Best How-To Books for Drawing Comics Part 1

Back in the dark ages, or late 80’s early 90’s as some would refer to it, there was no internet as we know it today. No Facebook, Instagram, Amazon or Youtube. No Google to instantly look up anything and everything. Back then we had to get information from books, newspapers magazines and television. I can remember entertaining the idea of becoming a comic book artist while I was actually going to school to be an architect. Architecture school was kinda boring and the amount of math you had to take was just mind numbing. Suffice to say, I am not an architect! Problem was, there just wasn’t a lot of information readily available to tell you how to go about becoming a comic book artist. There weren’t any schools that taught comic book art except for the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ. It is a great school and I know a few people who have gone there.  I took a few workshop classes there myself in the late 90’s. But the problem was that it was basically a trade school and offered no college degree. I always had it drilled into my head that you had to get a college degree or else you’d wind up poor and living in the street. So I dismissed this school as an option. In retrospect, that was a mistake. If I had to do it all over again I would have just gone there.  And I can say whole heartedly, if drawing comics is what you want to do, then do all you can to go there. It’s a school for comics taught by comic artist who actively work in the industry. It was started by the late great Joe Kubert and is now run by his sons Andy and Adam, both amazing artist in the comic industry. Kubert School aside, there were a few other schools that taught courses in sequential art such as School of Visual Arts in New York and Savannah College or Art and Design in Georgia. At least these were the ones I knew about at the time. Of course there were a bunch of colleges you could major in illustration and parlay that into comics, but again, how to go about doing that was still a mystery.

The best we had back then regarding info for getting into the industry was the Marvel Tryout Book,  which by now is a little dated, but a fun read none the less. It basically gave an overview of the different aspects to making a comic book, pencilling, inking, coloring etc. The book was oversized, I believe it was 11×17 as it contained sample comic art boards inside for you to draw pages on. It’s actually a cool book to have for your collection.

The now defunct Wizard Magazine, which was a monthly fanzine, contained info about the comic companies, upcoming books, pricing guides, but more importantly, who the movers and shakers were in the industry, particularly the artists. Occasionally they would do a spotlight on a particular artist and ask them their story, how they got into the business, what it’s like being and artist and if they had any suggestion for budding artists. These articles would offer a glimpse into the world of comics and give little tidbits on how to get in. A lot of the info was the same across the board. They would advise creating 5-7 pages of sequential art that tells a story using the characters of the company you want to apply to. Shove these in front of an editor at a convention, or mail the submissions editor at the company and bombard them with endless sample mailings in hopes they would recognize your talent, or at least give you a job so you would just stop mailing them. One of the best things to come out of Wizard Magazine was a column by artist Bart Sears called Brutes & Babes. It was a how to draw column where Bart showed you all the basics from anatomy and composition to perspective and storytelling. Not to divert from the story, but I feel it’s worth mentioning that Bart recently did a Kickstarter for a new hardcover book called Drawing Powerful Heroes Brutes & Babes where these lessons were collected along with all new information.

In it you’ll find all of Barts Brute and Babe lessons from Wizard along with new content featuring art that he has done from the many properties he’s worked on in comics and toy design. The book covers anatomy done in Bart’s own awesome style. His figures are always very dynamic with an amazing attention to proper anatomy. Bart explains the “potato sack” method for drawing figures as well as the block and cube method. Perspective, storytelling, composition and layout are all discussed with various examples shown. There are a lot of production drawings, which I appreciate as an artist. We so often see the finished work and marvel over it, but for me, as an artist, I like to see sloppy marker thumbnails, then the loose pencils and then the tight pencil work. It gives you an insight into what the artist was thinking at each stage of the process . This books is definitely work getting as it makes for great reference and inspiration. It’s not on Amazon so you will have to get it straight from Ominous Press. You can click the link above or click the image of the book to go to their site. FYI, I do not get paid for recommending Ominous Press or their products. I just like this book a lot, so much so that I contributed to the Kickstarter to get it produced.


