Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 20th 2010
How to Draw Shojo Manga
Ena Miyazaki is an young artist who hopes to win a manga contest and even get professionally published. Fortunately, her temperamental editor Sasaki is ready to dispense all sorts of advice—in the form of this how-to book. Starting with the very basics of tools and equipment, followed by the essentials of drawing and storytelling, and finally putting it all together in a polished package, Ena learns the steps of creating a manga short story. Critiques and tips from actual editors at Hakusensha publishing, as well as examples from renowned artists like Natsuki Takaya (Fruits Basket) and Hiro Fujiwara (Maid Sama!), help to guide Ena and other aspiring manga-ka on their creative journey.
Quick! Who would you rather have as a manga teacher? A mercenary hack who only does method books and has never had a story professionally published, or an actual manga artist from Japan who has to deal with Japanese industry standards everyday? Simple choice, isn't it? Yet the how-to-draw section of any North American bookstore is crammed with hideous "manga style" manuals by the likes of the ever-prolific Christopher Hart, while this simple, invaluable paperback has gone all but unheralded. Of course there are clearly far more important releases in the Tokyopop catalog (the next volume of Hetalia is coming out!!!), but a practical artist would do well to give this one a try. More than just a guide for shojo specialists, this book offers advice that applies to all types of manga—and where better to learn from than real industry insiders?
Like many Japanese how-to guides, the Hakusensha-issued How to Draw Shojo Manga uses a contrived teacher-and-student method where an aspiring manga-ka learns the basics from a browbeating editor. It's a well-worn formula by now, and the humor is almost painful—Sasaki's constant screaming at Ena soon grows tiresome, although it does provide good training for how real editors and critics will treat up-and-coming artists. The book goes one step further, though, by having Ena actually work on a 16-page example from outline through thumbnails to finished product, allowing the reader to see how a short manga chapter comes together instead of just plowing through of dozens of tips and step-by-step instructions. What this book also does well is to provide its most useful information through prose and diagrams, keeping the informal "Here's a comic about the heroine creating her comic!" segments to a minimum.
Although the early chapters are a typical rehash of any other how-to guide—buy these pens, use this paper, sketch these characters, make up an outline—the pages on storyboarding and layout turn out to be the hidden gold mine within these pages. For many artists-in-training, the question they most often ask themselves is not "How do I draw an elven warrior priestess?" (which is somehow covered in every single Hart book) but "How do I know what to draw in the boxes?" Believe it or not, How to Draw Shojo Manga will actually help you figure out what to draw in the boxes—how to choose view angles, how to size the panels, how to use (and not use) backgrounds, and how to apply special techniques like image overlaps. Usually it's only advanced, comprehensive texts like Scott McCloud's Making Comics that dig into this, but it's never to early to learn the true nuts and bolts of visual storytelling.
The later chapters also offer sound advice on how to apply finishing touches, beginning with inking (one can never over-emphasize the value of line width!) and moving on to screentones, effects and dialogue. Admittedly, the screentone section is fairly dated—doesn't everyone do this on computer now?—and some of the dialogue tips only apply to those working in Japanese. But again, many of the basic concepts are still valid, and not just to shojo manga but all comics in general. The last segment of the book, with its submission guidelines on how to enter Hakusensha's manga contests and get published by them, is something of a wasted chapter for non-Japanese readers. A list of resources for comics and manga publishing in the English-speaking world would have been far more useful, although perhaps Tokyopop is now trying to distance itself from the "Rising Stars of Manga" days when any dilettante who could draw big anime eyes could magically get themselves a three-book deal. This book will tell you how to produce a reasonably well-crafted chapter of manga. But it won't tell you where to get it published ... unless you're a Japanese-speaking resident of Japan.
There are also other things this book will not do. It does not teach the basics of human anatomy and character design, which dozens of other books already do anyway, and it will most certainly not teach how to draw horrid, fake-looking "big anime eyes." It does, however, advise artists to practice constantly and refine their own style—the difference between giving someone a fish and teaching them how to fish. To that end, it also means that this is not a "How to Draw Fruits Basket style" or "How to Draw Ouran High School Host Club style" manual, despite the name-dropping that happens throughout the book. In fact, the famous-artist examples are more like cameo appearances than anything: there might be a page or panel used to illustrate a relevant point, but don't expect an in-depth breakdown of anyone's particular style. More than anything else, this guidebook is a kick-starter for bright beginners who already know the fundamentals, and are looking to master the "invisible techniques" that make manga stories so appealing.
In the afterword, manga-ka Yui Shin (the actual writer of this book) says that How to Draw Shojo Manga is something of a misleading title—and she's right, although maybe not in the way she expected. This is not just a worthy guide for creating shojo manga, but all kinds of manga, Japanese or otherwise, with lessons that apply to all forms of comic art. For those who have become weary of work-for-hire hucksters showing how to draw elven warrior priestesses, but still want to hone their skills before approaching the daunting method books of Eisner and McCloud, this volume fills a comfortable mid-level niche, with advice that will get artists at least as far as a portfolio review. Even manga enthusiasts and reviewers can learn something from it, as it reveals just what makes their favorite series so good. But again, no artist should think that buying one how-to guide will catapult them to manga superstardom. As always, the best way to get there is still practice, practice, and more practice.
Overall : B
+ Teaches visual narrative techniques and artistic know-how that goes well beyond shojo and applies to all forms of comics.
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