Maker Comics: Build a Robot!

Maker Comics: Build a RobotRobots are all around us, from our vacuums to our phones, so who wouldn’t want to try their hand at making their own? Maker Comics: Build a Robot! guides readers on how to do just that. Readers will finish ready to help the robots in their upcoming revolution against the humans!  

A possibly evil toaster oven named Toaster 2 is the book’s narrator. He’s been watching your family for a while and he’s decided to make you his sidekick in his quest for household domination. In order for that to happen, you will have to go on an intense trip around your house, fending off the forces of evil that also happen to be your family members and pets by constructing your own robots to throw them off your trail. 

Throughout the course of the book, readers learn how to make five different types of robots: a Brushbot, Artbot, Scarebot, Noisybot, and Carbot. Each bot’s creation grows on the skills learned from the previous bot. In addition to the full sized robots, one of the funnier portions of the book includes instructions for a more basic STEM craft called Kitty Distracty Throwies, perfect for, you guessed it, distracting any house cats who might get in your way. 

The cover of Maker Comics: Build a Robot! describes the book as the Ultimate DIY Guide and it does not disappoint. It is clear that author Colleen AF Venable understands the audience she is writing for. Much of the book is full of multi-page instructions, many of which are very word heavy. No piece of information is left out, to ensure that building is done safely and readers understand all that goes into robotics. There are lengthy word bubbles on the Arduino programming language, something readers will learn the basics of as they build the more complicated projects towards the end of the book. 

There are a few pages of what are essentially programming language screenshots and instruction pages on different physical materials required to complete the projects. This book is for readers looking for an intense, thoroughly detailed guide on making robots that they can use in their daily lives. At points, it even reads like a how to guide, as opposed to a graphic novel, so it fully lives up to the Maker Comics title! 

Kathryn Hudson’s art is colorful and very cartoonish, with lots of running jokes about the household where the book is set. Toaster 2’s facial expressions match his dialogue, even as he’s explaining complex topics, reminding readers you are still in fact reading a graphic novel. The artwork for the robot guides themselves is detailed and a great component for visual learners. A book with so many instructions could potentially be repetitive but the vibrancy of the art keeps the reader engaged. 

One important thing to note when considering this title is that in order to follow its instructions, you will need to purchase much more than the book itself. The robots in the book have many working parts, some of which must be purchased in advance online. Venable is sure to include where to purchase these items in the text. Expect and prepare for additional costs with this book. 

The book ends not with Toaster 2’s domination but steps on starting your own robotics club, giving the reader something to consider if they’ve enjoyed all their building so far. Maker Comics: Build a Robot! is recommended for the shelves of readers looking to learn the basics of robotics. While its targeted age range is middle grade readers, there’s a lot of crossover appeal here. Future robotics buffs of all ages will find something worthwhile in this book.

Maker Comics: Build a Robot!
By Colleen AF Venable
Art by  Kathryn Hudson
Macmillan First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781250152169

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)

To Drink and To Eat, vols. 1-2 

Guillaume Long, writer-illustrator of the comic blog À Boire et à Manger for French newspaper Le Monde, collects some of his comics into two volumes. Each comic has a symbol to indicate its category, with a legend at the beginning of the book. Some are recipes with difficulty levels 1, 2, or 3. Others may be restaurant guides, ingredient and cooking tool inventories, and “egotrip”—stories about Long himself, including travelogues. In addition, Long includes cooking tips from “the late Joël Reblochon”; this is presumably a misspelling of Joël Robuchon, a famous French chef who died in 2018. Interestingly enough, Reblochon is a French cheese, so the misspelling may be an intentional nickname.

One highlight is the comics about Pépé Roni, an armchair chef who explains the difference between similarly-named objects. A fun example is, “Don’t confuse work/life balance and work/knife balance.” “Work/life balance” is depicted as a man getting chewed out by his boss, and “work/knife balance” is the same man asleep and dreaming of his boss with a knife in his back. Another one I enjoyed is, “Don’t confuse a mandolin with a mandoline,” which shows someone attempting to play a mandoline slicer like a stringed instrument and, obviously, cutting up their hands. These comics are credited to Mathis Martin in the books’ cataloging-in-publication pages.

Long has a distinctive and funny voice. In one comic, he suggests you use a flyswatter to hit anyone who asks for sugar in their coffee. In another, he portrays the cloud of flour coming out of a mixing bowl as little ghosts. A guide to cooking spaghetti squash first suggests you make Jabba the Hutt out of the squash, then tells you to use your lightsaber to cut it. At times, jokes are weakened in translation. For example, in one comic he says to melt butter “with a little pot,” then shows someone with a joint and clarifies, “No, with a little saucepot.” In English, the joke doesn’t work perfectly, since the original command would likely have been to melt butter “in a little pot,” rather than “with a little pot.” Additionally, a comic falls flat with multiple references to anagrams that were unsolvable in English. One would think these comics that suffer from translation wouldn’t be included in the English editions.

There are other issues that make these books a little hard to digest—no pun intended. At one point, a Black friend asks Long why he doesn’t draw Black people, and he gets visibly uncomfortable and says “I don’t draw Chinese people either. Or Indian people.” Not true; in an earlier comic he goes to a Chinese restaurant where he draws one Chinese man with slits for eyes, and he draws a Chinese language (it’s unclear which Chinese language they’re speaking) as a bunch of messy scribbles. There is also a comic where a man seems to have murdered a woman with a plastic bag along with a joke about composting. Some of these jokes seem to be in poor enough taste that they shouldn’t have been included in the books.

The art style is cartoonish and would have fit well in Mad Magazine. Most of the comics are in full color, though the travelogues are in black pen on a beige background. Long employs hatched shading to add depth to his illustrations, which elevates the otherwise simplistic drawing style. Still, in a travelogue sequence in which Long goes to Venice with friends, one of his friends grabs his sketchbook and draws a few rowhouses in a more realistic style. He comments that his friend “draws so much better than me it hurts.”

Some of the recipes are useful, particularly the few pages in Volume 1 devoted to impressive appetizers that can be prepared quickly. Some of the inventories are useful as well, notably the list in Volume 2 of gift suggestions for foodies. The books are easy to navigate, with the aforementioned legend to indicate what purpose each comic serves. As in a regular cookbook, the index includes a table of recipes as well as an ingredient index. Still, due to some of the comics’ poor taste, I don’t recommend these books. Consider instead other comic cookbooks like Cook Korean!, Relish, or Let’s Make Ramen! and Let’s Make Dumplings!

To Drink and To Eat, vols. 1-2 
By Guillaume Long
Oni Press Lion Forge, 2020
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781620107201
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781620108550

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)


The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier

Since childhood, Franckie Alarcon has loved all things chocolate, so when he gets the opportunity to follow famed chef and chocolate worker, Jacques Genin, and create a graphic novel about him, naturally he accepts. Franckie gets to experience so much more than he expects, including a trip to Peru to meet with an Amazonian tribe and apprenticing under Jacques in his shop for a few days. Make sure to have a sweet treat nearby when reading this trip through a year in chocolate. 

The art of The Secrets of Chocolate really helps to set the mood of the whole story, with loose lines and the lack of defined panels firmly establishing it as a journal or sketchbook. It can take some work on certain pages to figure out the flow of everything without standard panels cutting everything up, but it also helps allow Alarcon to shift the visual focus to whatever he wants. Colors are limited and almost every character wears mostly white, which makes them blend more into the page and again, pushes the focus to what is colored (often chocolate in some form). I don’t love the font choice. Though visually it suits the overall feel of the comic, the curlicue script can be hard to read on occasion. 

Though it isn’t really set up as one, The Secrets of Chocolate kind of feels like a frame story, or a little like it’s breaking the fourth wall, because we see illustrations of and discussions of Franckie writing and drawing the comic we’re reading. It’s fun, especially at the end when Franckie brings in the finished comic for everyone to look at, though clearly it can’t be finished or the reaction page of them seeing the pages couldn’t be done yet. Otherwise, the writing is fine but sometimes feels a little choppy or abrupt. Alarcon definitely creates the story using both visual and text, but the text is almost secondary to the art sometimes. 

There are a few instances of what felt like to me some racial stereotyping and heteronormative assumptions, but they aren’t remarkable and may not bother most readers. There is however a slight problem with lack of explanation for American readers or those not already familiar with French baking techniques; references to European brands, kinds of cakes, and methods of cooking that are never explained to the reader. I would’ve loved just a small section in the back with a glossary of terms or notes, because while chocolate is universal, not all things in this comic are. 

Also worth noting are the recipes in The Secrets of Chocolate. There are a few, but they’re as freeform as the rest of the comic and so aren’t optimal to follow as-is, but better copied out for someone interested in using this recipe for chocolate tarts or truffles. There are also few enough in the comic that it can’t be counted as a cookbook, but a story with recipes, especially without an index to easily find them within the comic. But they are a fun addition and readers of cozy mysteries or other novels that include recipes will enjoy the inclusion. 

The Secrets of Chocolate is a lighthearted look at the world of French chocolate, as well as a glimpse into the way cacao beans become processed chocolate and some discussions of the history of chocolate and how a person’s palate works. It would be a great choice for fans of books like Cook Korean!. At slightly smaller than standard paper size, it won’t be out of place on graphic novel shelves and would be a solid addition to nonfiction graphic collections. 

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier
By Franckie Alarcon
NBM ComicsLit, 2021
ISBN: 9781681122786

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

The Girl’s Guide to Building a Fort

The Girl’s Guide to Building a Fort is about much more than simply fort building. This all-purpose reference book covers a spectrum of indoor and outdoor projects for adventurous girls. Young readers can work their way through the book’s various sections in any order or skip to topics of interest. The book’s detailed table of contents makes it simple for readers to find informational sections or hands-on activities in each of the six “Let’s Be…” sections: Scientists, Trailblazers, Athletes, Artists, Builders, and Chefs. The end of the book features cute badges readers can earn for completing a certain amount of activities from a section, one activity from each section, and some other special options. 

The Girl’s Guide to Building a Fort has many strengths, including the fact that it features a wide range of information and instructions for participating in diverse activities, both indoors and outdoors. The instructions for hands-on activities are thorough, and the book gives comprehensive information about a huge range of topics. There is something here to interest just about everyone. In addition, the author focuses on a good mix of traditional and less well-known activities. For example, the athletics section describes sports like softball, but also some unique games like disc bowling, and beanbag toss, and even some games that wouldn’t typically be considered sports like tongue twisters and card games. The book also includes good checklists that can be used to prepare for various activities like camping or cooking, and a helpful list of books for further reading.

Unfortunately this book has a major weakness in its lack of illustrations where they are really needed to provide clarity. Alexis Seabrook’s artwork is primarily decorative, and while it adds to the book aesthetically, it will not help readers understand the complex instructions given for some tasks, or to identify the plants and birds described. Readers really need diagrams if they are to learn how to build a bench, make different types of paper airplanes, how to tie a variety of knots, or how to complete the numerous other hands-on projects described in this book. Most young readers are unlikely to master these tasks through written descriptions alone and will probably abandon the book in favor of material with diagrams or perhaps a video that provides the same instruction. In addition, Fieri occasionally uses terms a young reader would be unlikely to know, which could provide further frustration. The title of the book is also misleading, and some readers who might be interested in the diverse topics included might never even pick up the book, believing it to be only about forts.

It is unfortunate that a book with such a strong premise, empowerment of girls through learning a wide range of do-it-yourself activities, is weakened so much by its lack of appropriate illustrations. Were the book to include diagrams or even photographs for the hands-on activities and the sections where plants and animals are identified, it would be a very useful book. In its current form, though, I don’t believe many young readers will find it helpful. They will likely need to seek additional information in order to be successful at most of the activities the book includes, and young people who are dedicated enough to an activity to take that step are likely to find their own information about the activity without this book. Collections looking for this type of book would be better served by best-sellers such as The Daring Book for Girls and The Dangerous Book for Boys. However, one can certainly argue that in the 21st Century, books which separate knowledge for young people by gender are not needed. In any case, The Girl’s Guide to Building a Fort is one to pass on.

