Drawing Words & Writing Pictures (:01 First Second)

drawing-header.jpgJessica Abel and Matt Madden offer this 16 week classroom-in-a-book on creating comics, offering answers to all the questions that new creators have and wouldn’t think to ask.



304 pages B&W…and orange; $29.95
(W / A: Jessica Abel and Matt Madden)


Drawing Words & Writing Pictures boldly states it’s "a definitive course from concept to comic in 15 lessons." The quote sits on the cover between panels of various comic styles, targeting everyone from DIY zinesters to America’s Next Top Marvel Artist. The book’s greatest strength is that it pulls it off quite well, covering a huge amount of material in a clear, steady-paced, and enjoyable read. It even considers three types of learners along the way; the Classroom Student (who’s using it as a textbook), the Ronin (reading on his own), and Nomads (following the course with friends, outside of a classroom.)

Its authors, Harvey Award winner Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (author of 99 Ways to Tell a Story, a clever, Formalist collection of the same one-page story, told 99 different ways), have distilled their lessons from years of teaching comics into a 16 week classroom-in-a-book, offering answers to all the questions that new creators have and wouldn’t think to ask. Although its designed for beginners, Its not a bad read for anyone interested. I came to it with a heavy shelf of How-To books, a bit of experience making comics, and a BFA in Comics, and I left humbled by their wisdom. (Ever heard of a saddle stapler? I didn’t know what I was missing. Stapling at its finest.)

DW&WP starts off with a quick review of terminology and a reminder that anyone can draw. This is a book about visual storytelling. Not drawing. Good start. Soon readers are making their own single panel gag strip à la the legendary Family Circus. From there, a newspaper style comic strip, then a page, moving towards a full comic. As more elements and challenges are introduced, the authors encourage students to carefully consider the many decisions in tools, technique and theory that they’ll have to make, with examples from vets like Crumb, Sacco, and Ware, as well as new, original work by the authors. Pencils, inks, paneling, narrative style, composition, character design, life drawing, word balloons, scanning, and Photoshop are all covered at various lengths, but beyond that, readers are asked to explore the relationship between words and pictures, how time and space are represented on a page, and how different approaches to storytelling are experienced by a reader.

One section on panel design presents you with a made-up scene and asks you to consider the framing, blocking, acting, and mise-en-scene when setting up a panel for the scene’s pivotal moment. Turn the page, and you find "60 Panels that just might work" (built on Wally Wood’s "22 Panels that always work") with notes about how each is unique and why you might choose it.

The writing style is casual for a textbook, occasionally humorous. Abel and Madden pop-up occasionally in comic format with a few other characters to represent the students, giving the book the talking-to-you feel.

Its companion website (http://dw-wp.com/) is pretty good, but they place such a strong emphasis on learning with your peers that I expected it to have some sort of forum/community aspect, where people could compare work and talk about their progress. There are teacher resources and some student work, but its pre-selected and probably not likely to update frequently. But c’mon, they can’t do everything for you.

This, along with Lynda Barry’s creativity-oozing What It Is from a few months back are two of the best additions to instructional comics in years. DW&WP isn’t going to be replacing Will Eisner’s Comics & Sequential Art or Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, but its worth a spot on the shelf next to them. | Nick Main


Click here to read a whopping 21-page excerpt of Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, courtesy of :01 First Second!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply