How to Create a Graphic Novel Pt.1

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to whoever at Central Library keeps purchasing “how to” books about creating graphic novels, but I often wonder who they’re meant for. The shelves and bookstores aren’t exactly bursting with homegrown works* – is there an army of Wellingtonians secretly working on graphic novels – an act of creativity with the worst ratio of effort-to-return apart from tapestry weaving? Or am I one of the five people in this city who find these things helpful?

These are the most useful ones, I’ll cover the rest tomorrow.

Comics & Sequential Art
by Will Eisner
Poorhouse Press, 1985

Might at well start with this influential examination of the grammar and construction of comics. The brilliant Eisner didn’t “create” graphic novels but he used his considerable skills to popularise their American form (as opposed to European or Japanese) and certainly knew what he was talking about, here and in the sequel, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Scott McCloud would later use some of the ideas here as a basis for Understanding Comics, laudable both for its clarity and enthusiasm.

Making Comics
by Scott McCloud
HarperPerennial, 2006

Not as useful as Understanding Comics, but more focused on the actual creation of graphic novels than their analysis. There’s still a lot of theory involved, so I can’t imagine anyone working through this book and coming up with a graphic novel at the end of it, but the concepts are as interesting as always. For a really brutal but practical guide to cartoon creation, try Dave Sim (sample advice: “Never fall in love”).

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel
by Nat Gertler & Steve Lieber
Alpha Books, 2004

This is my favourite one from this list. It’s thorough and readable, albeit with some gratingly folksy bits. I had the same problem once with a book about the animation program Flash – when you’re reading an instruction book, the last thing you want is the author making weak jokes all the time. This book assumes that you’ll be working as part of a writer/artist team, which is rarely done in New Zealand, but it’s still refreshingly practical.

The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels
by Mark Ellis & Melissa Martin Ellis
Adams Media, 2008

Bless these Americans, they certainly know how to raise your expectations. Written with an emphasis on marketing, as though the hard work is all in the writing and drawing, while getting a lucrative publishing deal for your opus is a fuckin’ doddle. Like the Idiot’s Guide, it’s solid stuff, and I suppose you only have yourself to blame if you get to Chapter 17 and you haven’t got a distribution deal with Diamond Comic Distributors.

* Only Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks and Maui: Legends of the Outcast by Chris Slane and Robert Sullivan are readily available. Dharma Punks by Ant Sang is excellent, but has yet to be published in a collected edition, although his new work Shaolin Burning has just been published overseas. Current long-form NZ works which would make exceptional graphic novels in a collected edition include Jared Lane’s Progress, Brent Willis’s Fetus Boy Adventures and Robyn E. Kenealy’s Roddy’s Film Companion. Long out of print are the three Terry comic albums by Bob Kerr and Stephen Ballantyne.

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