I’ve been making art for… essentially my whole life at this point, let’s be honest. When I hit college, I started collecting books about making and understanding art, both as requirements for class and out of personal interest, because for some reason up to that point it had never occurred to me to look at books on the subject. Most of my learning was done online, which in the late 90s – early 2000s was pretty different to what it is now. That said, even though we live in an age of tons of free information (another topic I’ll cover in another post!) there are still a lot of books I stand by and still refer to. This series of posts is going to be a list of suggestions and recommendations, especially if you’re new to art making, or looking to improve your skills.
Today’s post is an expansion on a short video I made about books specifically for comic artists, or comic artists in-the-making. If you are one, or know one, these are books I’ve found to be extremely helpful with various parts of the process and can personally recommend!
- Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland
Art & Fear is a book I was required to read in my first year, first semester of college drawing class, and it’s a book that’s stuck with me. I re-read it from time to time pretty regularly because it gently takes you step by step through the anxieties of making art and sharing art with an audience. My copy is pretty beaten at this point, with dog-eared sections and underlines everywhere, and I have the digital version just because. I recommend this book to essentially everyone I know, simply because I’ve personally found it so helpful in my long-term career as an artist.
This book is really useful when you’re starting out making art, or just starting out posting your art online or otherwise sharing in a public setting. One of the most important lessons in the book is that it’s necessary to learn to separate your art from yourself, at least on a moral level. If you make something and it isn’t as well-received as you hoped, that isn’t a reflection on you as a person, which is a totally reasonable fear to have with something as personal as artwork. For me, this is doubly true when it comes to things like comics. With webcomics especially, it’s tough to grind out page after page and learn to accept that not every page will be perfect; it’s simply an issue of time. Add to that the fact that the average reader will probably only spend a minute at most on any given page, and it becomes imperative to balance working speed with the realities of comic reading. Knowing that not every page will be your own idea of a masterpiece can be difficult to feel good about, but it’s an important skill to learn. And it is a skill, in a way, to be able to look at your work constructively, as separate from yourself.
Anyway, if I had to reduce my praise for this book to just a few words, I’d say that it’s a great tool for strengthening yourself for hearing what others think about your work, especially if the thought of that gives you anxiety. It provides an excellent route to having confidence about what you do, especially for something as personal as art. The book is a quick read and its ideas can be applied to most forms of art, including writing, in my opinion. It’s an excellent read for anyone who makes art of any kind.
Find it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/47AjFh6
- Perspective! For Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea
Perspective! For Comic Book Artists is a book about perspective in comics…told through comics. (This will become a running theme here.) I’m gonna let you in on a secret: I have a problem with my eyes that makes it difficult sometimes to judge depth, and drawing in perspective can be a literal hell in some instances. I’ve had criticism pointed at me for my imperfect perspective, not wrongly, and it stung a bit — I won’t lie. So I decided to double down and look for resources on perspective drawing, because ultimately it’s just a mathematical thing; once you learn where to set up your vanishing points, and why they work that way, the entire process becomes much clearer.
In my searching, I found a recommendation for this book, and it’s helped immensely, alongside digital tools like the perspective rulers in most drawing programs these days. Perspective! For Comic Book Artists literally walks you through the way that perspective works, examining all aspects of the process almost as if you’re walking around a 3D object. The writing is simple and light, and what can be tricky to understand (especially if you’re like me with a slight vision issue) becomes more of a mechanical process than the guesswork it can feel like at times. I have certain sections of this book permanently bookmarked, simply because I know they’re types of perspective I struggle with and I can quickly refer to them again if my brain can’t wrap around where the points and lines need to be.
This book is great for anyone just learning the fundamentals of perspective for the first time, or if you struggle with understanding more complex perspective setups, like 3-points and beyond. It’s a handy reference to keep around, and walks steps by step through the reasons why perspective works the way it does, so there’s no wondering “how did that happen?” in between steps of the process.
Find it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3s90cUp
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
Thus begins the first of three Scott McCloud recommendations from me. Yes, they’re frequently recommended for new comic artists, but there’s a good reason for that. Again, we delve into a book about comics told in comic form, which just serves to strengthen the arguments made within for interpreting comics as art. This book is a classic, and an outstanding breakdown of all the little bits and pieces you don’t notice while you’re reading a comic, but which cause you to read it the way you do. Comics are a magical medium, where perhaps nothing moves on the page, but using clever design tricks and illusions, one can manipulate the imagination into viewing the page the same way it might watch a movie.
Understanding Comics is a highly accessible way to understand not only comics, but visual art as a whole. This book is essential for gaining a basic knowledge of the visual language of comics, and learning to create comics using this language in your own voice.
Find it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3sdZOUI
- Making Comics by Scott McCloud
Since I’m already recommending this trio of books by McCloud, let me go one step further and recommend that you read Understanding Comics first, and then Making Comics after. This is because Making Comics functions more as a how-to from the creative aspect of the process where Understanding Comics provides a basic grounding in visual storytelling tropes and functions. Making Comics builds on this foundation to create a set of tools to add to your personal kit by examining many ways to apply these ideas via not only things like character design and expression, but also understanding where you exist in the greater pantheon of comic artists and creators throughout history.
The book is, again, extremely accessible and entertaining in its methods, bringing together an enormous amount of history, technical details, and means to apply this information to your own work. Making Comics is a book I’ve read multiple times, with multiple sticky notes inside for my continued reference. If I could only choose one of McCloud’s books to recommend to a beginning comics creator, I’d likely choose this one, although it benefits from following Understanding Comics. Making Comics is an excellent course in telling your story visually, and will strengthen your existing skills while pointing out details you’ve never considered before.
Find it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3qAqG0H
- Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud
Rounding out the trio of books by Scott McCloud, I recommend Reinventing Comics to anyone who makes webcomics or webtoons specifically. If you’re making comics mostly for an online audience, this is the book for you. Although it is on the older side, and certain pieces of information may be dated by today’s standards, it still contains a wealth of information about publishing your work online, and the many considerations involved in doing so. It includes major discussions about copyrights and rights ownership in comics, as well as business models for comics. It also breaks into the more unique aspects of publishing digitally, more specifically concepts like the infinite canvas, which seems especially relevant to creators using Webtoon Canvas or similar platforms with vertical scroll comics today. Particularly useful in my opinion is the information about publishing online. I’ve always maintained my own domain name and hosting for my comics, and I’m a strong believer in this method, especially in the current day and age of social platforms behaving wildly on a constant basis. Overall, Reinventing Comics is a strong starting point if you’re interested in breaking away from the big comics platforms and going it on your own.
There are many advantages to maintaining your own web home for your comic or art portfolio work, despite the slight learning curve, and it’s something I plan on writing about specifically in more detail in the future. Reinventing Comics discusses many of these points, again in comic form, and in an entertaining and encouraging voice. If you’re starting from scratch with publishing online and want to do something more custom with your work and website, while taking care to look after your rights, this book will get you on the right track.
Find it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/45p2wpf
This is merely the start of what I hope to be a longer series on books about art and comics, so let me know if you’d like to see more! I’m planning to group them by topic if possible… Most of my books are currently stuck in box purgatory after a move with nowhere to put them, so it might be a minute before I get to the next edition, but I’d love to hear your feedback if you have any! I’d also love to know if you pick up any of these books and what you think about them. Most are available from your local library, and I’ve also included Amazon links if you’re so inclined.
(Disclosure: these are Amazon affiliate links and I will receive a percentage from any sales from these links, but the price will remain the same for you. This helps support the creation of my comics and helps keep all of us at Chio HQ alive!)