I’ve had some requests for booklists for learning comics. I posted this list in 2006. I’ll update it later but for now, here it is:
WRITING first, then
COMICS and CRAFT
Peter Elbow: Writing Without Teachers
“The core of Elbow’s thinking is a challenge against traditional writing methods. Instead of editing and outlining material in the initial steps of the writing process, Elbow celebrates non-stop or free uncensored writing, without editorial checkpoints first, followed much later by the editorial process. This approach turns the focus towards encouraging ways of developing confidence and inspiration through free writing, multiple drafts, diaries, and notes. Elbow guides the reader through his metaphor of writing as “cooking:” his term for heating up the creative process where the subconscious bubbles up to the surface and the writing gets good.”
On Directing Film
Penguin USA (Paper); ISBN: 0140127224
Bold , straightforward and maybe shortsighted book on making a film, from the idea to the “shot list”, which Mamet refers to as the linchpin that a movie is going to be made from. Their is no better description (told in essay form and also transcribed dialogues with his students) of how to proceed from an idea to a nononsense visual, dramatci rendtion of that idea. The book is a perfect expression in its goal to outline the thinking steps involved in planning out a scene or series of scenes. Where Mamet falters, in my opinion is his dismisall and disreagrd of film as a VISUAL, EXPRESSIVE medium. For Mamet, all the expression lies in the script and in the SHOT LIST. Even his use of actors (as people who just get up, hit their marks and say their lines and shut up) is extreme. Nonetheless, he is completely selfassured of his points of view, and in learning his method of outlining a scene before beginning the filming or drawing, I can’t imagine a better explication.
John Gardner: The Art of Fiction
“The Art of Fiction is a ‘how to’ guide for the neophyte who wants to sharpen his writing skills. Its author, the late John Gardner, was not only an accomplished writer but a teacher as well, having been a veteran of many a fiction workshop. Gardner’s teaching experience led him to concentrate on technique as a means to successful fiction writing. His book is a collection of do’s and don’ts for the young writer, supplemented with examples of the right and wrong ways of writing. Above all, Gardner believed that practice makes perfect, and he has included numerous writing exercises for those who wish to improve. Gardner may be naïve in concluding that anyone who wants to write can, but his optimistic teaching approach is infectious and is sure to encourage those who until now have been too shy to try.” Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
Milan Kundera: The Art of the Novel
From the publisher: “Kundera brilliantly examines the work of such important and diverse figures as Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Musil. He is especially penetrating on “perhaps the least known of all the great novelists of our time,” Hermann Broch, and his exploration of the world of Kafka’s novels vividly reveals the comic terror of Kafka’s bureaucratized universe. Kundera’s discussion of his own work includes his views on the role of historical events in fiction, the meaning of action, and the creation of character in the postpsychological novel. His reflections on the state of the modem European novel are as witty, original, and far-reaching as his fiction.”
I was most thrilled by his constant discussion of polyphony, that is, the novel structured like symphony, of many threads and movements working in concert.
Kenneth Atchity: A Writer’s Time
There are so many great things about this book. It gives the best convincing case for the two poles of creating: the wild, loose, surprising subconsicous side, and the smart, editorial side. It gives you tools to access both at the right time. He adds tools to construct narratives and finally covers organizing one’s time on a project. Indispensible.
For A New Novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet
“Here is a collection of critical essays about the so-called New Novel, the quite frankly bizarre genre that sent shockwaves through the French literary community back in the ’50s, as interpreted by one of its foremost practitioners. Anyone who found themselves gazing blankly at the pages of Robbe-Grillet’s “Jealousy” will at least get a general idea of the New Novel from this book.” (Amazon customer)
That review sucks. Robbe-Grillet says, why is a novel always about character and setting and conflict? Isn’t it about language? Isn’t our human symbology deeper than our previous novels have allowed us to be? What do words mean? What does a chair mean? What does a shaft of light mean? What do words describe. What does it mean to the reader?
Read this book! What are you- chicken? – TH
The Writer’s Journey: Dramatic Structure for Storytellers
Overview of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” ideas and their use in Hollywood storytelling. Though simplistic, it is surprisingly useful if used correctly, meaning not as formula, but as dramatic tools. Outlines a series of 12 steps in many stories exemplified by Wizard of Oz but also evident in Titanic and surprisingly, even Tarentino’s Pulp Fiction. Though personally, I think comics are much more than dramatic stories told with pictures, it does a good job of cracking open the traditional story structure and peeking inside. You can see the effects of this kind of thinking, if not the book itself, in some of the best and worst films out there.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
campbell: ISBN: 0691017840
Seminal and definitive look at world mythology and the “shared stories” therein. From African mythology, to Norse, to American Indian, the elements of myths are often similar. Campbell outlines these and as such, furthers Jung’s mapping of humanity’s unconscious hopes, desires and fears.
