Comics : Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel

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This review was first published on: 2005.


The recent run of comics-based movies... Marvel's run, Sin City, the new Batman, Hellboy, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc., etc. coupled with the highly successful reprinting of comics as TPBs has created a new surge of interest in the "Graphic Novel". It's quite natural to expect a flurry of books cashing in on the resurgence in the genre. Here's a case in point.

In Detail...

Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel
Aug 2004 : Review (No SM)
Find at Amazon.Com
Publisher:  New Burlington Books
Writer:  Mike Chinn
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The six chapters of this book cover the following topics: "Defining the Graphic Novel", "Elements of the Novel", "Observation for Inspiration", "Writing the Script", "Illustrating the Script", "Getting Published". Of these, the "Writing" and "Illustrating" chapters are understandably the largest by far.

The book is very... "constructed", with a major graphical content. There are lots of arrows, inset sections, overlays, side-bars, etc. Clearly the graphical editor has had a heavy hand in the book. This gives the book a very good visual appeal when picked up and flicked through in a shop. Unfortunately, it adds little to the understanding imparted by this book.

I guess the fundamental problem is the sheer simplicity of the approach to the topic. This text tries very hard to formularise and categorise the graphic novel, primarily by breaking down the different genres and attempting to define "rules" for each genre. This leads to some highly fatuous comments:

"A hero has to be heroic and must always put the wellbeing of others before his/her own."

"All superheroes have a secret identity."

You see what I mean. By attempting to provide a simple, foolproof, beginner's guide to writing a graphic novel, the result is something that is so dumbed-down as to be laughably naive. The final result is a book that might very well appeal to a teenager who has decided that they no longer want to be a fireman, instead they want to write Graphic Novels.

By contrast - if you're actually dead serious about taking on the deceptively painful task of constructing a full-length GN, then you can probably write a bad one already. But if you actually want to write a good one, you're going to need more help than this book can give.

In General...

Maybe I'm being too harsh. This book does at least cover the basics of the industry. It may well give you a gently, structured introduction to graphic novels, and help you take the first few steps down the path of creating one. But really, this is strictly for beginners. If you're ready for the next steps, you're going to need to read books like Will Eisner: Comics & Sequential Art and Understanding Comics, which give a superb introduction to the special magic of the comic form.

On top of that, you'll also need a few good guides to illustrating and writing, outside of any specific media or genre. There are dozens of good books on those topics out there, at least... better ones than this. Nice for a coffee-table book, but not really a very good training manual.

Overall Rating...

One-and-a-half webs. Superficially pretty, but lacking any real value as a guide to creating a graphic novel. I'll do some digging on Amazon and try to find you a better one.