Art Instruction Roundup 12.09

workbook-header.jpgA look at three new instructional how-to-draw books aiming to teach you how to handle adorable animals, wide-eyed manga kids, and burly superheroes.



Drawing Manga: Animals, Chibis and Other Adorable Creatures (Watson-Guptill)

160 pgs., color; $21.99

(W & A : J.C. Amberlyn)


The Manga Artist’s Workbook (Potter Style)

160 pgs, 2-color; $15.99

(W & A: Christopher Hart)


Superheroes and Beyond: How to Draw the Leading and Supporting Characters of Today’s Comics (Watson-Guptill)

160 pgs., color; $21.99

(W & A: Christopher Hart)



One of the things I like best about the manga/comics/graphic novels world is the fact that so many of the consumers are also practitioners. Doujinshi are a solid tradition in the manga world, of course, but in my experience it’s the rare comics fan who doesn’t try his or her hand at creating their own work or at least copying the style of their favorite artists (Pete Hamill started by tracing Bomba the Jungle Boy comics and he hasn’t done too badly in his career).  So here are reviews of a few new books intended for people who want to learn to draw specific types of comics. Bear in mind that my experiences in the field have remained strictly within my sketchbook, and so I’m reviewing these books from the perspective of someone who likes to draw a bit but has never studied art formally and is hardly an expert on the topic.

Drawing Manga: Animals, Chibis and Other Adorable Creatures takes the basic approach of breaking down typical cartoon characters into basic shapes superimposed on a grid system. The oval head with eyes and mouth an eye-width apart is applied to cats, mice and elephants, for instance, which become the species in question through the addition of ears, whiskers, etc.  J.C. Amberlyn begins with simple drawings that even a child (or untalented adult!) can easily follow and includes detailed examples of specific body parts such as eyes and feet as well as examples of making a character come alive through action and gesture.  The sections on chibis shows how to take any drawing and change the proportions to make it chibi, and a section on mascots includes advice for coming up with unique characters.

Amberlyn also includes sections on drawing creatures based on real animals and on mythological and supernatural manga creatures; the latter is more of a reference section since the art is much more complex while including fewer breakdowns of how to draw the creatures, and also includes a discussion of the significance of each creature in Japanese folklore. A final section discusses creating individual drawings and manga pages using computer software: it’s too brief for an absolute beginner but a useful review of the steps involved if you’re going to draw on paper, scan in the image, then manipulate it in Photoshop or Corel Painter, and she shows what the art looks like at each stage to give you an idea of what is possible. Of the three books presented here, this one is the most useful and least intimidating for the raw beginner, while it’s also the book of choice if you want to learn how to draw cute characters (if you don’t, it’ll probably make you break out in hives).

The Manga Artist’s Workbook differs from other books which teach manga style not in the content, which is standard and well-presented, but in the format of the book itself. The Workbook is spiral bound and meant to be used while lying flat on a table: the upper page gives directions for a particular type of drawing while the lower page is the workbook section where you reproduce the drawing in question. Tracing paper and graph paper are bound into the book so you don’t need anything but a pencil and eraser to use it and it has a hard backing and wrap-around cover so you can throw it in your bag and work on your manga on the beach or airplane or wherever. Some of the work book pages include basic outlines of the drawings, giving you a head start.

Christopher Hart, who has written many popular art instructional books (including Drawing Witches, Wizards and Warlocks) uses the standard method of breaking down each type of figure into basic geometric elements and using proportions (the mouth falls about halfway between the eyeline and the bottom of the chin, women’s shoulders and hips are the same width) to guide the novice artist. He covers the usual topics: heads, eyes, hands and full-body poses, plus guidance about adding details to make your characters individual and specific. A raw beginner may be a little intimidated by how quickly this book advances into complex drawings, and you’ll probably need a sketchbook of your own and/or more tracing paper to work on the exercises if you’re just starting to draw. But for someone who is already a good draftsman or is just brimming with talent it’s a great way to get into the shoujo/shonen manga style: the characters you learn to draw are mostly variants on teenagers as schoolboys and schoolgirls, magic girls, fantasy fighters, etc.

Superheroes and Beyond: How to Draw the Leading and Supporting Characters of Today’s Comics, also by Hart, is a more conventional art instruction book which, as the title suggests, shows how to draw superheroes and other action figures. It assumes more experience with drawing than the other two books presented here, but for someone who has mastered the basics it gives a well-organized presentation of how to draw some popular variations on the good guys and bad guys of action comics. A word to the wise, particularly those of you with daughters interested in drawing: the mentality of this book is frozen in the 1950’s where women are "gals" and "chicks" whose primary reason for being included at all is their exaggerated sexual characteristics. OK, many who work in that genre may be of a similar mentality but I thought I should warn you anyway.

Hart’s presentation in this book also breaks down figures into geometric parts and proportions but on a more advanced level and with lots more finished drawings relative to the number which are drawn in sequence. He includes more art theory information as well, covering topics such as foreshortening, body dynamics, action lines and types of lighting which you must master to get the look favored in action comics. He includes examples of many different "types" (mecha bad guy, vampire chick, lizard commander) as well as a discussion of several comic book elements with good and bad examples of each: laying out splash pages, placement of speech balloons and captions, panel sequencing, and locations. For an intermediate artist with an interest in drawing action comics, this is an excellent overview of the topic. | Sarah Boslaugh



Click here for a preview of Drawing Manga: Animals, Chibis, and Other Adorable Creatures, courtesy of Random House.


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