Anybody incapable of drawing, which – if some detractors are to be believed – includes most recent design graduates, will surely develop a new respect for comic artists if they attempt to follow the advice in Alan McKenzie’s book How to Draw and Sell Comic Strips.
A natural affinity for drawing is probably the most important qualification for a successful career in comics. To use McKenzie’s no doubt sound information on inking, lighting, framing and lettering requires more than the ability to draw reasonable circles without the help of a compass.
As a graduate of the Ray Charles School of Visual Arts, I do not qualify. The latter stage of the book, on how to go about selling work, is therefore entirely academic to my enjoyment.
Actually, the lighting, inking, framing and lettering advice is fairly academic, too, judging by my efforts at even a simple gag panel cartoon. “As for actual drawing techniques involved… well, with the gag strip there aren’t any,” says the author. Now he tells me.
Luckily the book manages to be entertaining in itself by making the most of comic archives to provide a wide selection of samples, which overshadow the advice on ink and paper to provide a good laugh. Those who are artistically ambi dextrous might find the advice useful. Those who are artistically ambiguous will enjoy the comics, but wish there were more of them.
There is also a brief history of comics, and a guide to some of the most popular styles in other countries, which throws up interesting cultural issues about the role of comics elsewhere.
While UK readers are familiar with Japanese Manga art, it comes as a surprise when the author tells us of Italian comic fashions. They include, “some of the most graphically sadistic torture I have seen anywhere”, he tells us. They also include sex scenes which would “have any UK or US publisher run out of town”. He neglects, however, to give advice on how to bring these publications though HM Customs.
Another inexcusable oversight is that the book makes no mention of the whole generation of UK comics typified by The Eagle in the Fifties. The artists who created modern classics such as Judge Dredd must surely have been influenced by Dan Dare Pilot of the Future, and his sidekick Digby, as much as they were by Batman or Superman.
Of course, as with all How to… titles, this edition throws up the question of how many people will realistically find it of any use at all. There is a limited market for cartoonists to work in and, with the relentless advance of computer games, sales of traditional comics are hardly likely to grow in the foreseeable future.
It could even be argued that school age comic hopefuls, probably the target market in this case, might use their time more wisely learning to use a computer. Perhaps an inability to draw isn’t such a handicap after all.
How to Draw and Sell Comic Strips by Alan McKenzie is published by Titan Books from 6 March, priced 9.99