Now in 2018, you can find tons of books as well as information on the web about becoming a comic artist. There are literally dozens of books, as well as youtube videos, twitch streams, online tutorials, training dvds, facebook groups,online courses and a lot more colleges teaching comic book illustration. If you want to learn this art form, then now is a fantastic time to be alive and if you are a young person starting out, you do not know just how lucky you have it! I would have killed to have had these resources back in the day!!

I always see young artist asking what book they can buy to learn from. Well I’ll tell you, it’s not book, it’s books! Look at any artist studio and you will see they have a lot of books. Reference books, anatomy books, How-to books, artist sketch books, illustration annuals, art technique books and Art of (insert famous artist name here) books. I’m sure I missed other types of books, but trust me, we artist have books! It’s that never ending search for hidden gems of knowledge that keep us buying new ones, well that and the fact that art is just cool to look at! Since there is now an abundance of info out there, I thought I would offer up some suggestions for what I think are a great bunch of books to get you started. These are what I call “overview books”. These are books that give a wide overview of what is involved in producing comic art. They touch on all the various areas in a general sense to help you understand the process involved.

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema
For a long time this was considered the bible for drawing comics. This book was first published back in 1978 and if you ask any working comic artist today, I bet they will tell you this is one of the first books they bought on the subject. That is for a good reason, it’s simply a great book on the subject. Who better than Stan Lee to tell you how to create comics. The guy pretty much invented the industry. Stan created some of the hottest comic book characters in Marvel history. Characters that we get to see up on the big screen today. If Marvel has to thank anyone for their mountain of success, it’s Stan Lee. In this book, Stan, with the help of legendary artist John Buscema, walks you through the process of drawing comics from the basics to the finished inked page. They cover everything from shapes and forms to perspective. There is a lengthy section on anatomy where the figure is built up from basic gesture lines to a full fleshed out form. Action is discussed in depth, using gesture drawings and then fully drawn figures. Exaggeration of the pose is emphasized in order to give more life to the character and an explanation of a typical action scene versus the way a Marvel artist should draw it is particularly informative. Stan and John also present information on composition, foreshortening, drawing the human head, drawing your own comic book page and inking. Overall a great book that still holds up today. Obviously the technology we have today was not available back then, but the method of drawing comics hasn’t changed much, only the tools have changed slightly.

In addition to the book, there is a DVD as well which shows a lot of John Buscema drawing as Stan explains the process. I would not substitute the DVD for the book, rather let the DVD act as companion piece to the book.

If How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way was the bible for drawing comics, then Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics is the bible on steroids!! This books takes what Stan did in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and adds a ton of new information. There is also art from a who’s who of artists in this book. Also, this one is in color where How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way was all black and white. Here Stan gives us a bit of comics history before moving into the standard info you get with these how-to books; tools of the trade, basic forms, drawing heads and anatomy, action, characters and costumes. What’s new is info on computer technology used in comics. Info on digital drawing and using Google Sketch Up for laying out backgrounds, digital lettering and of course digital coloring where they touch on some color theory basics. A peek behind the scenes of artist working methods is also discussed. One showing artist Mike Deodato mocking up self shot reference photos into his layout is particularly eye opening and is a valuable piece of information. Two other things I like about this book is that Stan discusses pencilling styles and shows beautiful examples of various artist work to illustrate his point. He also touches on the cinematic aspect of comics by discussing camera angles and mood and common mistakes when doing layouts. This book was published in 2010, but not much has changed as far as creating comics goes since then. Sure we have newer computer programs that can help make comics, but unless you can draw and understand the basics, these programs aren’t going to do much for you. Do yourself a favor, pick this book up, study it, learn from it and practice your butt off.

