Who Should Write How-To Books?

Lea Hernandez wants to know: Would you buy a sequel to her how-to book Manga Secrets? I would.

She also hits on a concern that I’ve heard other book writers express, usually confidentially to avoid trouble:

part of my interest here is that the market is still being abused with books by artists good and bad who can’t draw “anime” and “manga” style for sh*t, who came late to the party and can’t get past surface crap.

I have to wonder at some of these titles myself. I’ve been reading comics, and reading about comics, for a good while now. When I see books on “how to draw” by “comic professionals” I’ve never heard of, it raises the question of just how qualified they are to instruct?

Now, I don’t believe that “those who can’t do, teach”, and I respect teaching as a valuable talent in its own right. I’m not saying that a creator should have a million-selling comic before they write a how-to book. (If they have those kinds of sales, much more sensible to keep creating the comics themselves.) But on the other hand, if your only known credit is telling others how to do things… why should I listen to you?

Even those who have long-lasting careers making comics I appreciate can’t necessarily translate those skills to good how-to books. I was disappointed by a recent title from a well-known creator, because it spent too much time telling me, a non-artist, things I already knew while glossing over the basics I wanted to learn more about.

As always, the proof is in the book itself.

9 Responses to “Who Should Write How-To Books?”

  1. Matthew Craig Says:

    I’m still kicking myself for leaving a £3.99 Ben Dunn book on the shelf. I’ve passed on loads of how-to books because they didn’t seem to say much beyond “add crazy hairstyles.” I don’t think you really have to be a veteran comico (or mangaka, etc.) in order to be a good teacher of the form, but…

    …in a funny way, people like that don’t HAVE to write special How-To books, do they? The work itself stands as the exemplar. You pick the thing apart to see how it works.

    I’m rambling, now.


  2. Lea Says:

    Matthew, I think a well-written instruction book can help decode art for people who want to learn.

    Even though I in no way think my instruction is on a par with Scott McCloud’s, look at his work: do you really think you can learn that just by looking at comics.

    And there is a HUGE difference, for example, in copying how an artist draws hands, and being taught a way to draw them that demystifies them and works nearly every time.

  3. Matthew Craig Says:

    You’re right, of course: I am…not entirely brilliant at drawing women, but I’d be ten times worse if it wasn’t for John Buscema (and Stan Lee, natch).

    I didn’t mean “copying” as such, though, as much as approaching things from a forensic standpoint. Taking things apart to see how they work (to paraphrase somebody else).


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  5. Lea Says:

    Matthew: forensics, gotcha. But you gotta be taught how to hold the knife and what you’re looking at.

  6. Allan Says:

    I’ve got a whole shelf sagging under the weight of “how to draw” books. From Loomis to Hogarth, from Buscema to Buckler. I buy every one hoping that this will be the one; the one that has the answer… Of course, none of them do. There comes a time when one has to put away the instruction and just pick up the pencil.

    There’s no better way to learn than to do.

  7. Scott Says:

    I found Denny O’Neill’s DC guide to writing useful exactly because he went over the basics.

    The same for Buscema’s Drawing Comics the Marvel Way.

    On the other hand, I agree that sitting down to the keyboard/picking up the pencil has a lot going for it to as a way to learn.

    Maybe I’ll try that some day…

  8. James Schee Says:

    I agree that there are very odd books out there. I looked at one once that basically said “Draw the figure as shown, congrats you’re an artist now!” with no hints as to how to do so.

    I’m a terrible artist, I can’t make a clear circle or a straight line, much less full figures or what have you.

    One book I am sort of curious about is the DC guide to coloring and lettering. I’d just like to see the procees behind those two jobs.

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