- Posted by Johanna on February 18, 2009 at 8:00 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: by Nat Gertler and Steve Lieber
- PUBLISHER: Alpha Books; $18.95 US
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.)
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.