The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics

The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics

I was a bit snarky about this title when it was announced, mentioning how there were previous books in this line covering the individual aspects of corporate comic book production (as well as a book on creating digitally). However, I realized that some of those books are more than a decade old, so it’s probably a good idea to bring out a more current volume.

Then I read The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics, and I realized that what this volume aims to do is completely different from the previous titles (which are referenced and recommended in this one). Instead of “how to” advice, it’s more about “why”, and I found it a highly educational read, full of good observations about comic construction and structural techniques. There is a ton of really solid information in this book, including the basis of a shared vocabulary (taken in equal parts from Understanding Comics and film phrasing). If more creators followed the advice given here, we wouldn’t have some of the confusing-to-read superhero comics we do. As a critic, the concepts help me better understand when something is well- (or poorly) constructed and why.

The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics

The art samples focus on today’s Jim Lee-influenced action poses and modern character designs, including the tendency to aim them out of the page directly at the reader, as shown on the cover. Lee also provides a foreword praising author Carl Potts as his “mentor and art guru”. It’s nice to see that the internal art examples are credited, although most of them say “composed using art assets from DC Comics Style Guides”, which isn’t really informative. They demonstrate the points, but they’re basically clip art. That’s possibly because you don’t want to put a known artist’s name on examples of “what not to do”, and the assets allow for manipulation for comparison purposes.

Potts’ introduction explains a bit of his background (a good choice — it’s tough to take instruction from someone without knowing their bona fides) and sets out some educational aims, to teach readers how to “tell clear, compelling, and entertaining comic book and graphic novel stories, communicate effectively with their collaborators, think their way out of creative problems when instinct fails, and see new ways of approaching visual storytelling scenarios”. Those are good goals, although subtly reinforcing that this is a book most aimed at someone working within a corporate structure designed to publish action-oriented comics. Lots of people dream about that, instead of telling their own, more personal stories, of course. I do like his emphasis on sequential visual storytelling as a craft, as captured in the book’s subtitle, “Inside the Art of Visual Storytelling”, even as I found the separation of the roles of writer and artist in the text a reminder of the assembly-line job division.

There’s a lot of philosophy in the early pages, providing a theoretical basis for Potts’ concepts. Readers may find this kind of analysis eye-opening and thought-provoking, particularly if they’ve only previously read craft-oriented “how to” books. My favorite pages were those where Potts took recent art pages and captioned them with his observations, since he gleans a lot from the images.

Hugely helpful for young artists is the last section of the book, in which three artists — Whilce Portacio, Bill Reinhold, and Phil Jimenez — each take the same three-page Batman plot and break it down, providing comments about the choices they made. These glimpses inside the artists’ heads are incredibly helpful, as though briefly apprenticing with them. Potts concludes the section, and the book, by providing his own breakdowns and analysis. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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