Friday, 19 September 2014

How To Make Awesome Comics - Previews and Reviews

I thought I'd post a few pages of How To Make Awesome Comics here, to give people a taste of the book, and talk a little bit about the thinking that went into it. It's broken into six chapters (plus appendices), the idea being to give a complete step-by-step introduction to all aspects of the comics-making process, in a way that is hopefully approachable, non-terrifying and entirely non-"THIS is how you have to do it!"

Chapter One contains some introductory lessons to warm up and, y'know, BREAK DOWN RESISTANCE. The general message being - have a go! Do it. The lesson I always try to get across in workshops is: don't worry if you think you can't draw, or if some unhelpful person's told you you're no good at it. If you can draw a stick figure, you can draw comics. FACT.

Chapter Two dives right into the fun part, the Coming-Up-With-Ideas part; again, this is all based on what I do in workshops, giving kids just some really easy starting points for stories, to rule out that initial "but I haven't got any ideaaas" reluctance you often find.

Chapter Three gets into a little bit of Comics Theory, covering how the basics of how comics work as well as the slightly wider question of What Is Funny, Anyway? It's kind of my abbreviated take on both Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Aristotle's Poetics - did that sound pompous enough, or should I go on? There are fart jokes.

Chapter Four then goes into the actual How To Draw stuff, using lessons on drawing Robots, Pirates, Dinosaurs and suchlike to (again, hopefully) communicate some of the fundamentals of figure construction and cartooning.

Chapter Five gets into the real nuts-and-bolts of storytelling, how stories work, all that jazz. I started doing this kind of stuff partly as a kind of parody of the absurd reductiveness of all those 'How Stories Work' manuals, from Robert McKee to Joseph Campbell to, I guess, Aristotle again. But I've genuinely found  - and again, it's all from doing workshops - that giving kids this tight basic framework of obviously-kind-of-ridiculous rules to push against is a great way of getting them over those initial hurdles and to the point of having created and finished something.

Chapter Six pulls it all together and is basically an attempt to convince readers how easy it is, nowadays, to actually put something out; to collate and print and publish your own comic. And how fun that can be.

And then you have a bunch of appendices that teach you the really important stuff like how to draw different moustaches, and missile launchers, and that.

Those are what the 'lessons' are concerned with - the other side of the book, and one of the things that was the most challenging in terms of putting it all together, was making sure that those fairly informationally dense strips were balanced out throughout with lots of space - space for the reader's own imagination to spark off, to go off on their own tangents, to put down the book and go off and draw their own comics instead. So we've got a lot of this sort of thing:

Just to reiterate - for parents / teachers / anyone who simply prefers not to scribble all over their nice new book (which apparently is some people) all the exercises / Art Monkey Challenges from the book are available to download and print off from the Phoenix website - along with a whole bunch more, besides.

I've seen some lovely reviews of the book here and there, but really the best part so far is hearing from parents who've got in touch and said that their kids have read it and just gone nuts for making their own comics. That's really the best review I could hope for, right there. 

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