One of my personal favorite books came out in 2007  published by IMPACT called Incredible Comics with Tom Nguyen: The Ultimate Guide to Creating Kick Ass Comics. Having read a lot of comics in the 90’s I can say there was some weirdly drawn stuff back then. This books instruction tries to undo a lot of those bad drawing habits by pointing out some of them, evident in the “do’s and don’ts” sprinkled throughout the book. Tom gives a good overview of anatomy, breaking down body parts and explaining how they work. Different body as well as character types are explored. Illustrating huge characters that are Hulk sized down to little kids characters. Sections on facial expressions, individual facial features, perspective, folds in clothing, costuming, composition and backgrounds are all discussed. The back 36 pages of this book, from about page 88 to 124 cover drawing comic pages. Tom takes you through the script into doing marker thumbnails, rough layouts, tight pencils and then final inks. This is a really great book, it’s beautifully illustrated and has a slight comedic tone to it that makes the instruction fun. Definitely one to have in your arsenal.

Learn to Draw Action Heroes by Robert A. Marzullo, is another IMPACT title that was just published in 2017.  If you’ve researched comic art on Youtube, you’ve most likely run into Rob Marzullo’s channel, RAM Studio Comics! https://www.youtube.com/user/MrRamstudios1.
Rob has about 78,ooo subscribers, over 5 million views and he’s posted about 500+ videos about drawing comic art. Rob has a huge presence on Youtube to say the least! He also has courses on Skillshare so check that out as well. In this book, Rob’s taken some of what he’s taught on his channel and put it into printed form. What I like about this book right away is that it has cross platform appeal. You can get the book as printed reference but then you can also go to Robs channel and get additional information to expand your knowledge base. The book is a great companion to his video lessons. Where as the other books I mentioned are more overviews of the whole comic making process, Learn to Draw Action Heroes focuses more on creating the characters for your story. Everything is broken down into digestible bits here. Male versus female anatomy; eyes, lips, facial expressions, arms, legs and torso. Gesture drawing is also covered as that is one of the most important aspects of creating a great character. Once you’ve conquered the section on anatomy, you move into the details for the character. Things like action, foreshortening, costuming and accessories are all presented. The last part of the book shows you how to set up scenes with your character from the rough sketch to the finished pose. Concepts of perspective are also brought into the mix so that you can properly pose your character into the scene. A showcase of characters in various action scenes displaying their powers provides a nice payoff at the end of the book. I like this book a lot and I think you will too. It’s a beautifully drawn book and all of the illustrations are very clean and crisp. I also like the overall design of the book, kudos to whoever the graphic designer was. Overall this is a quality book and one that deserves to be read over and over again.

So that’s it for Part One of the Best How-To Books for Drawing Comics. I’ll have another post in a week with some other selections to get you going in the  right direction. Until then, keep practicing!!

The Best Pencils for Drawing Comics

What is the best pencil for drawing comics?

Wealthy, that’s what I would be right now if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen this question asked! I belong to several comic art facebook groups and this is probably one of the most asked questions I see. Who could blame you for wanting the best tool for the trade, after all, you want to produce the best work that you possibly can. Doesn’t it stand to reason that you should have the best pencil money can buy? Well yes, but mostly a resounding no! The truth is that there really is no “best” pencil for drawing comics. The best pencil is the one that makes the marks on the paper that you are happiest with. Sorry guys and gals, the Mjolnir of pencils does not exist! What does exist, is whatever pencil you find to be the most comfortable for you to draw with. It’s as simple as that! “But I saw so and so favorite artist using this type of pencil, so I need the same one so I can draw just as good”. I get it, I really do, but it doesn’t work that way. Lets get one thing straight, there is no pencil, pen, marker, drawing table or other random art supply that is going to make you a better artist. The only thing that is going to make you better at drawing comics is practice, practice and oh yeah…practice! So don’t get caught up in finding the lead and wood equivalent of the Holy Grail, just find some tools you like, stick with them and draw. Now, having said all of that, there are some pencils that are widely used in the industry. I’m going to go through a few of the choices to point you in the right direction. I’ll link to some of them for you to check out. Your job is to find out which of these is the best tool for you. Don’t go crazy, remember to work within your budget. For artists, buying art supplies is a bit of a rush, especially when trying out new tools. Sometimes we want to buy a bunch of stuff at once, and that is ok, but maybe pick up one of each type of pencil to see what works best for you. If you find one you like, stick with it. If you wind up drawing for Marvel, DC or one of the other prominent companies and you can afford it, order a box or two. So without further ado here are some of the most widely used pencil types for comics.

