Shoujo Art Studio

When I first heard about this book, I was both intrigued and concerned. I was interested in knowing what kind of art advice would be aimed specifically at those creating manga for girls, but I was also worried that targeting such a book was putting too much emphasis on the wrong things. Shojo is a measure of audience, not a genre, after all. The first sentences of the introduction set my fears at rest:

Shoujo Art Studio cover
Shoujo Art Studio
Buy this book

In the West, we’ve come to view shoujo as a way of talking about certain styles of manga and anime — those concerned with relationships and character development — but in Japan, it just means aimed at girls. This means there are no limits to what it can depict, or what you can choose to write and draw about.

Unfortunately, the content of the rest of the book doesn’t really support that statement. The book is really selling templates. The included CD contains character line art, page layouts, word balloons, speedlines, tones, backgrounds, and accessories. You use the art, and you can build manga without drawing much yourself. It’s a print version of something like Tokyopop Manga Creator. Again, from the introduction:

We have done most of the hard work for you… It’s as simple as selecting the look you want, assembling the sections of line art you like, and then transplanting your finished creations into one of the provided page layouts.

“Creation” seems a bit optimistic, given how little actual work the “creator” is doing, but maybe that’s how the word has been redefined in today’s cut-and-paste remix world.

The book is well-designed and easy-to-read, with brightly colored page backgrounds and lots of short text paragraphs with headers to help you find information, but the content is slight. The first 67 pages show you how to use the CD files to create digital manga, which is a huge topic for that short space, especially when (for example) two pages is given over to explaining that you need a mouse, the internet, a printer, and maybe a scanner.

The CD files are in PSD (Photoshop) format, so you’ll need some version of that program. You turn various layers on and off to give the characters different expressions or poses and resize them for closeups. There’s no information on writing — creating an interesting story, figuring out character motivations, or the like — only assembling pre-provided elements to build pages. Although there are 16 pages on coloring, including basic color theory.

The second half of the book is a catalog of the images available on the CD. I’m reminded of the 70s toy Fashion Plates, where you could “design high-fashion outfits” by mixing and matching raised templates and then doing charcoal rubbings. It wasn’t particularly creative then, and it’s not any more so now that it uses a computer instead of plastic plates.

After reading this instruction set, I’m also not sure what makes it specifically “shoujo”, unless it’s an emphasis on typical schoolgirl love stories. In contrast to the optimistic opening, all of the examples use that kind of premise and character look.

I’m fascinated by the book design — I don’t know why they made the CD such a prominent part of the cover, but it does reinforce for the customer that it’s included and its importance. Maybe they wanted the reader to be sure to see the line “Read the enclosed License Agreement before using any image on this disc.” Surprisingly, by my reading, the license does allow you to use the provided material for commercial efforts (so long as it’s not pornographic or obscene); you just can’t redistribute the libraries.

(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)


3 Responses to “Shoujo Art Studio”

  1. steve B. Says:

    I remember Fashion Plates. My sister had it. There was also a boy’s version, Monster Plates.

  2. David Oakes Says:

    Ah yes, “Mighty Men and Monster Maker”.

    Featuring art design by none other than Dave Stevens! (Oh, if I had only known at the time. But childhood is blessed with ignorance…)

  3. Shonen Art Studio » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] companion book to last year’s Shoujo Art Studio is now available. Like that, this is a combination clip art CD and image catalog, with some […]

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