Comics : Stan Lee's How to Draw Comics

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Industry Books

This review was first published on: Dec 2015.

Background...

This 2010 book was followed-up shortly afterwards by the 2011 Stan Lee's How to Write Comics, with a third book Stan Lee's How to Draw Super-Heroes appearing in 2013.

All three books share an identical format – 8.5" x 10.5" with 224 full-color pages. The first two books in the series are available in both soft cover and hard cover versions. The third book is soft cover only.

In Detail...

Stan Lee's How to Draw Comics
Nov 2010 : SM Article
Find ISBN 9780823000838
Summary: Spider-Man Appears
Publisher:  Watson-Guptill Publications
Writer:  David Campiti, Stan Lee
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Review

So Stan Lee, the famous Marvel Artist, is going to tell us everything he knows about drawing comics? This would be the same Stan Lee who is famous for not being able to draw anything more than a stick figure?

Well, yes. But to be fair, Stan has a couple of points working in his favor. Firstly, Stan does know a heck of a lot about comic book illustration and layouts. He was a hugely productive comic book editor and writer for at least twenty years, working during his career with most of the founding fathers of the American Comic Book Industry. Secondly, Stan is well-supported in the technical details by his co-writer David Campiti (a renown artist and teacher of up-and-coming artists).

"How to Draw" takes a high-level view of its subject matter. Its 224 pages are split into 14 chapters. By the time you've subtracted an introduction, preface, index, and a double-spread splash page between each chapter, that leaves no more than a meagre 12 pages of content for each topic.

Topics are well-selected. There's a quick history of comics (which naturally has significant overlap with the history chapter in "How to Write"). Then there's a summary of the tools you'll need, before we leap through "perspective", "heads", "anatomy", "characters & costumes", "backgrounds", "layouts", "pencils", "inks", "letters", "coloring", "covers" and... a chapter on "how to get work".

But with much of the space used for large illustrations and flashy comic book covers, there's a generally disappointing lack of text or detailed explanation.

In General...

I must confess I suffered a pang of doubt when I first picked up this book. Stan has never been an artist in any shape or form, and my natural first reaction was decidedly cynical.

It's hard to tell how much of this book really is Stan's writing, and how much is actually written by David Campiti. The book is written in the first person, supposedly by Stan. Lee's "voice" comes out strongly in the introduction, preface and the history of comics, and at the start of most chapters there is also a passing reference to Stan's personal experiences. But Stan's naturally bombastic personality is well-contained, and isn't allowed to overshadow the real content (such as it is).

Content "such as it is". That's where my major objection to the book comes from. For such a large format book, it really does lack any sense of depth. It is heavily illustrated (which is entirely excusable for a book about art). But each chapter is really little more than an introduction to the topic.

Specifically, this book won't teach you how to draw – which is somewhat surprising for a book whose title contains the words "How to Draw". In fact it spends a number of pages not really teaching you how to draw. Start with a circle on top of a rectangle and add three lines. Now just fill out the details and you're finished. Look: A beautiful sexy vampire woman eating a cheese sandwich while riding a motorcycle through the forest, pursued by dinosaurs!

If only it were that easy, eh?

But let's assume you already knew how to draw, and now you want to learn how to draw comics in particular. Well, in that case, half the book will almost teach you how to draw comics, in that it sort of illustrates most of the key processes involved in inking, coloring, lettering comics. Except not really, because it's so superficial.

Overall Rating...

This is not a very useful book. It's too specific to sit on a coffee table for visitors to flick through, while its lack of depth makes it not particularly valuable as a detailed reference guide or study book.

If you're serious about wanting to become a professional comic book artist, then you'll probably want to spend your money on far more detailed books on anatomy, faces, and advanced techniques. Or even better, sign up for a dedicated course from one of the various comic book illustration academies.

But despite its awkward "middle-ground" approach, this is not a bad book. It is well written, and covers an well-selected range of topics.

I'm going to take the awkward middle ground with my rating too, and give it Three Webs.

Footnote...

This book complements quite well with the subsequent Stan Lee's How to Write Comics.

Yes, both books contain a brief history of comics, for which there is naturally some overlap. Both also tackle the topics of "Layout", "Pencilling", "Coloring" and "Lettering". Equally, there are several illustrations and comic book covers that appear in both works.

But even when they do overlap, the individual books deserve credit for working hard to maintain their particular "writer" vs. "artist" view of the world.