Normally I chat about a new comic that I'll be picking up tonight, but today I wanted to write about a fantastic book that I received as a gift when I was around 14 years old back in the mid-1980's, Stan Lee's and John Buscema's How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.
I've written before about how my friend John at this time, who was an incredible artist. He was a true natural talent, whereas I really had to work at drawing and never had the technical expertise he possessed. I made up for it by being clever, which is great but will only take you so far. Even at age 14, his figure drawings were incredibly detailed and exact, with a sense of musculature and movement that would pull the viewer into his sketches. He taught me a bit about his process and then mentioned this book to me. I picked it up at the library and devoured it, and eventually my mom gave it to me as a birthday gift.
The book itself is divided into 12 chapters and covers topics such as the equipment you'll need, form, perspective, figure drawing, adding action, faces, composition, covers, inking, and more. It does a great job of showing how to start with a very limited sketch, such as a stick figure, to capture the action and pose, and then build on top of it with successive three-dimensional shapes until it's completely fleshed out. It's how my friend had taught me, and how I do my drawings to this day, but having it all laid out in easy steps with tons of examples of what to do and what not to do is very helpful.
This really isn't a book for beginners or little kids. It would help to have some basic artistic training before trying to tackle some of the projects in this book. It's still a fun read, with Stan Lee's over-the-top sensationalist writing and looking back at the world of Marvel comics in 1978 and seeing great examples of the Marvel style from that era. The book also includes examples from older comics from the 1950s - 1960s that are fun to look at.
If you or your kids are comics fans with any desire to learn a bit more about the craft of making a comic book, as well as taking a stab at improving your drawing skills, this is a great book to pick up. It's available on Amazon in Paperback for $12.93. I have the hard-cover version and I'm sure if you searched hard enough, you could find it.
A few funny personal memories about this book - firstly, in 9th Grade, I took an art class by one of the former animators on the Thundarr the Barbarian TV show, and he mentioned being in a meeting once (not sure if it was for Thundarr or another job) where a fellow artist was having problems with his figure drawings and the guy's boss grabbed a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and chucked it at the guy's head and said, "Learn how to draw!"
In my 10th Grade English class, we were required to write an essay completely in passive voice from start to finish - every sentence had to be passive. As the topic, the teacher challenged us by making us write a "How to" essay but we were left to our own ideas as to exactly what we were trying to teach in our essay. I chose to write "How Comics Are Drawn the Marvel Way" and described every step in passive voice. I remember I got a perfect score, except I got graded down a half grade because I accidentally left the essay sticking out of my manual typewriter and my mom had to drive it to school later that day, so it was "late."
Lastly, the main reason I wanted this book, other than to just in general improve my drawing skills, was because I had recently picked up the Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game by TSR and I wanted to create my own superheroes using the game's mechanics (instead of playing Spider-Man, for example) and of course I wanted to illustrate them, but I wanted my drawings to look really good.
Below are some of the sketches I did following the steps in this book - this would all be from around 1985 or so.
|©1985 Martin R. Thomas|
An "action-shot" of my speedster character.
|©1985 Martin R. Thomas|
The guy on the left is obviously Blue Bolt. For the guy on the right, I was
experimenting with "Kirby Krackle."
Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: Sparkling Water
Listening: "Down the Road" by Lurob (from Mushroom Jazz 7)