*The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel — Recommended

Don’t be put off by the title to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel. There’s a lot more useful information in this guidebook than there is in those with flashier monikers. That’s because of the talent behind the content. It’s co-written by Nat Gertler, who runs About Comics and handles the sections on writing and publishing, and Steve Lieber, Eisner Award-winning illustrator of Whiteout, Batman, and Hawkman, who covers the art chapters. (For the chapter on coloring, they turn to the accomplished Tom Luth.)

The Complete Idiots Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel cover
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to
Creating a Graphic Novel
Buy this book

Major sections cover planning a graphic novel, writing it, layout and drawing, finishing (ink, colors, lettering, both hand and digital), and publication (submitting to publishers, choosing a printer, handling distribution). For a live example, the authors create a chapter of a graphic novel called The Big Con, set at a comic convention. The sidebars cover definitions, tips, and recommended further reading. They also allow the co-authors to add notes to each other’s chapters, for a different perspective. (This interview with Gertler includes the table of contents.)

The breezy, humorous tone is readable while not skimping on useful information. The opening chapter tackles the huge question of what a graphic novel is and adds in “why would you want to tell your story in that format instead of some other medium?” The answers provided are some of the best I’ve seen to that labyrinthine query. They do an excellent job of acknowledging various opinions fairly without getting bogged down in arguments.

That approach also assists in balancing the question of solo creation vs. collaboration. Note that although the workflow sequence is broken down into the traditional big-publisher assembly line buckets, the authors acknowledge that their readers might be working solo or in different combinations. The breakdown of tasks aids in organization, making the book suitable for all kinds of genres and creators. They even provide advice on how to evaluate and select contributors. Even though some creators may tackle the process in more integrated fashion, breaking it into specific tasks makes the whole thing easier to explain clearly.

The authors don’t play favorites, acknowledging the strengths of different approaches and seeing value in art comics, superheroes, and everything in between. I was surprised at how much I learned, especially in the art sections. I found out how to better put into words why one particular panel arrangement is better than another, based on clear principles. The art sections also cover tools, both traditional (pens, templates, erasers) and digital (computer programs), and recommend more reading on basic topics in much more depth. The chapter on art style, especially, covers a history of newspaper strips as reference points for different looks and made me want to seek out many classic reprints.

This is not the only book you’ll need to succeed at creating a graphic novel, because you’ll want to learn more about key areas of craft (such as theme development or drawing anatomy). This is an overview, not an encyclopedia, but as such, it’s an excellent first start.


8 Responses to “*The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel — Recommended”

  1. Dave Says:

    Isn’t this about five years old?

  2. Johanna Says:

    Yes, but it’s still in print, and it’s still full of good advice.

  3. Scott Bieser Says:

    As many of us in the past five years have learned to our chagrin, the hard part is not creating a graphic novel, it’s marketing the damn thing.

  4. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Feb. 19, 2009: Your corporate overlords Says:

    [...] [Review] The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel Link: Johanna Draper Carlson [...]

  5. Shojo Beat’s Manga Artist Academy » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] for example, Scott McCloud’s Making Comics or The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel. These books emphasize having a story to tell, learning to draw well, and similar basics of [...]

  6. I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    [...] skill, for example. Nat Gertler, whom you may know from his comic-related writing on such titles as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel and Panel Two, participates actively as a Peanuts historian. There’s a lot of interesting [...]

  7. The Peanuts Collection: Treasures From the World’s Most Beloved Comic Strip » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Nat is quite active in the comics world as both a creator and a publisher. If you haven’t read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel (co-written with Steve Lieber), you should. And if you’re a Charles Schulz fan, you need to [...]

  8. Progress Report 1: Progress on the Project so far… « graphicnoveladventure Says:

    [...] any experience with lettering.  At first, I just planned to use a computer font to do it, but in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel, there is a chapter on lettering, in which they show an example:  the same text in the same panel [...]




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