Lead Holder

You really can’t go wrong with a lead holder. They are versatile, can take all different types of lead and they generally last a long time. I have some lead holders I use that I got back in 1989. I’m sure other artists have some even older than that. For those of you who have never seen or used a lead holder, it’s basically a metal or plastic tube, with a clip on one end for clipping to your pocket (or pocket protector if your the engineering type) and a push button on the top that actives a retractable gripper on the other end where you insert the lead of your choice. It’s super simple to use and you can change the lead out in like half a second, just push down and hold the top button and the lead slides right out. The lead holder usually comes with lead already in it, but typically you buy cartridges of different grades of lead that come 12 leads to a cartridge. Here are some examples to get you started.


This is an Alvin Ben B3 lead holder. This one is black with a metal tube body and takes 2mm lead. It’s a sturdy pencil and will last you years. Sturdy, simple and reliable.


Here is the Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder (780 C). I’ve had mine for years, I’ve used it for drafting, graphic design, comic illustration, sketch cards, you name it. I always see new artist asking about this one because they see Jim Lee using these, and for good reason. They are a good solid performing pencil. It has a plastic body, but again, treat it well and it will last for years.

Another solid performing pencil it the Prismacolor Turquoise. These are a bit thinner in grip than the Alvin and the Staedtler Mars, but still a solid piece of equipment. Like the Staedtler Mars, this one also has a plastic body and is really light. It has a one inch knurled metal grip surface at the bottom of the pencil to help maintain a nice grip as your drawing. Any of these will go a long way in helping you become the artist you want to be. Get one of each and see which one you like best, then practice your butt off and rule the comicbook world!!

Sharpening

Lead in a lead holder is sharpened using a special sharpener specifically for lead holders. Some are small and look like traditional hand held pencil sharpeners but with much smaller holes for the lead to be put into for sharpening. This one is the Kum 303.58.21 Plastic Lead Pointer Pencil Sharpener

The other type, which I prefer, looks like a small cup about the size of a paper bathroom cup. It has a top with a raised tube where you insert the bottom of the pencil with a bit of lead sticking out. You then move the pencil in a circular motion to sharpen the lead. You can get a really nice sharp point with these.

The two I have are the Alvin ALP41 Rotary Lead Pointer and a 27 year old Alvin standard Lead Pointer which I don’t think they even make anymore, but this one just doesn’t die so I keep using it.

Leads

While you can use any lead grade you want, most artist use a 2H lead for layout since it is a harder but lighter colored lead and HB lead for finishes. HB is a nice middle ground lead, it’s not too hard, not too soft, it’s just right. It gives a nice dark line without being too smudgy. If you go more towards the B grades of lead, like you would get in a traditional drawing set, they tend to be softer and smudge easily, something you don’t want to do to your comic pages. You want to keep your finished pages as neat as possible.
I like the Prismacolor Turquoise leads in 2H and HB. There are other leads out there, so again find the ones you like, but you can’ t go wrong with Prismacolor.

A nice thing about lead holders is you can also get non-photo blue lead for them. What is non-photo blue lead you ask. Non-photo blue lead was popular back in the day when reproduction technology wasn’t as advanced as what we have today. An artist could pencil their pages loose and sloppy with non-photo blue lead. Then they could neatly pencil over the blue guidelines they made and have the choice to pick the lines they wanted to accentuate in their drawings. When the pencil pages were finished, they would get inked and then photographed. The non-photo blue wouldn’t show up in the photographic process hence leaving behind the finished inks. Non-photo blue pencils are still in use today much in the same way they were years ago. Artist tend to like them because it allows them to draw loose and sloppy, but also the lead has a more waxy consistency so it glides easily over the paper. What’s cool is with todays technology, you can scan in your pencils and use Photoshop or another pixel editing program to drop out the blue lines leaving just your dark pencil lines, then it’s off to the inker. I personally like the Prismacolor Turquoise Non Photo leads