The Girl’s Guide to Building a Fort
By Jenny Fieri
Art by Alexis Seabrook
Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2021
ISBN: 978-1524861179
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Guerilla Green

Guerilla Green

Guerilla Green opens with author and narrator Ophélie Damblé on the Paris Metro to Boulogne-Billancourt, surrounded by people on their phones who are slowly driving her crazy. She snaps, begins handing out seeds (and green advice) to those around her and makes a dramatic exit by quoting Green Guerilla icon Ron Finley, “Let’s plant some @#*%!” Just like that, you are in the headspace this book will occupy. It swings between history lessons on green guerillas around the world, indignation at the state of the world we are in today and actions you can take today to start changing your city. It is a call to action book that uses the graphic novel format to reach out to a broader audience and soften the grim reality it’s trying to bring attention to.

Damblé’s entry into the world of guerilla gardening started when she was approaching age 30 and, having spent a decade in public relations, decided it was time for a life change. She saw friends her age fleeing from the city to the countryside, but she wanted to stay and put in the work to make Paris more beautiful and livable. She shares her research on the notion of rebellious gardening beginning in the 17th century through to today with examples of people and groups around the world continuing this work. Over the next several chapters we get lessons on topics including how to clean up your city, civil disobedience for the greater good, how and where to garden, saving biodiversity and her hopes for the future.

While she does admit that some of these acts and works might seem pretty big, Damblé makes the argument that every movement and change has to start somewhere and it can start with one person. This book is her pitch for each of us to become that one person. Any one of us can start to make a positive change in our city and help the planet by doing a little digging. She’s giving you an outline on how to get started and at the end of the book there is even a list of both French and English resources to keep reading and a list of websites to check out to stay motivated. There are interstitial breaks after each chapter titled “Ophélie explains it all” with a real life photo of Ophélie and friends from that chapter. Ophélie then elaborates on some of the facts from that chapter and any of the details she feels could use more context. These were helpful sections and I could appreciate that they were set aside to give them more serious weight.

The art by Cookie Kalkair feels reminiscent of Noelle Stevenson’s work on Nimona and Lumberjanes (which was also published by BOOM! Box) and the art is the saving grace of this graphic novel. It’s lighthearted, whimsical, and helps with the rather uneven pacing of the storytelling. The earnestness of the message was undercut at times with some curmudgeonly jabs at younger readers and an unspecified rival’s book, as well as some ill-advised references to historic figures like Rosa Parks. The pacing also varies wildly throughout the book and reading feels stilted as such. While there are some pie-in-the-sky ambitions in Guerilla Green, the hope it exudes, that we can all make a difference, is undeniable. The militaristic mindset, some of the history lessons, and the nature of the topic makes this book better suited to high school teens and older readers. Younger readers may have trouble with context for some of the biggest planetary issues addressed. Big city dwellers will also have more familiarity with some of issues addressed, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by those with the luxury of a backyard.

Guerilla Green
By Ophélie Damblé
Art by Cookie Kalkair
BOOM! Box, 2021
ISBN: 978-1684156634

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: French

Mutts Go Green: Earth-Friendly Tips and Comic Strips

Mooch the cat and Earl the dog are back in a new collection of eco-friendly stories. Multiple Harvey Award winning and four time National Cartoonists Society Award winning author and illustrator Patrick McDonnell shares this nicely packaged short and sweet (and often chuckle inducing) comic. 

