Even though I don’t write for comics, reading Scott McCloud’s MAKING COMICS: STORYTELLING SECRETS OF COMICS, MANGA AND GRAPHIC NOVELS (ISBN 0-06-078094-0) was a joy. I can see why it won the Quill Award in 2006 for best graphic novel, and is becoming a “must read” classroom text for those entering this field.
Sometimes the best way to approach our own medium with fresh eyes is to explore the mediums of others. McCloud goes into great depth about the issues and artistic challenges of planning, framing, drawing, inking, and finishing a comic. He also discusses writing for comics, though mostly in the context of how words and pictures can interact in different ways to tell a story.
People who want to write picture books could get a lot out of reading this graphic novel. He discusses in Chapter 3 (The Power of Words) mistakes made by writers and artists when they try to collaborate on a work, and I’ve seen the same problems crop up between writers and illustrators on picture book projects.
Reading this also reminded me that whatever the artistic field one is in, there are always difficulties with craft, voice, storytelling, and interpretation. Writing is not the only field with “literary” pitted against “commercial.” I’d like to quote from Chapter Six where McCloud talks about voice since this issue is universal for all artists:
If I had the good sense to write an ordinary how-to book, this would be the chapter where I explain how to “choose a style that’s right for you.”
But style isn’t really something you can choose off-the-shelf like a scarf or a pair of socks. Its roots go deeper than that. And you don’t always “choose” your style. Sometimes it chooses YOU.
“Style” usually describes surface details like line quality, a way of drawing faces or one’s use of dialogue. But mannerisms like that are just byproducts of artists’ attempt to present the world as they see it–and to capture the aspects of comics that may have captivated them as readers.
Behind that struggle lies their fundamental outlook on life and art–a statement of their passions and priorities–an echo of the times and places they’ve come from–and a signpost to where they want their chosen art form to take them.
Lastly, I’d like to point out that the above quote leaves out important information because the pictures have been stripped away. This is book that teaches by “show, don’t tell,” and so both pictures and text are needed to understand fully what is being taught.