The Art of Dramatic Writing
A seminal 20th century book on playwriting, and the introduction to the “dramatic statement” inherent in any play, the book is very instructive in looking at the elements of your story and examining which are contributing to the greater theme, and which are not. Like David Mamet’s book, it has little room for other opinions of how drama is constructed but certainly presents its own thesis cearly and completely.
COMICS and CRAFT
Blackbeard, Bill :
Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics
Essential introduction to the comic strips of the early 20th century.
L’ Association Editors:
Essential cross section (2000 pages) of silent comics from across the globe. Countless examples of innovative silent storytelling .
Perspective for Comic Book Artists
Both an introduction and comprehensive course in perspective tailored specifically for Comic Book artists (and told in comics form.) People that don’t know persepctive will finally learn what they’ve been doing right. Even those that think they know perspective will probably walk away with their heads spinning and full of new insights. Exhaustive and somewhat confusing if you don’t want to do the math.
Kitchen Sink Press; ISBN: 006097625X
Comprehensive examination of the mechanics of the art form; from an examination and mapping of iconograph imagery to an new nomenclature for transistions between comic panels (and a mapping of those as well.) Great overview and introduction to the intellectual tools involved in creating comics.
Poorhouse Pr; ISBN: 0961472820
From the publsiher: “A companion to Comics & Sequential Art, this book takes the principles examined in that title and applies them to the process of graphic storytelling. Eisner shows comic artists, filmmakers and graphic designers how to craft stories in a visual medium. They’ll also learn why mastering the basics of storytelling is far more important than the hollow flash and dazzle seen in lesser work. Readers will learn everything from the fine points of graphic storytelling to the big picture of the comics medium, including how to: * Use art that enhances your story, rather than obscuring it * Wield images like narrative tools * Write and illustrate effective dialogue * Develop ideas that can be turned into dynamic stories These lessons and more are illustrated with storytelling samples from Eisner himself along with other comic book favorites, including Pulitzer Prizewinner Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Milton Caniff and Al Capp. ”
Comics and Sequential Art
Poorhouse Pr; ISBN: 0961472812
Taken from Amazon.Com reader reviews: “Written years before Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics,” Eisner expounds upon how comics are a visual, reading experience using both words and pictures. He instructs the reader in how words and pictures can be used together to tell a story. The author must lead the reader with visual clues to each sequential immage. Mood, emotion, even time can be expressed visually in a comic. Camera angles, panel borders, typefaces, all play a part in the effectiveness of a story.
Eisner gives plenty of examples of his work to illustrate his ideas. Most significant are his “Hamlet,” “Life on Another Planet,” and several “Spirit” works. Looking at this really helps the reader see how creatively a story can be told.
Also included in this book are examinations of the various types of work a comic illustrator can do, including storyboards and instruction manuals.
This book, and its sequel “Graphic Storytelling,” are must reading for anyone who wants to create comics, and good reading for anyone who wants to understand them better.
The Art of Comic Book Inking
Pretty good introduction to inking tools and concepts/. Especially good and identifying methods of implying shade and wreight on a human figure. A number of variations on the same pencils by differing comic book inking pros offers a good look at many ways a page can be successfully inked.
Matt Madden: 99 Ways to Tell a Story
“Retelling the same one-page comic 99 different ways sounds boring, but Madden, a leading proponent of the value of formalist exercises, demonstrates how well boundaries can drive creativity, inspired by the similar work of Raymond Queneau. A new discovery awaits the reader on every page. The basic scene is a nonstory about a man who forgets why he’s looking in the refrigerator. In the variations, new elements are introduced and removed: different characters, more panels, fewer closeups, flashbacks, text-only or a focus on sound or color effects. Madden acknowledges the history of the medium with allusions to various genres and characters (including the Yellow Kid, Krazy Kat and Winsor McCay’s Rarebit Fiend). Favorites include a how-to on building a comic, a palindromic story that reads the same backward and forward, and a calligram (with text formed into a question mark shape). The book’s format is ideal, with each page of comics facing a small identifying label, so approaches don’t compete with each other, yet pages placed in sequence add up to another narrative. Anyone interested in comics or storytelling will learn much about the interaction between format and content through comparison of Madden’s many ingenious approaches.” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)