How to Draw Comics (Chicago Review Press)

One of the most attractive features of How to Draw Comics is the way it integrates practical advice with theoretical explanations.

128 pgs., color; $16.99

(W & A: ILYA)

There are lots of books on the market offering an introduction to comics (or graphic storytelling, or sequential art, to cite two other names sometimes applied to this type of work). Some, such as Christopher Hart’s many books, are explicitly instructional, focusing on details like how to draw individual facial features or specific types of characters. Others, also aimed at aspiring creators, focus on higher-level features like graphic storytelling, and yet others, like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, develop theories about how comics work.

ILYA’s How To Draw Comics is explicitly instructional, as the title suggests, and takes a mid-level approach to the creation of comics. That is, it offers examples, exercises, and templates aimed at helping an aspiring comics artist develop his or her own style, and discusses basics such as choosing the tools you will use to draw (pencils, ink, digital drawing tablets, etc.). However, it also offers advice on higher-level matters like how to develop an idea into a completed comic, as well as some analysis of specific panels and sequences and a more general discussion of how comics communicate to the reader.

One of the most attractive features of How to Draw Comics is the way it integrates practical advice with theoretical explanations. To take a simple example, ILYA points out that in the Western world, we read left to right, and thus action within a frame should generally move in that direction. Similarly for speech balloons: the order in which the characters speak generally flows from left to right, the pattern to which your eyes have become accustomed. But there are exceptions to every rule, and he provides examples of when such rules may be broken. He also offers practical advice about matters such as creating speech balloons, including where to place them in the frame and how large the balloon should be, which is exactly the kind of thing you don’t notice when it’s done right, but will definitely notice if it’s done wrong.

Although it includes some practical exercises, How to Draw Comics is not the best book for someone wanting to learn to draw comics from scratch. However, if you want to get an understanding of how comics work, along with some background about the history of comics and different styles in use today, then it’s a very useful book indeed. Even if you aren’t interested in creating your own comics, you may find this volume worthwhile reading for the background information and analysis of different aspects of comic art. It’s also a lot of fun to read, and as it is set up like a comic book, it embodies many of the principles it discusses.

ILYA is the pseudonym of British comics writer, artist, and editor Ed Hillyer. He has worked in the business for more than 30 years, for Marvel, DC, Kodansha, and other publishers. You can see some of his work here and see a preview of How to Draw Comics here. | Sarah Boslaugh


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