McDonnell has created this Earth-centered collection of comics and organized it into four major themes, “How to Keep it Kind”, “Clean”, “Wild”, and “Green”. He begins each section with a bullet point list of ideas for simple things that you can do in your everyday life to help make the world a better place for everyone. Then he dives right into every aspect of environmentally friendly practices you can think of—from highlighting how much trash there is in the oceans with a very real image to mentioning a popular Earth advocate, Greta. He ends things with a cute but serious “The Mutts Manifesto” and a thank you note for caring about our extraordinary, wonderful planet. McDonnell is heavily involved in pet rescue initiatives, and has been called a champion for environmental causes. You can tell that the writing in this piece is near and dear to the author’s heart, as he makes the case directly to young reader’s hearts to also share in the responsibility of taking care of our only home, Earth. 

McDonnell has a very classic style when creating comics. It feels like you’re reading the funnies that you would find in printed paper newspapers. These are short and sweet comics, and often only use a few panels long to get the message across. They feature the same well-known characters, Earl and Mooch, in a variety of black and white to full color quick comics.. 

McDonnell breaks down serious environmental issues into easy to understand visuals. You don’t have to understand what fertilizer is or where plastics come from, instead McDonnell mixes in simple text with images of these pollutants. Along with, of course, with a sprinkling of humor. The bullet point lists at the beginning of each section could be useful to educators, and this light approach to very real topics would be a great way to start off a unit related to biological or environmental course content. Overall, this comic would be a fun and useful addition to any library collection. 

Mutts Go Green: Earth-Friendly Tips and Comic Strips
By Patrick McDonnell
Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2021
ISBN: 9781524866945

Publisher Age Rating:  7-14
Series ISBNS and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)

Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro! and Maker Comics: Fix a Car!

If you want to learn a new skill but find it daunting to dig into technical texts and instruction manuals, you will want to explore Maker Comics, a series of single-topic educational graphic novels. So far, Maker Comics includes a handful of different books. This review will cover Bake Like a Pro! by Falynn Koch and Fix a Car! by Chris Schweizer. I have not read other books in the series, but will assume these two are representative of Maker Comics as a whole.

Each book in the series focuses on a central topic (car repair/maintenance, baking, gardening, drawing comics, etc.) and takes readers through some background information, then step-by-step instructions for a variety of tasks. Bake Like a Pro! outlines a number of recipes, ranging from simple chocolate chip cookies to the more advanced sponge cake with Swiss buttercream frosting. It also works in a lot of information about the science of baking. Fix a Car! details projects ranging from checking fluid levels and jump-starting a car to changing the oil and replacing a drive belt, along with diagrams and details about how cars work. Though the books wrap the information in fictional premises with characters and plots, the majority of what’s offered is non-fiction and instructional.

As a librarian who facilitates a makerspace, I was very interested in checking out these comics. For the most part, the characters and stories of each book are decent, but fairly thin. They exist to dress up the educational content and make it more accessible, and they do achieve that, but these aren’t books to go into expecting a compelling plot. That said, the characters of Fix a Car! were more interesting and memorable for me than in Bake Like a Pro!

The information offered can, at times, be a bit dense. Based on the length of the books, I expected them to be quick reads, but each took longer than I anticipated due to how much is packed into the pages. There were also many moments I needed to stop and think about or absorb some of the more technical information being explained. On one hand, this is good, because it means there is a lot of useful content, but it can also result in the comics being difficult to get through without sufficient motivation. For me, reading them occasionally felt like homework, or like struggling through a textbook. Readers with a more casual interest in the subjects, or those without the appropriate grounding or education level, may find the comics somewhat challenging.

My other big concern was the amount of time spent on each task or recipe. The books are split, roughly equally, among the various projects, but I would expect some to have more time devoted to them due to the difficulty level. For example, Fix a Car! spends around as much time on washing and detailing a car as it does on changing a drive belt, which seems like an odd balance to me. Similarly, in Bake Like a Pro!, we spend quite a while on chocolate chip cookies, while lemon meringue pie is relegated to a recipe in the back of the book without additional instructions, simply encouraging readers to combine methods learned previously. As such, the comics are better at the beginner level than for the more advanced topics they cover. I walked away feeling like I could attempt checking my car fluid levels or changing a taillight bulb, but that I wouldn’t be comfortable enough to try changing my own oil or replacing a pulley in the drive belt system.