Mechanical Pencil

Mechanical pencils are very similar to lead holders, in fact they are technically lead holders, with some minor differences. Mechanical pencils use much thinner leads, usually anywhere from .3 to .9 mm lead. Like a lead holder you can get them in various grades H, 2H, 4H, B, HB etc. Unlike lead holders, mechanical pencils push a predetermined amount of lead out for every click of the button on the top, or side of the pencil. This is why it’s called a “mechanical” pencil, because it has a mechanism inside that dispenses the lead in metered amounts.

Like the lead holder, mechanical pencils are easy to use and come in various sizes depending on the thickness of the lead you want to use. For fine details you would use a .3 to .5 mm and for thicker lines a .7 to .9 mm.

You can also use non-photo blue lead in a mechanical pencil. Loading the mechanical pencil is slightly more difficult only because the leads are so thin and delicate. Usually you have to thread it into the tiny hole at the bottom though there are some you can load a few leads at a time into the top and the mechanism will feed them through as you click the pencil. You can find mechanical pencils in varying grip thicknesses.

For instance the Pentel GraphGear 500’s shown below in .3, .5, .7mm lead sizes are your standard thickness for a mechanical pencil.

The Pentel SideFX is a thicker pencil to grip and has the button for dispensing lead on it’s side. It also has a nice twist up eraser which is very convenient.

The Sukura SumoGrip shown in .5 & .7mm are also thicker grip pencils. These have a nice soft jelly rubber grip at the bottom which makes them very comfortable to use, especially if you have a lot of penciling to do.

If you also do a lot of digital art, these thicker grip pencils might be a better fit for you, as they are similar in thickness to the stylus pen that comes with a digital tablet such as a Wacom Intuos Pro. This way there is not much of a transition between thick to thin drawing tools if your an artist that works in both traditional and digital media.

As for the lead you can find mechanical pencil lead in different sizes and grades of lead. Though 2H and HB are commonly used, you can also find all grades of H through B leads. I have the Pentel Hi-Polymer Super brand of leads that go great with the Pentel GraphGear 500’s mechanical pencil.

Wood and Woodless Pencils

Your typical standard looking pencil, lead on the bottom, eraser (or not) on the top. Yes boys and girls you can actually be a successful comic artist using just standard looking pencils. If that’s what you like go for it. Like with the lead holders and mechanical pencils, I prefer to use these in 2H and HB but you can use other levels of lead hardness as well. Just remember if you go more towards the B’s–2B, 4B etc, the lead gets really soft and smudgy. Great for pencil drawings that use a lot of tones, not so much for comics. You can find these type of pencils anywhere and usually a box of a dozen is fairly cheap. I like Derwent pencils, but you can get any brand really, it’s up to you. These are wood pencils with a lead core just like the standard #2 pencils you used in school.

You can also get woodless pencils which are basically a pencil shaped piece of graphite wrapped in a plastic wrapper. Again, fairly inexpensive and you can find them in different grades of lead.  You just sharpen them and go, simple really. I have a bunch of these and I like to use them from time to time. I have Generals Woodless Pencils and they work just fine. I have some hard lead and a bunch of soft lead for doing more tonal drawings. I would however reserve these more for sketching than comicbook pages as the leads tend to be more in the B range.

Remember the non-photo blue pencils mentioned in the lead holder section earlier, well you can find those in a wood pencil as well. You can get a box of these to keep on hand if you decide working with the blue pencil is what you like. I recommend the Prismacolor Verithin Non-Photo Blue Pencil You will of course need a standard pencil sharpener, any one will do for these type of pencils. I have a Maped Tonic 2 Hole Sharpener and a Kum Color Combi 218 sharpener which is for both normal and color pencils

So that about wraps it up for pencils. Hopefully this gave you enough information to get you going in the right direction. We’ll be back in a few days with a new installment, this time talking about the best How-To books for comic illustration.

See you soon!