Four years ago, the talented Jessica Abel and Matt Madden brought us an essential book on how to make comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures. Mastering Comics continues where that book left off, providing, as they term it, “a definitive course in comics narrative”.
This is a topic I’m thrilled to see getting more attention, since the best-looking comics still need to have something to say. The book consists of four substantial sections:
- Building Stories — tools to generate ideas and how to write scripts
- Sharpening Focus — perspective, style, and construction for different platforms
- Black & White and Color; On Paper and on Screen — an unwieldy title for a section about webcomics, lettering, inking, toning, and coloring, either by hand or by computer
- Self-Publishing and Getting Yourself Published — cover design, technology options, and how to get your work in front of readers
As you can see, these are subjects you need to consider to actually put together a comic once you’ve gotten past the basics of drawing. It’s not about producing the work so much as what you do with it to make it professional.
Abel and Madden smartly include a short Preface that answers all the basic questions: the audience the book is aimed for, whether you need to read their previous book (no, but you need to know the basics of making comics), and how they’ve structured the volume, including homework and longer projects. If you follow all the activities, by the end of working your way through the book, you’ll have your own minicomic.
As a non-artist, I found this an invaluable collection of both ideas to generate creativity and in-depth knowledge about the medium. I learned a lot of useful terminology, but more significantly, new ways to think about and analyze comics.
I was impressed with their willingness to acknowledge “the horror of the blank page”, one of the starting points. There are so many good tips in this book, from notes on what can’t be drawn to comments about the need for research to the importance of keeping up with your schedule. They move from sensible basics — such as how to format a script — to key concepts — like how professionals meet their deadlines — confidently and easily.
The book is very well-organized and arranged in such a way that it’s easy to jump just to the sections that interest you or that you need to re-read. There are plenty of informative illustrations to demonstrate the lessons and points. I like how open the authors are to new technologies. They don’t promise to know what the future will bring, but they’re aware that the questions are important to consider and that we’re facing a number of turning points in terms of distribution. It’s also a huge plus that their examples and influences are so diverse.
Don’t take my word for how good this book is — Ben Towle, actual artist and instructor, also praises it highly. As before, the book’s website has more information. (The publisher provided a review copy.)