A Comic Artist’s Tool Kit – 7 Books to Read Before Your Next Project
By Alain McAlister
With the rise in popularity of graphic storytelling, everyday artists are learning the joys and nuances of communicating through comics, graphic novels, zines, and everything else in between! The medium requires a certain harmony of words and pictures, which can be something that doesn’t come naturally to us (we tend to be the ones doodling during our language classes after all). But don’t be fooled; like other skills, it just takes learning, practice, and experimentation! With the wisdom stitched into the binding of these books, you’ll be creating comics in no time.
My name is Alain (they/them) and I’m a new bookseller at Betty’s Books! I am studying to be an illustrator and artist right now, so all of the books I’ve chosen below are ones that I have learned from or enjoyed!
Cat Kid Comic Club by Dav Pilkey
Welcome to Cat Kid Comic Club
, where a rambunctious group of frogs are learning how to make comics! Starting with learning how to come up with ideas, this story (and the books in the series) help establish the core elements of storytelling in comics and any other medium really. The first book is a sort of introduction, while the following books focus on perspectives, purpose, and collaborations!
This book is charming and funny to read, and it’s such a great starting point for young artists. Comics are a medium from all ages, and it’s so great to start creating them when you’re young and learning to communicate and understand the world. Comics are a great way to express yourself and make your friends and family laugh!
Maker Comics: Draw a Comic! by JP Coovert
This is a great introduction to preteen artists on how to make comics and learn the planning that goes into making a story. Intertwined with a loose story about Maggie making comics to save her grandfather’s Library, this book takes you through the process of making a comic script, drawing, finalizing, printing, and even binding your comic together. It is full of fun colors and a cute style, which is easily accessible and makes the book exciting to read.
What better way to learn comics than through comics? This book is targeted at middle grade readers or young adults, but honestly I think anyone can get a lot out of it! The instructions are thorough, and even a little detailed when it talks about things like page layout, so it would be a great activity to do with a young artist in your life. There’s nothing more special than creating an art piece with a loved one!
Writing and Drawing Comics: A Sketchbook and Guide to Graphic Storytelling by Various Creators
Made with contributions from 7 different comic artists, this sketchbook is sprinkled with informational comics, advice, prompts, panels, and blank pages. It’s great for artists of any level, allowing them to either use it purely as a sketchbook with advice alongside it or as a place to practice and grow visual storytelling elements mentioned in it. It has a balance of showing and telling, allowing hands-on learning and growth while also creating a space less daunting than a generic blank sketchbook.
I would highly encourage any creative person or artist interested in comics to start a sketchbook practice that is experimental and fun. With built-in panels and prompts, this book challenges you to try different layouts you may never have thought of. Comic-making requires a lot of planning, drafting, scripting, and thumbnailing, and those processes take practice. This sketchbook is a great way to start learning and thinking about important things while still creating art you’re passionate about in the process.
Manga Art for Beginners by Danica Davidson
This book has foundational drawing techniques, tips, and step-by-step tutorials for how to draw in a manga style. The art and directions are extensive, helping you easily learn how to create your own characters and work. The book introduces breaking complicated images into forms, using guidelines for proportion, and a process for sketching and lining your work.
Every artist who grew up in the early 2000s had one of these books. I think I own three different “how to draw manga” books to this day. I don’t draw in a manga style anymore, but it was what got me into art and now I’m about to graduate with an illustration degree. This is a great foundation for drawing skills, and for many of us, anime/manga style is what starts our love for art and drawing.
Making Comics by Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry is an educator and artist who argues that each of us have the ability to draw. It is an activity we loved as a child, but we slowly lost interest in, either due to other passions or the idea that we were “bad” at drawing. But we can find that same joy again! Barry argues that art is just another skill we can practice and learn, and she uses this book as a syllabus mixed with an activity book full of great drawing theory and exercises. The book itself has a beautiful style, like one of Barry’s own personal composition notebook, and each page is covered in fun doodles.
I found this book in my first year of college, when I had a class that did exercises from it. I instantly fell in love; this book is full of great sketchbook ideas and exercises that help me loosen up. Honestly, this is a great book for when I’m feeling bogged down by the art world or feeling burnt out. It never fails to make art fun again, and it’s a great book for anyone interested in getting into art for the first time.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
If there was a holy text for graphic novels and comics, this would be it! Understanding Comics
is one of the first books to elevate and intellectualize graphic mediums by trying to explain its language and theory. From the actual composition of pages through panels and gutters to the experience of time when reading comics, this book is a must-read for anyone who works in graphic novels and comics. You have to know the language in order to master it!
This book without fail has been mentioned in every comics and cartooning class I’ve ever taken. It is single handedly the book that guides all artists and readers to analyze comics and the power they have. It has taught me a lot and made me think about the relationships of language and imagery, and I really cannot recommend it enough!
Drawing is Magic: Discovering Yourself in a Sketchbook by John Hendrix
Local author alert! This artist activity-like sketchbook is full of beautiful pages that motivate you to interact with and fill the whole thing. Each page is a fun prompt or idea, making this book a sort of interactive conversation between you and your own imagination. Learn and experiment with illustration, design, and general art-making throughout the pages. On the back is a line about making sketchbooks a playground that you find treasures in, and this book is a gem on its own.
My first experience with this book was flipping through it during one of my graphic design courses at school. I fell in love with the vibe and the message behind it; creating a safe space in sketchbooks takes a lot of time and energy, and it can be daunting at the beginning of an art journey. This book is a great way to bring fun back into your practice and get out of creative burnout.
Happy comics making!!
Your friend Alain