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!
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 soon with some other selections to get you going in the  right direction. Until then, keep practicing!!