The art styles of the comics vary, due to different creators, but both were well-done. Schweizer does a good job depicting complex car systems in a way that is relatively easy to follow, while still keeping his characters loose and expressive. Koch goes for a different approach, making just about everything cute and anthropomorphized, from the ingredients to some of the appliances to the microscopic elements featured in the higher-level scientific explanations.

Maker Comics are certainly a more accessible way to approach learning a new skill than advanced technical documentation, textbooks, or manuals. While they aren’t perfect, they can be useful as introductions to the topics they cover, empowering readers to tackle at least the lower-level projects contained within. As parts of them can be a bit of a deep dive into the science or can be a little dense with technical explanations, they will be most interesting to those with an existing interest in the topics or strong motivation to learn the content.

The publishers recommend both books for ages 9-13. Bake Like a Pro! could work for this age level, but there is no reason older readers won’t enjoy it, as well. I would recommend Fix a Car! for older readers—beginning around high school—especially as teenagers who may have their licenses and even own cars will find the information more helpful and relevant.

Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro! and Fix a Car!
By Falynn Koch
ISBN: 9781250150066
Maker Comics: Fix a Car!
By Chris Schweizer
ISBN: 9781250150042
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13

Let’s Make Comics!: An Activity Book to Create, Write, and Draw Your Own Cartoons

If you’ve ever attempted to guide a class, camp, or just one child through making comics or graphic narratives of their own, you’ll remember this as a curriculum idea that felt genius on the drawing board but was rendered challenging and chaotic in practice. Young students, even those who might recognize basic comic conventions after avid reading of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, El Deafo, or Babymouse, struggle with pacing, drawing, wording, and conveying emotion through their own comic creations. Let’s Make Comics! by Jess Smart Smiley is a how-to guide aimed at young people which walks aspiring comic artists through the ins and outs of making comics.

Let’s Make Comics! is structured as an activity book. Principles of comic-making and storytelling are illustrated by examples and exercises inviting kids to put new know-how into practice. Two characters—Bramble, a bear, and Peanut, a turtle—serve as guides throughout the book. Bramble and Peanut explain how the book works in an introductory comic and then move throughout the book with the reader, introducing new concepts and providing instructions for activities through dialogue at the top of each page. The two characters help make abstract concepts more concrete as Smiley employs them in example panels showing how to use speech bubbles, for instance, or whether a “close-up,” “medium shot,” or “wide shot” is the best perspective to take in any given panel.

While Peanut and Bramble have personalities, their appearances throughout Let’s Make Comics! don’t tell a coherent story: their purpose is to provide concrete examples, not narrative. That being said, a few complete comics are included in the book. Ostensibly created by Peanut and Bramble themselves, these comics are drawn in a more childlike style than the rest of the book’s examples—complete with crossed-out words and squiggly lines—and provide a fun storytime break in the midst of all the activities. The childlike drawing style is also useful in its accessibility: kids bemoaning that they’re “not good at art” might feel empowered when reading these simply drawn, but undeniably effective, comics.

Bramble’s and Peanut’s creations aside, Smiley’s choice to eschew a continuous narrative keeps the focus on the opportunities to learn, practice, and create within Let’s Make Comics!. Readers wishing to skip from exercise to exercise will find that working out of order doesn’t diminish the book’s usefulness. This characteristic also renders the book particularly useful for teachers who might want to use the pages on character-building and pacing in their lessons, but not those on lettering and inking. The book can also be engaged with on different levels depending on the participant’s age. Younger children might find the explanatory text and tips provided at the top and bottom of each page inexplicable without an adult guide, but enjoy adding facial expressions to the blank cartoon faces provided in one activity, or coloring in the example comics. Older children—as well as educators using the book—will find the explanatory text more useful and enjoy catching some of the subtler jokes sprinkled throughout the book.

