisner
Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative - Will Eisner
Eisner should need no introduction and these books are universally heralded as essential demonstrations of the  principals, methods and techniques of comics narrative, art and storytelling. Eisner is a legend and was an innovator, a master and a teacher of the medium, so when when he talks you listen and pay attention. Also, make notes and no chewing! These are definitive texts and there's not much more to add other than to reiterate that I wouldn't recommend these to beginners. While lavishly illustrated with numerous examples of Eisners brilliant work, they are quite formal in presentation and are very much educational texts - not that that's a criticism, on the contrary, but I'd say they aren't best for beginners. 


Further Reading

Alan Moore's Writing For Comics - Alan Moore
This ones more inspirational than instructional and is formed of two essays - one lengthy fanzine piece written by Moore in 1985 (circa Watchmen and The Killing Joke) and a second follow-up piece twenty years later written for this book. fascinating reading - especially as Moore debunks himself in the second essay and its fun to contrast and compare the advice of the hairy demi-god as much as it is his work. Moore is arguably the greatest writing talent in the history of the medium so when he talks about the craft of writing you should pay attention. Also worth mentioning is that this is a very slim book - its just a bound essay rather than an actual book - but its also the most affordable on this list.

Writers on Comics Scriptwriting - Mark Salisbury
Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2 - Tom Root & Andrew Kardon 
Artists on Comics Art - Mark Salisbury
These books are some of the most moorish books I've ever read. Basically what you get here is a wealth of interviews as top writers and artists discuss their history and process in creating comics. Bucket-loads of tips, advice and anecdotes and invaluable examples of scripts and art in various stages.

The Art Of Comic Book Inking - Gary Martin with Steve Rude
This is the book that puts the "inkers are just tracers" joke and buries in the ground. Deep. Whether you're an artist looking for tips and advice or whether you're just a fan who loves looking at comics art this is a brilliant and gorgeous book. Essentially a whole host of artists ink the same few pages of pencils and discuss their process. The idea is simple and the results are fantastic as you contrast and compare the styles of the numerous artists and differences between them - and this is what chokes the 'tracers' gag as each artists inked page is clearly unique to them. Inkers are not tracers; they're snowflakes. (awwwwww!) Originally published in two volumes this is now available as a both-in-one book which includes eight full-sized art boards of blue-line pencils by Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Steve Rude, Terry Dodson, Brent Anderson, Adam Warren and Randy Green to ink yourself.


And there you go. That's my recommended reading list to you, now what do you recommend to me? I've just bought Comic Book Design by Gary Spencer Millidge and flicking through it looks brilliant - what else is out there? Tweet me up right nice and let me know.


  1. Some great choices there Lee, (Have a few) have you also seen `Writing and illustrating the graphic novel: everything you need to know to create great graphic works' by Mike Chinn?


  2. No, Simon, I've never heard of that one - I shall check it out.