This highly illustrated instructional guidebook, a well organized and supportive sequel to Drawing Words, includes exercises, lesson plans, descriptions, digressions, and nods to their stated multiple audiences of artists, teachers, and students. In the preface, authors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden state that the guidebook is intended for readers “who are serious enough to care about how artistic decisions influence the narrative itself (xi).” They indicate that the elements of “artistic choices about perspective, color, composition, and even inking tools can inform the reading experience (xi).” I found their discussions on these elements of great value and was equally impressed with the helpful background material on web comics and mini-comics. Most importantly, however, while I am a comic book reader and not a creator, I never felt lost or overloaded with the vast amount of information offered in this volume. Other valuable elements are helpful hints on self-publishing for new artists and authors in the field and examples from a wide variety of published works, as well as their own material, that effectively illustrate the lessons and activities being discussed. There was always a consistent feeling that the reader was in the hands of reliable, relatable, and resourceful mentors.

Special features, familiar to readers of the first volume, include resources for further reading, tip boxes, and a treasure trove of appendices, bibliographies, and a glossary of terms that could be found in both in this volume and on the companion website: The dynamic index, also included in the book, covers both volumes of the book.

The authors focus on readers who essentially have a firm background in creating comic books and are interested in proceeding further in their endeavours. This reviewer, while neither skilled in writing or drawing comic books, still found this volume to be of great value. It is a book that I could easily dip in piece-meal to the sections I wished to explore or re-read and it offered all sorts of a-hah moments for me to contemplate.

Throughout my reading, I highlighted numerous comments and reminders for me as a teacher and reviewer of comic books. I’ll be able to use these insights in presentations to those who are still skeptical about the validity of the format. “This visual understanding crosses cultural and historical boundaries as well. A child will recognize an image of a bird whether it’s in a twelfth-century tapestry or a crayon drawing by another child from the others side of the planet (4).” I appreciated the authors’ reminder that people do need to know how to write and be confident about spelling, grammar, and syntax to be a successful and effective comic book creator. This volume does not focus on these writing skills, but offers resources to those who wish to pursue them further.

Their discussions on the uses of color for realism, symbolism, and readability that prefaced their information about basic color theory, computer colouring, and preparing the colors for the print and the web are effective and welcome to me as a reader of comics as well. The guidebook also provides lessons on hand coloring, painted comics, and comic book covers. All in all, this book is a treasure trove of information about visualizing and making and reading comics in all shapes and sizes.

Mastering Comics: Drawing Words and Writing Pictures Continued
by Jessica Abel, Matt Madden
ISBN: 9781596436176
First Second, 2012

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta


    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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