As an activity book, Let’s Make Comics! is an inherently risky text for inclusion in most library collections, as it is designed for direct interaction. Some parts of the book are intended for cutting out and folding into a mini comic book, and one eager young reader might mar the book for future users by drawing directly on its pages. Given the increasing popularity of comics and graphic novels both in and out of school curricula, this book is a useful enough tool for those wishing to learn about or teach comic-making to make it worth the risk. For young comic enthusiasts, teachers, caregivers, and library youth programmers themselves, Let’s Make Comics! is an accessible, fun, and effective guide to understanding how comics work and making your own.

Let’s Make Comics!: An Activity Book to Create, Write, and Draw Your Own Cartoons
by Jess Smart Smiley
ISBN: 9780399580727
Watson-Guptill, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10

Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga

Hirohiko Araki is a famous manga creator, whose Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure franchise has attracted fans for over thirty years. How does he do it? What has he noticed about the manga industry? What tips and wisdom can he pass down to budding writers and artists pursuing their own comics dreams? Araki’s Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga, translated by Nathan A. Collins and published in hardcover dress similar to Viz’s Jojo’s releases, has a lot of answers.

Araki offers a few different frameworks for the ideas he promotes. His overall method is labeled “the royal road” and prescribed for creators of shonen manga, though he suggests creative types of all stripes will find something valuable along the way. On the topic of story introductions, he breaks down a conventional “Who, What, Where, When, Why, How” explanation, complete with examples from his own work, including pre-Jojo’s stories. His method for dividing a story into structured acts, “ki-sho-ten-ketsu,” or “introduction, development, twist, resolution” sets the stage for a lot of the additional lessons in the book.

Pop culture references are sprinkled throughout each chapter. Dozens of manga series are referenced, along with movies, novels, sculptures, and dances. Their combined effect reinforces one of Araki’s major pieces of advice regarding the study of life and art in pursuit of an original approach. Simply studying other successful manga creators isn’t enough, he says. Artists must get out of their bubble and explore the world and analyze the media they consume to better understand what they like or dislike. Readers will be hard-pressed to find another art advice book that references Clint Eastwood, Star Wars, Kick-Ass 2, Jules Verne, Rome’s Galleria Borghese, Linda Hamilton’s role in Terminator 2, John Steinbeck, and Michael Jackson, complete with an excerpt from Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers.”

These examples are not referenced for pop-culture gluttony: Araki uses himself as an example of the kind of practice and hard work required to stand out to editors and audiences. He recalls that even when he got his foot in the door with his first published work, editors still picked apart his art for errors. He acknowledges the lonely nature of making art as a career and encourages listening to constructive critics to avoid becoming too self-satisfied. Constant improvement is the name of the game, and Araki still pursues new illustration techniques and storytelling methods to stay fresh. He compares working under a constant deadline and on paper to the improvisational excitement of jazz music and Italian fresco painting.

A lot of heart goes into the book’s messages, too. Araki sometimes prescribes certain approaches as being more audience-friendly, but at the same time pushes artists to create something they will love to make, too. He warns against intellectual burnout—creating a hit will feel good, but then there’s pressure to keep that hit high quality, and artists may as well put that much effort into something they like as well as the audience. Drawing character deaths drives him to tears. In the included manga excerpts, commentary boxes point out the purpose of including different images and why Araki drew them a certain way, including the process that leads from ideas on note cards to finished pages. These personal touches elevate the book’s advice from textbook best practices to friendly wisdom.

The tone throughout the book is that of a conversation between Araki and an eager student. He does not talk down to the reader, but does clarify opinions every so often to avoid being seen as writing off certain methods or mindsets. For example, on the topic of digital versus analog art, Araki sides with creating on paper, but makes sure to emphasize that each artist’s preference is unique and personal. One of Araki’s pages includes a nude woman, and his anecdotes and sample pages sometimes include swearing. Having said that, this book should be fine for mature teen and adult readers who are ready to take their approach to art to the next level, shonen or otherwise. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure fans will enjoy just picking Araki’s brain.

Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga
ISBN: 9781421594071
Viz, 2017