Monday, September 24, 2012

Some Basic Cartooning Books I Use

Let's say you don't think you can draw worth a darn but you want to learn enough to illustrate your own easy readers. That's not as difficult a task as you might think. All you need is a little guidance about basic drawing techniques.

But if you go to your local Barnes & Noble (or whatever bookstore happens to be surviving near you), you'll find a lot of very impressive -- and intimidating -- drawing books. And if you check one of the major online bookstores, you'll be OVERWHELMED by the number of books available. I'll be honest with you -- unless you already have considerable drawing skill, most of them probably won't help you at all. No matter what they say on the cover, most art books are for artists, not for beginners.

But today's your lucky day! I'm going to help you eliminate about 99.44% of the books that won't help you. (Isn't that how pure Ivory Soap is supposed to be?) Today I'm going to tell you a few titles that don't require any previous drawing knowledge in order to learn from them. I"m going to focus on cartooning books because they're the easiest to learn from. I know because I have a fairly large library of art books, and these are the ones that helped me most.

And because we have to worry about such things nowadays, let me say this upfront: If you buy any of these books, I make no money on them. And none of these books were given to me in hopes that I would promote them -- I bought all of these books myself with my own money. In other words, these really are MY picks. Now, let's get on with it!

There are basically two approaches to cartooning, 2D and 3D. 2D cartoons look flat, like in a newspaper comic strip. 3D cartoons look like they have some depth to them. Superhero comic books often use a very sophisticated 3D approach these days, but you don't have to be nearly that fancy. Here's an example from a book by Mark Kistler (I'll introduce him in a minute):

2d vs 3d

The drawing on the left is a very simple and very crude 2D drawing. It's flat. The drawing on the right is 3D. It still looks like a simple cartoon, but it has depth. The point here is that you don't need a lot of "talent" to draw that house on the right -- it's not that complicated. But you do need a little knowledge about how you get that look. You only need a few very simple techniques that aren't hard to learn.

Mark Kistler teaches school children how to draw. I first saw him on a PBS show called The Secret City back in the 1980s, which was a drawing show built around sci-fi. He taught 3D techniques by drawing moon craters and space ships and little alien teddy bears and Twinkies. (I kid you not. Twinkie people are cool.) The drawing above came from a recent book of his called You Can Draw in 30 Days. I don't have that book and, to be honest, it looks as if it's more advanced than the books I'm going to recommend. But this picture tells me that his new book still teaches the same basics as the others.

Mark uses what he calls "drawing words" which are simply words that remind you of a simple technique for getting a 3D effect. He has a page up with what he calls "the 12 Renaissance words of Drawing in 3D" that he allows you to print out. (Just right-click on the image and choose "View Image," then print it from your browser.) It comes from a book called Drawing in 3D with Mark Kistler, which I do have. Personally, my favorite book is Mark Kistler's Draw Squad (his original book), and he also has another book called Mark Kistler's Imagination Station. The number of drawing words varies somewhat from book to book -- the original only has 10 drawing words -- but they all cover the same techniques.

Mark's approach is more like doodling than "art." Perhaps that's why I like it so much.

If you want to focus more on comic strip art -- and there's nothing wrong with that! -- one guy I recommend is Christopher Hart. (He used to draw the Blondie comic strip. Yes, that Blondie.) But be forewarned: Hart has a zillion cartooning books, on all sorts of cartooning, and some of them are probably more than you need. (Do you really want to learn how to draw crime noir comics? I didn't think so.) So I'll make it simple for you -- choose one of these 4 books:
  • How to Draw Cartoons for Comic Strips (this may be the first one he did on the subject)
  • Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Cartooning But Were Afraid to Draw (this is one of his bestsellers)
  • Drawing on the Funny Side of the Brain (this one also covers things like creating comic book jokes and doing comic strip layouts
  • Cartoon Cool (If you really like the look of 1960s characters like the Jetsons, this is the book you want)
You can't go wrong with any of those.

Finally, there's Bruce Blitz. His The Big Book of Cartooning dips into a little bit of everything (chalk talks or caricatures, anyone?) but is very thorough. His approach to cartooning is very... lively.

These are all teachers whose books have stood the test of time and whose instructions are extremely simple to follow. If you want to learn how to illustrate your own easy readers, any one of them is a good place to start!

The picture came from this Kistler book review at

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